The Los Padres League has long played second fiddle to the PAC 7. With smaller schools in smaller towns, the league has struggled to turn out top-level talent.
Last season, led by Washington-bound running back Lavon Coleman, Lompoc High went undefeated and stormed through the playoffs, claiming its second-straight CIF-Southern Section Northwestern Division title. Both Templeton and Cabrillo advanced to the semifinals.
“It’s amazing to see how the Los Padres League has grown in talent and how much more sophisticated things are,” Eagles coach Dan Loney said. “Things are kind of evolving in this. It’s neat to see Lompoc ranked so high. It’s been a long time since the LPL has been ranked so high.”
With the notoriety Lompoc has received from outside the area — Max Preps has the Braves ranked at No. 27 in the state — it gives the rest of the league a chance to show what its made of.
“Lompoc, two-time defending CIF champion, they’re obviously the frontrunners,” Morro Bay coach Jack Greer said. “But I think there are a number of teams that can vie for spots two, three and four. Without a doubt, the Los Padres League is a very difficult league, similar to the PAC 7.
“Maybe not as a high of caliber, but from top to bottom there are many great teams in our league. It’s a very physical league.”
The Braves haven’t lost since October 2010, when they fell in Templeton 31-21. The Eagles hope they can stop Lompoc’s winning ways again this year.
“Lompoc is obviously the team to beat,” Templeton senior quarterback Alex Elterman said. “But I think we’re gonna be right there with them.”
If any team in the LPL has a shot to unseat the reigning champions, it’s the Eagles. They return seniors at nearly every position, and have a Division I talent of their own in Cal Poly-bound offensive lineman Ross Berry.
In Nipomo, coach Russ Edwards thinks his Titans have a chance to make some noise in the league. Two years ago Nipomo finished 0-10 but improved to 4-6 last season.
Morro Bay, who finished 1-9 last year, has seven three-year starters returning in coach Greer’s first season at the helm.
“I’m always gonna say that we’re shooting to win league this year,” Edwards said. “If I’m working for anything else I’m doing my boys a disservice. That’s our goal.”
For both the Titans and the Pirates, who combined for five wins a year ago, a league championship is a tall task. But both teams hope that they can make strides against improved competition.
“Do not underestimate any team on any given night, Greer said. “That’s how difficult our league is.”