Almost everything looks brand new to Lompoc this fall.
From a roster standpoint, gone are cornerstones Toa Taua, Shemar Savage, Jelani Henderson and other key contributors like Johnny Manzo, Xavier Nix, Jimmy Gardner and Ruben Cortez. Also gone are the days of dominating the Los Padres League – as the Braves will now shift over to a newly re-furnished Channel League with Santa Ynez and Cabrillo – where Santa Barbara region challengers await them.
And added to Lompoc’s list of obstacles? A stout non-league schedule that features a renowned coaching mind in Ventura County (Jim Benkert at Simi Valley High) to start the year and a heavyweight battle against a defending state champion (Bishop Diego) to end the month of August.
But while this sounds like numerous of mountains to scale for the Braves, ninth-year head coach Andrew Jones insists that his young guys are already ready to take that climb.
“You’ve just got to get to work,” Jones said during the Lee Central Coast Newspapers Media Day on July 28 held at St. Joseph High. “We are in that reload stage, but we feel we’ve got guys who can fill in. What I’ve been telling the guys is we’ve been successful the last few seasons. Don’t be that team that takes a step backwards.”
Lompoc, 11-1 last season, continues to remain a strong model of consistency in the North Santa Barbara County with 92 victories since the 2010 season and two CIF Southern Section championships in ’10 and ‘11. And now, the Braves added more strength to their coaching staff.
Old Los Padres League rival Dustin Davis (formerly of St. Joseph) comes on board to run the Braves’ 3-5-3 defense. Also linking up with LHS is former Knights assistant T.J. Jordan, who will coach up the quarterbacks and call the passing plays. Paul Ross is on board too as an offensive consultant, who has a lengthy coaching resume that includes a stop at Hancock. Jones calls Ross a man he’s been trying to get for years.
Jones says he’s losing “about 90 percent of the production from last year’s offensive output” – as that unit was predominantly led by a senior-heavy group from the 2018 class. The one guy who shouldered most of the load was the back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Taua.
The Nevada commit went on to tally 4,612 career yards and 73 touchdowns in four years on varsity. Savage also left as a valuable target in the air attack, with 24 combined touchdowns in the last two seasons and averaged more than 21 yards per catch.
But that’s not preventing Jones for reminding people that some young players got valuable playing time while in the shadow of both former Braves.
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He mentioned names like Oscar Tenorio, who is expected to take handoffs and catch passes, and Leondre Coleman, who too is anticipated to share the same tasks with Tenorio.
Then there’s Dechlan Sparrow who is involved in a two-way quarterback battle with Cameron Iribarren (younger brother to former Brave and Humboldt State linebacker Willie). Sparrow is the one with varsity experience on his side, but the lefty Iribarren comes in with the height advantage and has displayed a strong work ethic outside of Huyck Stadium.
Whoever has the full quarterback reins will have this experienced veteran to throw to: Ryan Morgan, who is entering his third season on varsity as a junior. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder is expected to see an increase in touches at wideout given his size, hops and physical strength.
On the offensive line, Jacob Nunez is healthy and ready to lead the plowing charge for the LHS trenches. Nunez starred on the wrestling mat and field events during the track season – plus enters this football campaign with a San Jose State offer in his possession. Romeo Barcelona, two-way trench standout Juan DeLuna and Jovanny Lucatero are expected to help anchor the Braves’ line.
Defensively, DeLuna is now the elder statesman on the line as a senior. He’s also entering his third season on varsity and is a All-Los Padres League performer at nose guard.
The linebacker group will be young as Davis coaches up this group that will likely help consist of Coleman and Cullin Ranney. Coleman, though, had a breakout sophomore season by collecting 79 tackles, 10 for a loss and 9.5 sacks – all of which were good enough for second on the team.
Lastly, the secondary will be youthful as the Braves aim to replace Gardner, Savage and Dallas Canley – all three emerging as All-LPL standouts.
But while the Braves appear to be in restart mode and been given a new gauntlet to run, Jones says his younger group is both battle tested and comes equipped with cohesion.
“I think we’ve had one of the better groups of kids that I’ve had in a long time as far as camaraderie, getting to practice on time and doing all the things the coaches are asking them to do,” Jones said. “There’s no one individual. It’s been a great group to coach. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, just a hungry group.”