Here's a look at how local football squads will fare this fall:
Cathedral Catholic, 2009 A.G. (After Gaffney)
Cathedral Catholic has had plenty of time to celebrate last season's Div. III state title.
But after taking particularly heavy graduation hits at skilled positions, they're now preparing to defend it without most of the familiar names that made headlines last season - a group that includes running back sensation Tyler Gaffney, a two-sport standout who's now at Stanford.
They'll look to develop a raw but untested cast around an offensive line and defense that figure to be among the county's most dominant.
The Dons ability to handle the pressure that comes with their recent past - they've won two straight San Diego Section titles along with last year's state crown - will have a lot to do with whether they meet the program's lofty expectations, coach Sean Doyle said.
The early returns suggest they're handling it well.
"They know it's a new year and they know most people could care less what we did last year except that they want to beat us more," Doyle said. "It doesn't appear that they feel pressure to perform at any crazy level."
Last season, the Dons performed at what from a statistical standpoint was sheer insanity, with Gaffney setting a county record with 57 touchdown and the Dons outscoring their opponents by an unheard of 29.9 points per game average in a perfect 14-0 campaign that extended a winning streak going back to 2007 to 21 games.
"This year is this year and we're really not living off of what we did last year," Doyle said.
"It's time to start a new history and see what we can do."
Senior quarterback Max Brewer is in many ways the face of the new-look Dons.
Brewer is an excellent athlete with a powerful arm and good decision-making skills. But he fills big shoes. Brewer, who threw just five passes last season, replaces standout Parker Hipp, who threw for more than 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.
The Dons will feature a three running back set, with senior running back Derek Thomas and junior fullback Jonny Martin, along with a rotation in the third slot involving juniors Cory Garcia and Chris Kilroy and sophomore J.J. Stavola.
Other key newcomers include junior tight end Blake Wolfe and place kicker/punter John Wells.
The Dons most experienced player is senior receiver Chance Early. The son of former Chargers receiver Quinn, Early last season was among the team's leaders with 341 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Senior Alex Crofthwaite, a 310-pound University of California-bound offensive tackle, anchors a solid offensive line that averages about 250 pounds.
The line also features guards David Barton and James Vecchio, tackle Andre In, and center Alex Neff.
Junior Mustafa Jaleel a 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive lineman, is among the county's most feared defenders and could be the team's most coveted recruit.
"He's absolutely unreal," Doyle said of Jaleel. "He's got an incredible motor and he's incredibly strong. He might be the best in the state."
Jaleel anchors a line that also features senior defensive end A.J. Montes.
Senior heads Jordan Lance, a third-year starter, heads the Dons linebacker corps.
The strength of the Dons' defense is an exceptional secondary that features seniors cornerbacks Brien Moynihan and Josh Jacko and free safety Ryan McLaughlin.
"It's a good group of kids and they have huge goals," Doyle said. "They want to get to (Qualcomm) stadium and maybe have a chance to get to that (state) bowl game again."
Falcons prepped to take off
After two down years that included some of the most heartbreaking losses in recent program history, Torrey Pines could be poised for a breakthrough.
A solid core or returnees and a talented crop of newcomers has third-year coach Scott Ashby cautiously optimistic about his team's prospects, and success at summer showcase tournaments supports points to a turnaround for the perennial San Diego County power.
The Falcons were a combined 5-14-1 in Ashby's first two seasons, and 5-16-1 going back to 2006, when they lost their last two games after a 9-0 start in longtime coach Ed Burke's last season.
The Falcons won the prestigious Visalia passing league tournament, and also won a lineman competition at Visalia.
"We had a very, very good summer," Ashby said. "We had a lot of growth."
Especially notable was the rapid development of junior quarterback John Cabot, whose ability, work ethic, leadership and aptitude impressed Ashby.
The Falcons return senior running backs Joe Driscoll and Bassim El Sabawi, who along with junior John Wilson will be featured in their run-oriented Delaware wing-T offense.
Senior receivers Parker Vail and Ryan Rodas and junior lineman are among the team's key returnees.
Junior Harry Wilburn is the most experienced lineman who'll be counted on to anchor an all-junior line that also features Daniel Murray, Patrick Barnes and Ryan Thompson.
Other key newcomers include senior tight end Jared Wood and junior tight end Scott Mainquist.
The Falcons' senior-heavy defense is one of their greatest strengths.
Defensive end Robbie Rodriguez, inside linebacker Josh Mendoza, defensive back Shane Bingham, defensive lineman/linebacker Nolan Fargo and strong safety Brad Shoen (all seniors) are key returnees and junior linebacker Kevin Cuff and junior Hunter Shigley are new additions to a additions to what figures to be a very strong defensive unit.
The Falcons will be challenged by a difficult schedule that will test their progress.
Ashby cited the team's work ethic and cohesiveness to be among their greatest strengths.
"We've got a group of kids who work real hard together," Ashby said. "We're going to be successful because of the work the kids put in in the offseason and attention to detail that they have."
Eagles get new coach
Santa Fe Christian may have a new coach, but their style of play will remain the same.
The Eagles, who employed Delaware wing-T offense under coach Brian Sipe, will do the same under first-year coach Nick Ruscetta, a longtime assistant under Sipe and former head coach at Escondido.
The Eagles are coming off two down years, losing in the first round of the Div. IV playoffs after reaching the finals five of the previous six years and winning four titles over that span.
Ruscetta said he likes what he's seen so far in practices.
"They're enthusiastic," Ruscetta said. "We've had a couple of mediocre seasons the last two years and they would like to put that in their past. We're excited about this season."
Key returnees include running back/linebacker Sam Hoekstra, quarterback/linebacker Keaton Giannotti, and two-way lineman Brett Buchanan.
Senior running back/linebacker Trent Von Yokes, heading a talented crop of newcomers, figures to bolster the Eagles strength at skilled positions.
Sophomores Josh Estill, a fullback/linebacker, running back/cornerback Jared Waton-Lewis and receiver/cornerback Bobby Zarubic are other key additions.
Crucial the Eagles success is the development of key line positions that will be tested against a tough schedule that includes several bigger schools.
Ruscetta acknowledged depth is a concern playing schools where unlike SFC, few play both offense and defense.
"We're thin, but if we stay healthy and our line plays the way I think we're capable of, I think we'll be competitive," Ruscetta said.
SDJA Lions to make 11-man debut
Ready or not, San Diego Jewish Academy is about to take the plunge.
After playing the 8-man game for their first seven years, the Lions make their 11-man debut under first-year coach John Milisitz, a former minor league catcher and free safety who walked on at Div. I James Madison University.
Senior quarterback Yosef Mizrachi heads a talented core of returnees that also includes senior offensive lineman/linebacker Drew Ferris, junior two-way lineman Ricky Pemensky and junior receiver Rafi Lurie.
Ferris, ranked among the nation's top long-snappers, and Pemensky, a 6-foot-2, 265-pounder, are both collegiate prospects, Milisitz said.
Key newcomers include junior running backs Kevin Yedig and Jordan Sharf.
Yedig, a 16-year-old who was drafted as a hockey player, is new to football, but has emerged as a quick study and figures to make an immediate impact, Milisitz said.
Others to watch include sophomore placekicker Noam freshman quarterback Micah Weinstein, whose development is a priority, Milisitz said.