Expectations high for Corona’s gridiron season

By Brian Gomez

Not many football prognosticators are giving Corona del Sol High School much of a chance this fall, but head coach Gary Venturo is determined to take his team to the postseason for the first time in five years.

The Aztecs will have to overcome inexperience on both sides of the ball, in addition to replacing their starting quarterback, their top wide receiver and arguably the best lineman in school history from a team that went 6-4 last year and finished just shy of making the state playoffs.

“We expect to go pretty far,” said Venturo, whose team opens the season at 6 p.m. Aug. 28 in a scrimmage at Gilbert Highland.

“No one else gives us a chance, but we think we can do it, and that’s all that matters.”

Corona likely would have been included in the 16-team postseason field last year had it not been for a 30-point loss to Desert Vista in its finale. The Aztecs finished 18th in the Class 5A power points rankings, a complex system that takes into account a team’s record and strength of schedule.

“We don’t have a chip on our shoulder,” Venturo said. “We didn’t take care of business when we should have. You’ve got to win the ones you’re supposed to win.”

Corona’s postseason hopes hinge this year upon a group of relative unknowns, many of whom will be thrust into the starting lineup after being used primarily as reserves at the varsity level.

Senior Matthew Larson and junior Blaise Johnson are in contention for the starting quarterback position, which was handled last season by Brett Nenaber.

Larson is a drop-back passer, whereas Johnson is more of a roll-out quarterback, allowing the Aztecs to add more wrinkles to their offense.

“We’re going to end up doing a lot with either one of them,” Venturo said. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

Regardless of who’s taking the snaps, Corona needs more playmakers in the absence of wide receiver Chris Palmer and running backs Tyler Markichevich, Joshua Hossa and Henry Todd.

Venturo expects seniors Jon Kaufman and Adam Carr to emerge as his team’s leading receivers. Juniors Chase Flores and Daniel McClendon and senior Eric Smith will run behind an offensive line anchored by seniors Allen Smith and Michael Pursley and junior Joey Featherman.

On defense, junior inside linebacker Kirk Cox is in position to assume the leadership role held last season by lineman Mike Pollak, who has since signed with Arizona State. Senior linebackers Lloyd Cook and Emmanuel Butters will also figure into the mix.

Corona’s starting place-kicker and punter remain undecided due to the departure of Roy Simmons, coupled with Johnson’s leg injury toward the end of last season. Senior Daniel Dastrup and sophomore Kevin Hager are competing for the place-kicking job, while Johnson and junior Stephen Harper are being considered as punters.

“I really like the chemistry of this team,” Venturo said. “They’ll be quite a few new people, but we can run this year. We can move a lot better than we have in the past couple years.”

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@wranglernews.com or visit him online at http://sundevils.freeyellow.com/briangomez.html.