The hottest topic around prep football this summer has been the season’s early start date, an effort to match up the regular season with the California State Championship dates. While La Costa Canyon Head Coach Sean Sovacool may not be enamored of having to have his team ready to play its first game a week earlier than normal, that task becomes even more complicated because he’s going to need to have the Mavericks in mid-season form right out of the gate as they hook up with always dangerous Cathedral Catholic in game one.
“The early start has been tough and it’s felt like we’ve been in a rush the since the beginning of practice,” said Sovacool starting his ninth year as head coach at LCC. “It’s difficult to get 10 days of work in (the minimum needed before a player is eligible to play in a game) and take care of the players, health-wise.
“Playing a team like Cathedral Catholic in week one is not ideal, kind of like throwing ourselves into the fire, but we’ve tried to play them for quite awhile and this date worked out for both of us. It’s a tough challenge but we like it.”
LCC looked understandably sloppy but basically solid in its only pre-season scrimmage last Friday night against Rancho Buena Vista, where they outscored the Longhorns, 14-7. Sovacool’s club, coming off an 8-3 campaign in 2017, will not exactly be entering Friday’s match-up with Cathedral unarmed. The Mavericks have 12 returning starters, seven on offense, and should have ample firepower to fuel their multi-faceted offense.
The biggest question mark is at quarterback where 6-foot-4 junior Marshal Eucker takes over for versatile Jake Neufeld. Eucker played exclusively on an undermanned JV team last fall but Sovacool feels he has the necessary tools to succeed at the varsity level.
“Marshal’s positives start with his coachability,” observed Sovacool. “He’s a 4.0 GPA-type of guy and when he makes a mistake he’s usually starting to coach and correct himself before you even get to him.
“His potential is in his DNA—he looks the part. He’s big, strong, smart, a good athlete and can sling the rock. Experience is the next ingredient he needs.” Making Eucker’s transition easier will be the fact that he’ll be surrounded by a formidable set of weapons.
Senior running back Karson Lippert is a lightning who averaged over 10 yds. per carry while racking up 926 yards and 11 TDs as a junior. Another senior, 5-9 wideout Cole Miller is poised to be the go to man through the air after hauling in 34 receptions and scoring three TDs last year. Junior Trevor Gonzales and senior tight end Derek Miller, 6-5 and 6-2 respectively, should provide another pair of inviting targets, having combined for 21 catches and four scores in 2017.
“Karson is a guy who can really separate and opponents have to respect his speed,” said Sovacool of Lippert, the second place finisher in the 400 at the 2017 CIF State Track & Field Championships who has a 4.38 40 clocking to his credit. “He really opens things up for the rest of our offense and will also be a force on special teams.”
The offensive line is anchored by returnees senior Luka Trifunovic (6-4, 255) and junior Trevor Heid (6-0, 230) but is a little short on experience overall. “We’ve got a good, young group that is still learning but those two guys are pretty good blocks to build off of,” says Sovacool. “The offensive line is critical at every level of football—I’m optimistic about the guys we’re working with but also realistic.”
On defense, LCC mimics the offense with its versatility, going with a basic 3-3-5 but using multiple fronts and coverages to mix up the looks and pressures. The Mavericks might be thin at spots but have some talented individuals—linebackers Ozzie Nicholas (6-2, 225, Jr.) and the appropriately named Hampton Hurt (Sr., 5-10, 185), senior end Sam Hussin (6-3, 235) and senior defensive back Ethan Cloutier (5-9, 170)—and a host of players who weren’t starters but saw heavy playing time.
“We do a lot of ‘full group’ substitution, meaning a lot of non-starters have plenty of experience,” said Sovacool. “Plus, we practice with a lot of tempo and energy which develops that competitive nature and translates well to game situations. Nicholas could be one of the best defensive players in the county.”
With no returnees, there are a lot of questions to be answered in the Mav kicking game.
Following Cathedral Catholic, La Costa Canyon will face Vista and Orange County power San Clemente before opening Avocado West League play at home against El Camino. Sovacool pulls no punches when describing what the Mavericks will be facing in league play.
“The Avocado West is a gantlet, really challenging,” says Sovacool. “There are no easy moments there. Most of the teams have veteran coaches which is key.
“There are systems and programs at the high school level—all of the teams in our league have programs. They’ve demonstrated the kind consistent success that defines a program.”
Here’s the full La Costa Canyon schedule for 2018 (all kickoffs at 7 p.m.):
August 17 – vs. Cathedral CatholicAugust 24 – at VistaAugust 31 – at San ClementeSeptember 7 – vs. El Camino*September 14 – vs. Oceanside*September 21 – at San Marcos*October 5 – Valley CenterOctober 12 – at Mission Hills*October 19 – at Carlsbad*October 26 – Torrey Pines*
*Avocado West League game