PREP FOOTBALL: STILL TOP OF THE HILL
Winner of at least a share of 12 league titles, Citrus Hill evolves to stay step ahead
By Eric-Paul Johnson
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Winning championships has become second nature for the Citrus Hill football program.
Citrus Hill has claimed at least a share of the Mountain Pass League championship in each of its 12 seasons as a varsity program, the streak being an Inland-area record.
“We have been fortunate to have some great talent pass through here over the years,” Hawks coach Eric Zomalt said. “People look at scores and think it’s easy for us, but that’s not always the case. We’ve been in some battles and will be again this year.”
The ground game has been Citrus Hill’s key to success in recent seasons, and Zomalt said that won’t change anytime soon. What will be different this year is the scheme. The Hawks ditched the single and double-wing formation and installed a veer offense.
Dee Miles took over at quarterback late last season and will hold down the position this season. Earl Estell (421 yards as a sophomore) will see plenty of carries, too. Anthony Zomalt, Eric’s son, registered 64 tackles last season, and the senior backer will be the defensive leader this year.
San Jacinto appears to have the best shot at ending Citrus Hill’s league supremacy. The offense should be strong, with quarterback Kajiya Hollawayne looking to build on a solid freshman season. Senior running back Martin Graise (756 yards) also returns. Kaleb Hervey, a Division I prospect, is a standout at tight end and defensive end.
“We strengthened our schedule, and I believe that will have us better prepared for league,” Tigers coach Aric Galliano said. “We’re very excited to see what happens.”
Hemet, Beaumont and Tahquitz finished in a three-way tie for third place last year, and those same three teams likely will be fighting things out again this season.
Hemet might have the most experience when it comes to returning starters, including dynamic running back and linebacker Tyler Richardson. Like Galliano at San Jacinto, Hemet coach Jason Thornburg upped his nonleague schedule to better compete in league.
Beaumont and Tahquitz turn the page with new coaches this season.
Jeff Steinberg led Rancho Verde to a section title last season but decided to take over the program in a town he has called home for more than a decade. Stephon Pace has been a coach at Tahquitz off and on over the past decade, but the reins of the program are now his.
West Valley has nowhere to go but up following a 0-10 season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Devin Dillard, Beaumont, Sr., QB (6-3, 180)
Dillard made tremendous strides at the end of last season and he will continue to be a dual-threat for the offense.
Jakob Heling, West Valley, Sr., LB (5-9, 175)
Heling gives the Mustangs much-needed veteran leadership on defense. He led the team with 86tackles last season. Kaleb Hervey, San Jacinto, Sr., TE/DE (6-4, 245)
Hervey is being recruited as a tight end by a handful of Division I colleges. His size will create matchup problems.
Kajiya Hollawayne, San Jacinto, So., QB (6-2, 185)
Hollawayne comes off a freshman season in which he threw for 1,300yards and 16TDs and rushed for seven touchdowns.
Billye Johnson, Beaumont, Sr., DB (5-9, 180)
Johnson was among the team’s leading tacklers last season, and he’ll be one of many standouts in the secondary.
Mason McIntire, Hemet, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 260)
McIntire is a standout all-league left tackle who is solid in pass protection and can also open holes in the run game.
Dee Miles, Citrus Hill, Sr., QB/DB (5-11, 175)
Miles is a versatile player and one of the best athletes in the league. He will lead the team’s new-look offense.
Douglas Osoimalo, Tahquitz, Sr., LB (5-10, 185)
Osoimalo has a strong motor and can make plays from sideline to sideline. He lead the team with 93tackles last year.
Tyler Richardson, Hemet, Sr., RB/LB (5-9, 170)
Described by his coach as an old-school player, not surprising since his grandfather is former Norco coach Gary Campbell.
Anthony Zomalt, Citrus Hill, Sr., FB/LB (6-1, 190)
Zomalt has been a starting linebacker for the Hawks since his sophomore season (120tackles over the past two seasons).
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Citrus Hill: 60-2record in its 12seasons in the league.
2. San Jacinto : Finished second four consecutive seasons.
3. Hemet:Returning six starters on both sides of the ball.
4. Beaumont: Will try to snap a five-year playoff drought.
5. Tahquitz: Seeks consistency after up-and-down 2017.
6. West Valley : Looks to bounce back from winless season.