EAST LOS ANGELES - 8/27/10 - The Garfield High football team will be tested early and often as the Bulldogs head into a season in which they will challenge four perennial Southern Section powers before Eastern League play even starts.
They kick off the season Friday against Bishop Amat in a game Garfield will host at East Los Angeles College. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Facing the tradition-rich Lancers in the opener is only the tip of the iceberg. The Bulldogs will play their next three on the road, traveling to play rugged Orange Lutheran (Sept. 10 at Orange Coast College), Ontario Colony (Sept. 16) and St. Paul (Sept. 24).
The way coach Lorenzo Hernandez sees it, the tough competition will not only help his Bulldogs get ready for league, but hopefully prepare them for the CIF Los Angeles City Section Div. I playoffs.
After winning the Div. II title in 2007, Garfield was defeated in the Div. I first round the past two seasons.
Hernandez said Garfield is looking forward to the challenge that awaits it.
"We have the potential to make some good things happen early and we want to be able to compete," he said. "We want to move the ball methodically, maintain ourselves and keep the games close, so that we can give ourselves a chance to win them in the fourth quarter."
Despite defeating power Birmingham High in the season opener, Garfield started off poorly in 2009, losing four of its first six games. An offense that sputtered inside the opponent's 20-yard line was the biggest reason, Hernandez said.
"The red zone was kryptonite for us," Hernandez recalled. "We just couldn't find a way to finish."
Garfield did rally to win three of its last four and qualify for the playoffs.
"Hopefully, we got whatever it was out of our system and we can put last year behind us," Hernandez said. "We spent the off-season talking about what we would need to do get better and avoid the mistakes that hurt us last year. I think we're going to be OK."
Should the offense sputter again, Garfield will at least have a rugged defense to rely on. It is bolstered by senior defensive end Moses Saucedo, last year's Eastern League defensive player of the year.
"He should be the City's defensive player of the year this year," Hernandez said. "He's (an NCAA Div. I) college player if I've ever seen one. He's strong as heck and has all the tools and mechanics, and the heart and soul to play at that level. He's going to be a terror."
Hernandez warned to also watch out for Chris Arceo, a returning starter who will play the other end spot, and Alfonso Valdez, a very fast and quick three-year starter at defensive tackle.
The linebacking corps is led by Hector Casales and Levi Peralta on the outside and Jonathan Valles in the middle, all of whom are returnees from 2009.
The offensive line is experienced, has size and is led by veteran left tackle Edgar Gonzalez (6 feet, 2 inches, 250 pounds). The left guard is Hasiel Santoyo (6-2, 270), and Jose Montes de Oca (6-2, 265) is the center. Richard Torres (5-9, 250), whose forte is pulling and trapping, is the right side guard and Miguel Lazaro (6-2, 270) is the right tackle. Jaime Leija (6-3, 195) will play tight end.
A much improved senior quarterback Leonardo Vaal returns to run the offense.
"He didn't become the starter until late last season and he has really come a long way since then," Hernandez said. "He understands the game much better and he's going to make things happen for us. He understands what we want of him."
Sophomore running back Lance Fernandez is a player to watch in the backfield. Giovanni Leon, who Hernandez said possesses athleticism, balance and strength, will start at one of the running back spots.
"Fernandez has the potential to be one of the great ones to come out of Garfield," Hernandez said. "It's going to be pretty exciting to watch both of them."
Sophomore Fabian Gonzalez is showing much potential at wide receiver and junior Anthony Avalos is also in the mix.
The kicking game is solid with punter Victor Carrillo, field goal kicker Marco Arce and kickoff specialist Enrique De La Rosa.