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Empire League football preview: What to expect this season

The top players and season outlook for all six teams in the Empire League:

EMPIRE LEAGUE

CREAN LUTHERAN

Top players: Graham Austin, OL, Sr.; Ben Buettell, WR/DB, Jr.; Andrew Duberow, RB/LB, Sr.; Jake Ramirez, WR/DB, Sr.; Gavin Rogers, QB, Sr.; Cristian Viola, OL, Sr.

What to expect: Senior receiver Ty Benefield (6-2, 185), who has offers from BYU, Colorado State and Washington, transferred to Crean from Santa Margarita as did sophomore linebacker Carter Jones. Plenty of starters return — nine on offense, nine on defense — from last season’s team that was 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the Empire League. Rick Curtis is in his third year as Saints head coach, and senior Gavin Rogers is going into his third season as the team’s starting quarterback. Rogers is No. 143 in the Register’s Hot 150 rankings of Orange County football players. Crean returns four of last season’s starting offensive linemen including Cristian Viola (6-7, 260) who committed to UC Davis and is No. 99 on the Hot 150. Crean Lutheran could challenge for one of the league’s three guaranteed playoff berths.

CYPRESS

Top players: Matthew Fonseca, OL, Sr.; Hayden Frazier, OL, Sr.; Jesse Mauldin, DB, Jr.; Matthew Morrell, RB/WR, Sr.; Trevor Monteleone WR/DB, Sr.; Jacob Wilkie, LB, Sr.

What to expect: The Centurions, 10-3 overall and 5-0 in league last season, are the favorite to repeat as league champion. Cypress and ninth-year coach Rick Feldman have 10 returning starters (five on offense and five on defense). Morrell (6-4, 195) was Empire League MVP and All-Orange County first team last season. The Register has him ranked as the No. 7 receiver in Orange County and he is No. 26 in the Hot 150. Monteleone (6-0, 200) was an all-league first team defensive back in 2021 and is No. 5 in the Register’s rankings for the position. Juniors Aidan Houston and Elliet Lemonnier are competing for the starting quarterback job. Cypress has been on a roll in recent years. Look for that to continue in 2022.

KENNEDY

Top players: Devin Almazan, QB, So.; Devin Bell, WR/DB, Jr.; Javi Lovely, RB/WR/LB, Sr.; Izaiah Murphy, WR/LB, So.; Nathan Rios, RB/LB, Jr.; Malosi Siatunuu, OL, Sr.

What to expect: Third-year coach Dan Urbanos will be using several non-seniors in key positions, but he likes the young team’s potential. Devin Alamzan started three games at quarterback as a freshman last season when the Fighting Irish finished 4-5 overall and 1-4 in league. Devin Bell is a returning starter at receiver and a team leader who can contribute in multiple ways. Linebacker Nathan Rios has been All-Empire League twice.This is a young team likely to improve as the season progresses.

Pacifica’s Ed “Jun” Ramos, right, runs for a touchdown against Brea Olinda during Friday night’s game September 24, 2021 in Brea.(Photo by Greg Andersen, Contributing Photographer)

PACIFICA

Top players: Ryan Anaema, WR/DB, Sr.; Jun Ramos, RB, Sr.; Ryan Rizk, LB, Sr.; Noah Salas, QB, Jr.; Brandon Taijeron, LB, Sr.; Danny Vasquez, WR/DB, Sr.

What to expect: Vinnie Lopez resigned as head coach Aug. 4. The school had a ready-and-willing replacement for him – Randy Franzman, who, over the past several years, was Pacifica’s freshman and junior varsity coach. Jun Ramos was all-league first team last season when he rushed for team highs of 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ramos is ranked by the Register as the No. 9 running back in Orange County and is No. 74 in the Hot 150. Noah Salas looked good in spot duty at quarterback last season. Pacifica last season was 8-3 overall, 3-2 in league and qualified for the playoffs (third-place finish in league). While an eight-win season seems unlikely, the Mariners could be in the mix for third place.

TUSTIN

Top players: Adonijah Faletoi, Sr., OL/DL; Benaiah Faletoi, Sr., OL/DL; Quincy Hankins, WR/DB, Sr.; Steven Lopez, TE/LB, Sr.; Jack Stupin, QB, Jr.

What to expect: The Tillers finished second in the league last season, behind Cypress, and appears to be Cypress’ top challenger in 2022. Anthony Lopez, in his fourth season as Tillers head coach, said sophomore Eimesse Essis has emerged as the go-to back for the Tillers. Jack Stupin was a backup quarterback last season at Long Beach Millikan. Because of his potential, he is No. 101 on the Hot 150, and Quincy Hankins is at No. 119. On the right side of the offensive line are brothers Adonijah (5-11, 305) and Benaiah Faletoi (6-2, 304). Tustin, 7-4 overall and 4-1 in league in 2021, plays its first two games against Capistrano Valley and Foothill.

VALENCIA

Top players: Dylan Draft, QB, Jr.; Ethan Draft, WR, Jr.; Paolo Gocolay, TE/LB, Sr.; Jacob Terry, RB, Sr.; Mike McGlenn, OL, Sr.; Vince McGlenn, OL, Sr.; Dibs Sawaya, OL/DL, Sr.

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