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2012 Canyon football preview: Filling the voids

Cowboys look to prove skeptics wrong after key losses

Posted: August 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Canyon High School football players are trying to reload after the graduation of a few major players. Canyon High School football players are trying to reload after the graduation of a few major players.
Canyon High School football players are trying to reload after the graduation of a few major players.

It’s not every year you have the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and receiving yards playing at the same time together.

To be fair, only half of that once-in-a-lifetime combination is gone — quarterback Jonathan Jerozal.

The other half, senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky is still around and trying to build on his already historic Canyon career.

Still though, the connection between those two the past three years will be a tough act to follow.

“I think you’ve just got to perform,” said Canyon head coach Rich Gutierrez. “I think there’s pressure on everybody. I think there’s pressure with Jerozal gone. I think you’ve got to see if you can perform without Jerozal.”

Without question, a large amount of burden lies on the shoulders of Jerozal’s successor, junior Cade Apsay.

He’s following 8,178 yards and 77 touchdowns by Jerozal across three years, including 3,004 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.

It’s an awful lot to ask of a first-year varsity quarterback, but fortunately, he isn’t being asked to replace the statistics or replicate the high-flying offensive attack the Cowboys have used in recent years.

“Cade’s actually a really smart kid and he catches on really quick,” Wolitarsky said. “He knew our offense in like a week.”

Coaches put together a new, more basic scheme that makes use of a potent arsenal of weapons by adding a no-huddle, fast-paced aspect to the attack.

So far, things are coming along OK.

“There are still a little bit of kinks you’ve got to work out,” Apsay said. “I think we’ve got to keep practicing and practicing. We’ll get better.”

Other than Apsay, there are plenty of skill-position players returning with significant experience.

It’s largely the same group that nearly won its first Foothill League title in five years in 2011, but had to settle for a third-place tie after being forced to forfeit a league win due to a CIF violation.

Canyon went 3-2 in Foothill play after the penalty, and eventually finished 9-3 following a 38-17 loss to St. Bonaventure in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.

The Cowboys lost to the same team in the same round of the playoffs in 2010, as well.

“We kind of like just forget about last year, and we just focus on what we have to do this year,” said senior wide receiver Brenden Stach.

What Canyon will have to do is take care of business in a favorable non-league schedule and hope the promising offense and young defense falls into place by the time Foothill play opens on Oct. 5 against Golden Valley.

The biggest drawback to the Cowboys’ non-league slate is the fact that they’ll be on the road for three of the five games, including a lengthy road trip to Fresno to play Clovis West on Sept. 1.

Canyon heads into the schedule with seven returning starters on offense.

Wolitarsky and Stach lead the group of wideouts coming back, with Stach as the likely second option.

Every yard counts this season for Wolitarsky, who is chasing the state record for career receiving yards.

At 3,873 so far, the senior is 613 yards short of Steve Smith’s record set while at Taft High of Woodland Hills in 2002.

For the ground game, the Cowboys have running backs Daniel Castro and Dominic Pennucci at their disposal.

Despite playing as the backup of now-graduated Max Archuleta last year, Castro was a consistent threat on the ground last season as a junior, amassing 397 yards on 75 carries for an average of more than five yards per touch.

Pennucci, a league-champion sprinter for the track and field team in the spring, joins the football team for the first time as a junior.

“We’re getting there,” Castro said of the run game. “We’ve improved a lot.”

Helping the run game will be three returning starters on the offensive line, not the least of which is Juan Rodriguez, a 2011 All-CIF-Southern Section Northern Division player.

Like he did last year, Rodriguez will play on both the offensive and defensive lines.

He’ll be one of the few experienced parts of a defense that graduated all three of its starting linebackers last year, and a few others as well.

The new linebacking corps will be led by senior Justin Derpic in the middle.

He and the rest of the crew have the challenge of replacing the top five tacklers from 2011, who are all gone.

It’s not all negative, though. The unit does retain its interception leader from last year, junior safety Zach Cuha, who picked the ball off three times as a sophomore.

“We’re pretty strong,” Cuha said of the defense. “If we all talk, communicate, we do pretty well overall and we should be able to beat teams.”

The hype and expectation of this team a year ago has been replaced with questions of how to compensate for the loss of so many important pieces.

But where Canyon was trying to prove everyone right last year, now this might be a team trying to prove skeptics wrong.


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