High School Sports

Arroyo Grande High School football enters 2016 season with questions on defense

Arroyo Grande High football prepares for 2016 season

Arroyo Grande High football lost key pieces of its dominant defense, but the team has reloaded and is poised for another PAC 5 title run.
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Arroyo Grande High football lost key pieces of its dominant defense, but the team has reloaded and is poised for another PAC 5 title run.

According to Arroyo Grande head coach Tom Goossen, last season’s defensive back field was one of the best he’s ever seen at the school.

Bradley Mickey, Alex Cecchi and Benny Willkomm combined for 17 interceptions, shut down passing attacks all season and were part of the most dominant defense in the county. All three have since moved on to college. Mickey is expected to redshirt at Cal Poly this season.

After giving up an average of just 13 points per game last season, including three shutouts in a row, the defense has a whole new look, including a revamped defensive line and backfield.

“We may not get as many turnovers as we did before, but we are solid, and we funnel those things to the linebackers,” Goossen said. “We are going to be just fine.”

Despite the question marks, one thing is undisputed: Sam Ness, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior middle linebacker, is probably the best linebacker in the county. Not to mention senior quarterback Sawyer May, who had a phenomenal 2015 campaign.

Here’s a look a few more of the changes for the Eagles and an overall outlook.

Arroyo Grande at a glance

2015 record: 11-2 overall, 4-0 PAC 5

Arroyo Grande was the most dominant team in San Luis Obispo County last season, and it wasn’t even close. The Eagles blew away local teams and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs before falling to Thousand Oaks, 40-35.

Key Departures

Bradley Mickey (WR/DB), Alex Cecchi (WR/DB), Cole Cunningham (DL), Danny Shiraishi (OL), Joey DeLaRosa (LB/FB)

Mickey and Cecchi accounted for more than 2,600 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns on top of their defensive contributions. Cunningham led Arroyo Grande with six sacks.

Key Returners

Sawyer May (QB, Sr.), Matt Sill (RB/WR, Sr.), Sam Ness (LB/FB, Sr.), Josh Domako (OL/DL, Sr.), Jack Ventura (LB, Sr.)

May threw for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and threw just one interception on 216 attempts last season. With the return of Sill, wide out Noah Thinger and the lack of a standout running back heading into the season, look for May to throw the ball a lot more than he did last year. Opposing teams will likely struggle to run the ball with Ness and Ventura in the middle.

Under The Radar

James Gilmet (RB, Soph.), Elliot Talley (TE, Sr.), John Farley (DL, Jr.), Andrew Hagler (OL, Sr.)

Gilmet, the only sophomore on varsity, has been turning heads at running back early in camp. Cameron Johnston has also been getting carries along with Sill and Ness in what is shaping up to be a running-back-by-committee setup. Talley, a 6-foot-2 senior, only had one catch last year but might be an interesting player to watch as May looks for a big target over the middle. Ness describes Farley as a “big dude” who has been making an early impression on the defensive line with very little experience. Hagler is the new starting center.

Key Games

@Lompoc (Aug. 26), Atascadero (Oct. 28)

Arroyo Grande opens on the road against Lompoc and their gifted linebacker/running back Toa Taua in a game that is always physical and competitive. The Halloween weekend game at home against Atascadero will likely determine the winner of the PAC 5.

CIF-SS Power Ranking

Division 2

Arroyo Grande opens the season ranked No. 14 out of 18 teams in Division 2 of the new CIF-Southern Section rankings and No. 32 out of 306 CIFSS teams. The new CIF-SS competitive equity model, put in place for the first time this season, placed the Eagles in a difficult Division 2 with powerhouses like Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) and Oaks Christian. It willl make a repeat trip to the semifinals a lot more difficult.

The Tribune 2016 prep football preview

Over the next two weeks, staff will preview the upcoming high school football season leading up to the Week 1 opener Aug. 26.