With a long summer of work behind them, and nonleague games beginning Friday night, the PAC 7 schools in San Luis Obispo county are gearing up for another season in what some consider one of the strongest conferences, top to bottom, in the CIF-Southern Section.
With four different champions in the past four seasons, including Arroyo Grande High’s run to the Western Division championship a year ago, the PAC 7 boasts parity that few leagues can match. In the past six seasons, five champions have gone undefeated, with only Atascadero doing so more than once, in 2006 and 2008. Along with the Eagles and the Greyhounds, Paso Robles and Righetti have been crowned league champs in that time.
“I think this is the best year from top to bottom,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke. “Arroyo Grande, last year, was star-studded. They did what people were expecting them to do. This year, you can look at San Luis Obispo, Righetti, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, St. Joseph, Pioneer Valley, all six of them. It’s not down at all, in fact, I think it could be the strongest year since I’ve been here.”
Schimke’s sentiments have been echoed across the county, from Paso Robles to Arroyo Grande, which won the league’s first CIF-Southern Section championship since San Luis Obispo won it all in 2001. However, the Eagles lost four key players in quarterback Brent VanderVeen, placekicker Garrett Owens, offensive lineman Garrett Weinreich, who are all now at Oregon State, and linebacker Seth Jacobs, who is playing at Oklahoma State.
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Paso Robles’ Elias Stokes, the Tribune’s County Player of the Year in his junior season, is entering his freshman year at Cal Poly.
That does not mean the PAC 7 lacks big names, however. San Luis Obispo returns its starting quarterback in senior Garrett Giovannelli and its leading tackler and reigning PAC 7 Defensive MVP Jack Ferguson, who has received interest from Pac-12 schools including Cal, UCLA and Colorado.
Elsewhere, Atascadero returns its starting quarterback in junior Robbie Berwick.
“I’ve looked at ’em and I have trouble picking out who is going to be the frontrunner,” Greyhounds coach Vic Cooper said.
“I don’t think you’re going to have anyone like A.G. last year that ran away with it. I think that there might not be a very big split between the first-place team and the fifth-place team.”
And if history repeats itself, as it often does, then you can expect some fierce competition when league play rolls around in late September.
“There aren’t any games you can pencil in,” Schimke said. “I don’t see anybody this year, it probably will happen, but I don’t see anyone going undefeated in our league. There’s a lot of good teams that are well coached.”
And it’s not just the area coaches who think this league is strong. Max Preps, a website that provides stats, news and rankings for high school sports across the country, has San Luis Obispo ranked No. 72 in the state, while Arroyo Grande comes into the year ranked 92nd. Righetti (No. 146), Atascadero (171) and St. Joseph (184) are all ranked in the top 200 teams in California.
“There’s no doubt that top to bottom, we have a strong league,” Tigers coach David Kelley said. “Anyone, from the top to the bottom, could win this league.”
It’s not easy in the PAC 7, but by November one team will have survived the gauntlet of league play to emerge as this season’s champion.
“You never want to be the team that people are overlooking, and I don’t think that will ever happen with a PAC 7 team,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said.
“It’s no different this year from any year in the past. It’s a tough league to compete in.”