Here we are, the 2023-24 school year’s fall sports season is underway.
It feels good.
Football is the king of fall sports, and all high school sports. Science and social studies teachers might not like it, but football sets the tone for school spirit for the rest of the school year.
We have questions seeking answers as Orange County high school football begins …
Can Mater Dei go 15-0? That would mean the Monarchs go undefeated in the Trinity League, which includes beating mighty-as-always St. John Bosco, and win the CIF-SS Division 1 championship, which might include beating St. John Bosco again, and win a CIF State championship. All seem within reach of what could be the most-talented roster in Mater Dei football history.
Is Orange Lutheran the third-best football team in the Trinity League? It’s a youngish team that looks like the No. 3 group in the amazing league. Quarterback T.J. Lateef and defensive lineman Jireh Moe are going to have outstanding seasons.
Can La Habra be like the La Habra of old? The Highlanders continue to win Freeway League championships, including a current streak of seven straight league titles. Maybe this is the year La Habra gets its eighth CIF-SS championship under Coach Frank Mazzotta.
Is Crean Lutheran the next Orange County private school football power? The Saints were 10-2 last season. That school has athletic aspirations and has become a top destination for sports-minded O.C. families.
How quickly will St. Margaret’s football rise with new coach Dan O’Shea? O’Shea did marvelous work at Corona del Mar before moving to St. Margaret’s this season. St. Margaret’s football now has the lower-levels program that it lacked recently, which is essential to building a winner.
Who will be the Garden Grove League football champion? It’s usually Rancho Alamitos, which shared the league title with Los Amigos last season. That league’s other teams – Bolsa Grande, La Quinta, Loara and Santiago – are getting better and they are hungry.
Can Los Alamitos get its new players to mesh well with the returnees? The Griffins received a large supply of transfers, which happens when a program wins consistently and produces many college-scholarship athletes. Getting all the transfer paperwork completed in a timely manner can be an obstacle so Los Alamitos might be without as many as five projected starters for the season opener Friday against Western.
Can Northwood do it again? Timberwolves have won back-to-back CIF-SS championships and have a good returning group, including All-Pacific Coast League offensive linemen Quintin Lynch and Muhammad Wahby, and all-league quarterback Eddie Ma transferred in from Woodbridge. Northwood football players and their JC Clarke-led coaches will lead the county in having fun.
Will a different “El” get the “W” in the North Hills League? El Modena has been the top team in that four-team league in recent seasons. The Vanguards do have dynamic quarterback Xzavior Guess back, but watch out for El Dorado with linebacker Mac Wolf part of an excellent front seven on defense and running back Isaiah Quintero again chewing up yardage.
Has Yorba Linda reloaded? The Mustangs were 14-1 and won a CIF-SS championship last year. They have 2022 Crestview League player of the year Dylan Gardner back at receiver and safety among the returners who will get a fine challenge from an improved Villa Park in league.
Is Jackson Kollack the quarterback with the brightest future? The Laguna Beach 6-5, 215-pound junior has all the skills, intelligence and team-first personality required. This could be the county guy everyone is talking about a few years from now.
• The 2022 Orange County girls golfer of year, Angela Liu, will not be at Santa Margarita this fall sports season for her senior year, Santa Margarita coach Jill Hegna confirmed Thursday. Liu is at Pacific Academy in Newport Beach as she continues to pursue playing on the juniors circuit. Liu was the CIF State individual champion last year and has committed to UCLA.
• Newport Harbor’s boys water polo team will try to make it three CIF Southern Section championships in a row. JSerra has three All-Orange County players back in Bode Brinkema, Ryder Dodd and Will Schneider. Maybe the Lions are the the best team not only in the county but in the Southern Section.
• JSerra’s girls cross country team won CIF section and state championships last year and could be better this year. The Lions have a wealth of returning talent supplemented by the incoming transfers of Sophie Polay from Santa Margarita and Chloe Elbaz from Xavier Prep in Palm Desert. Elbaz was the CIF-SS cross country champion in Division 5 last season. Polay finished seventh in the CIF-SS Division 3 girls cross country finals last season and, like Elbaz, must observe the “sit-out period” that delays their eligibility until Oct. 2 for cross country.
• Among the larger early-season tournaments in girls volleyball is the Dave Mohs Tournament at Edison on Sept. 8 and 9. Among the teams entered are Huntington Beach, JSerra, Mater Dei and Newport Harbor,, all of which are locks to be in the Orange County preseason top 10.
Video: Steve Fryer and Dan Albano predict the winner of Week 0’s top games
CIF-SS games will be carried by Bally Sports SoCal, NFHS Network
Fryer on Football: Previews and predictions for Week 0’s top games
Former El Toro football standout Noah Aguilar to be honored in pregame ceremony Friday
Albano’s preseason Orange County football rankings