2016-06-24 / Sports

Passing grades

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL /// Conejo Classic Simi Valley, Royal football teams battle at 7-on-7 tournament
By Eliav Appelbaum and Jonathan Andrade


LET THE GAMES BEGIN—Agoura High receiver Morgan Koff, right, tries to elude Calabasas cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles during the Conejo Classic passing tournament on June 18 at Westlake. 
Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers LET THE GAMES BEGIN—Agoura High receiver Morgan Koff, right, tries to elude Calabasas cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles during the Conejo Classic passing tournament on June 18 at Westlake. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers Football season never really ends.

Before the pads go on and the games count in the standings, local players showcased their skills at the Conejo Classic 7-on-7 passing tournament on June 18 at Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks and Westlake high schools.

Local squads from Agoura, Calabasas, Camarillo, Moorpark, Royal and Simi Valley participated in the classic with the host teams. Calabasas, the preseason favorite to win a CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship, defeated Moorpark 32-26 in the championship game last weekend.

The passing league showdown is about preparing for the fall.

“At Saturday tournaments, you want to compete,” Moorpark head coach Tim Lins said. “It’s a good opportunity to find out who’s going to make big plays on critical downs.”


Wesley Anusiem Wesley Anusiem Here’s a look at the teams and standouts who caught our attention during the Conejo Classic:

ROYAL HIGHLANDERS

There is a quarterback battle brewing at Royal.

Chris Hulin, Jacob Ulmann and Jack Daghestanian will try to replace recent graduated QB Matt Sciumbato, who set a Highlander record for passing yards (2,762) in a single season last fall.

Hulin played with a little more swagger than his fellow Royal gunslingers at the Conejo Classic; the incoming junior looks like a better prospect with a more fluid throwing motion. Ashton Arnold, an incoming senior receiver, made a full-extension diving grab during one impressive sequence.

Wesley Anusiem impressed onlookers at the tournament.

Anusiem, an incoming senior wide receiver/cornerback, hauled in several nice catches and made the right reads on defense.


Curtis Cuillard Curtis Cuillard “We’re trying to make progress with a new coach,” the Highlander said. “We want to get our offense down exactly. It’s a learning process.”

Head coach Matthew Lewis replaced Kevin Flye.

“He’s a great coach,” Anusiem said of Lewis. “He’s really smart. He knows exactly what he wants to do in our program.”

Anusiem, who competes in the 100-meter dash, 200 and 4x100 relay for the track and field team, has worked on improving the fundamentals of running routes and catching the ball. On defense, he’s spent the offseason on backpedaling and keeping up with quick receivers.

He didn’t drop any passes or blow any coverages during the morning session, but he’s not satisfied.

“It always could be better,” Anusiem said.


ATTACK OF THE SHORTS—Royal receiver Conor Miller, left, tries to elude a Moorpark defender. ATTACK OF THE SHORTS—Royal receiver Conor Miller, left, tries to elude a Moorpark defender. SIMI VALLEY PIONEERS

Curtis Cuillard made the most of his time on the field.

The incoming senior wide receiver and safety caught a pair of touchdowns and snagged an interception during the morning session of the classic.

“We’re putting in work trying to get better every day,” Cuillard said.

Cuillard, who played two years of high school baseball, is doing his best trying to develop into an impact player on the gridiron. What’s he been working on this summer?

“Pretty much everything,” he said. “Footwork, my hands, working with other receivers and my quarterback. I’m spending a lot of time on the field and a lot of time in the gym.”


FLASH—Simi Valley receiver Curtis Cuillard runs with the ball during the Conejo Classic last weekend. 
MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers FLASH—Simi Valley receiver Curtis Cuillard runs with the ball during the Conejo Classic last weekend. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers Cuillard said he’s excited that crosstown rival Royal has joined the Canyon League. That means the teams will play each other in the last week of the regular season.

“We’ll be building up for that game,” Cuillard said. “Simi- Royal for Week 10—that’s how it should be done.”

Simi Valley has also injected new blood into its coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Arnold Baynard, who guided the Pioneer defense in 2009 and 2010, is one of five new faces on head coach Ryan Taggart’s staff.

Cuillard wasn’t the only Pioneer to play well last weekend.

Brandon Baynes, an incoming senior linebacker, made plays on defense. Baynes could see time in the fall at defensive end. Alex Olarte, an incoming senior running back, is working hard. Garrett Rezinas, an inside linebacker, is a player to watch.


CONEJO CLASSIC REWIND— The Simi Valley and Royal high school football teams competed at the Conejo Classic passing tournament on June 18. Pictured, clockwise from left, Royal’s Khyle Shiffer runs with the ball; Simi Valley’s Riley Hunt holds onto the pigskin while feeling heat from Thousand Oaks’ Gavin Schrecengost; and Royal quarterback Chris Hulin throws the ball. CONEJO CLASSIC REWIND— The Simi Valley and Royal high school football teams competed at the Conejo Classic passing tournament on June 18. Pictured, clockwise from left, Royal’s Khyle Shiffer runs with the ball; Simi Valley’s Riley Hunt holds onto the pigskin while feeling heat from Thousand Oaks’ Gavin Schrecengost; and Royal quarterback Chris Hulin throws the ball. Cole Hauptman, an incoming senior, is a dual-threat quarterback who started under center on the junior varsity team in 2014. He was a wide receiver/defensive back last fall.

“He’s mobile. He’s strong. He knows the offense,” Taggart said of Hauptman. “For him to read the defense, hand it off, throw it or tuck and run really helps us a lot.”

CALABASAS COYOTES

Calabasas gained a defensive leader with the transfer of defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles.

The incoming junior, who has more than 20 college scholarship offers, including one to USC, joined the defending CIF-Southern Section Western Division champions after playing his sophomore season at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.

He’s already evolved into a vocal leader of the Coyote defense, alongside superstar Darnay Holmes. Radley-Hiles offered tips to his teammates on the sideline after each series.

“I want to make sure the young guys are comfortable talking to me to make sure they know what they’re doing,” he said. “They don’t have to hesitate.”

Courtney Chandler, an incoming senior, got plenty of looks at different positions in the Calabasas secondary. He saw most of his reps at safety.

Calabasas head coach Casey Clausen, who enters his third year at the helm, said Chandler is starting to figure things out.


Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers “He’s doing well,” Clausen said of Chandler. “We’re moving him around. We’re trying to find the best combination right now. We’re expecting a lot of good things from him.”

Star quarterback Tristan Gebbia, who will enroll at Nebraska in January along with top receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., led the offense.

Clausen gave Gebbia sporadic breaks while the coaching staff evaluated potential backups. Tripp Mitchell, a sophomore, and Jaden Casey, a freshman, are locked in a competition for the backup role.

“We can get them as many mental reps as we can in meetings,” Clausen said, “but the best way to evaluate them is through competition.”

MOORPARK MUSKETEERS

Can anybody stop Zane Pope?

After an underwhelming junior year, Pope is primed for a monster senior season with the Musketeers. He dazzled at the tournament. In one sequence, he snagged a laser from quarterback Tyger Goslin, juked to freeze a defender and glided into the end zone for an effortless touchdown.

“I feel pretty good,” Pope said. “Just getting ready for the season.”

Pope said he’s spent this offseason cleaning up his routes, fine-tuning his explosive speed and perfecting moves to shake defensive backs.

The incoming senior receiver, who has started since his sophomore year, also suits up at cornerback and safety. He picked up his first scholarship offer, from Northern Arizona, a few weeks ago. It won’t be his last offer.

Pope is looking forward to catching touchdowns from Goslin, a transfer from Chatsworth who started his prep career at Westlake. Goslin, who committed to the U.S. Naval Academy, threw for 2,730 yards with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for 1,359 yards and seven more scores in 2015.

Head coach Tim Lins said Goslin has picked up the Moorpark offense quickly.

“He squeezes it into tight spots,” Pope said of Goslin. “He’s one of the hardest throwing quarterbacks I’ve had.”

Wide receiver Christian Lancelloti, a transfer from Simi Valley, impressed the Musketeers at the Conejo Classic. Lancelloti’s brother, Sam, was a star wide-out for the Pioneers in 2015.

NEWBURY PARK PANTHERS

Andrew Noble isn’t afraid to share the spotlight.

Noble, an incoming senior wide receiver and special teams ace, thrives in team sport environments with football, basketball and lacrosse teams. He also battles for the track and field team, making him the rare four-sport athlete in Ventura County.

The Panther is a reliable and dynamic target for quarterback Cameron Rising.

“We have a high-powered offense,” Noble said. “We’ll get a lot of touchdowns and a lot of yards. Our offense will be exciting.”

Noble said he was impressed with newcomer Mateen Johnson, a transfer from Calabasas.

“He caught every ball. He beat every guy,” Noble said of Johnson. “He looked awesome out there.”

Johnson, who turns 17 in August, spent his freshman year at Crespi before suiting up for Calabasas the past two years.

The incoming senior said teammates have embraced him.

“It’s great. It’s great,” Johnson said. “The team really invited me into their circle.”

Johnson hopes to select a page from Noble’s busy playbook by playing multiple sports. Johnson said he’s thinking about picking up baseball, basketball and track for his senior year.

With his large frame and speed, he revels in playing with Rising, one of the best QBs in Southern California.

“I feel like we already have a great connection,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be deadly this year.”

THOUSAND OAKS LANCERS

Thousand Oaks reached the Northern Division championship game last year. The squad will be an underdog in a loaded Camino League with Calabasas, Moorpark and Newbury Park.

The Lancers showed their inexperience at the Conejo Classic.

“We’re so young,” head coach Mike Leibin said. “It’s a process. . . . We have literally everybody trying to learn tough lessons at the same time.”

Freddie Ricketts, an incoming junior, is expected to start at quarterback for Thousand Oaks. He replaces Max Gilliam, who suits up for California.

Ricketts started under center for the junior varsity squad last year.

“He’s making some good throws,” Leibin said of Ricketts. “It’s a matter of consistency with his fundamentals. I don’t think he makes a lot of bad decisions, but his throws can be better. That comes down to his mechanics.”

Erik Molen, an incoming senior inside linebacker, will be the only returning starter among skill position players after wide receiver Steele Ledford left the team on the first day of spring practice in May. Ledford quit football to focus on baseball, Leibin said. Ledford’s brother, Colton Ledford, is an incoming sophomore wide receiver/cornerback.

Molen, who played basketball as a freshman, led the Lancers on the field at the tournament.

“I like how we’re competing,” he said. “We’re definitely going our hardest.”

WESTLAKE WARRIORS

Dax Blinn, an incoming senior quarterback, continued to improve his timing last weekend.

Westlake head coach Tony Henney said he’s glad his quarterback was able to throw in a competitive environment before the dead period starts in July.

“That stuff takes time,” Henney said.

Blinn’s gotten comfortable throwing to Jalen Turner, an incoming junior receiver who started playing football last year.

“He’s still young with his football experience,” the coach said of Turner, who also plays cornerback. “He’s still learning, and that’s OK. That’s what this is for. He’ll make some great plays. We just have to find some consistency from him. It comes with reps and experience.”

Turner impressed Calabasas cornerback/receiver Darnay Holmes in the morning’s first showdown between the two teams. Turner batted a ball away from Holmes to force a fourth down.

Holmes high-fived the Westlake playmaker.

“That’s like my big brother,” Turner said of Holmes. “We go to a bunch of camps. He’s showed me all the ropes.”

Henney said he likes how his team has progressed this summer.

“When the day is over, all this stuff is meaningless as far as who won and who lost,” he said. “I want us to compete on every down and in every situation so that we can apply it when the season comes.”

AGOURA CHARGERS

Clayton Eiberg, an incoming senior receiver, made one of the flashiest catches at the Conejo Classic.

The 5-foot-10 Charger had a Village Christian defender beat deep during Agoura’s second morning game. A short pass forced Eiberg to come back to make a miraculous catch by reaching behind the corner’s back for the touchdown.

“Dun-a-nuh! Dun-a-nuh!” one fan yelled from the stands.

Eiberg, who missed his junior season with a dislocated shoulder and a torn labrum, said he didn’t need a SportsCenter Top 10 play to be excited about his return to the field.

“It’s always nice to gauge how the season’s going before it even starts,” he said.

Agoura head coach Kamran Salem said Eiberg, who also plays lacrosse, stuck with the coaching staff’s focal points for the passing tournament: Give great effort, do your job and make plays.

“These guys came out here today and have been executing on all fronts,” Salem said. “The effort is there every play. We’ve probably made four or five plays on effort alone.”

Fellow Agoura receivers Garrison Thornton, James Galindo and Morgan Koff also had solid outings last weekend.

Salem, a first-year head coach, said he was impressed with production from middle linebackers Connor Harpole and Trevor Danon. The incoming seniors maintained coverage underneath the safeties while batting down numerous balls.

Salem said the tournament was an all-around success.

“It’s not the most realistic football,” Salem said, “but it’s football nonetheless that we need to cover to make sure we’re ready for Friday nights.”

CAMARILLO SCORPIONS

Camarillo would love to put on an encore performance of 2015, but it’ll be tough repeating as section champions with a completely revamped lineup.

Head coach Jack Willard said the Conejo Classic gave his players a chance to separate themselves from the pack. It also gave the Scorpions an even better opportunity to perfect the playbook.

“We’re just trying to understand the foundation of our offense and defense,” Willard said. “We just run our stuff over and over again against whatever looks we get. We had so much turnover at our skill positions on offense—and our entire defense—guys are going to have to understand their job.”

Jake Moss, an incoming junior quarterback who led the Scorpions to a postseason semifinal victory over Bishop Diego last year, leads the offense on the field.

“It was good practice going against these tough teams,” Moss said. “Our offense got a lot of good work against these defenses. I got a chance to practice my reads a lot.”

Mason Brown, an incoming sophomore who led the freshman team last season, is also making a push for playing time under center.

New receiver Jonah Cottrell, who helped the boys’ basketball team reach the Division 1A semifinals in the winter, has impressed Willard with his ability to learn his routes.

Cottrell, a 6-foot-2 target, played three seasons of Roadrunner youth football from sixth to eighth grade. He’s glad to be able to help the Scorpions on the gridiron after suiting up for the baseball team in the spring.

He said the Conejo Classic was an eye-opening experience.

“I learned that I have to be more physical,” Cottrell said. “When the ball’s in the air, I have to know that that’s my ball.”

VALENCIA RECEIVER CATCHES ON

Kyra Guerra stood out on a field of boys.

Maybe it had something to do with her ponytail flapping underneath her soft-shell helmet. More likely, it was the moment she caught a pass at the Conejo Classic.

Guerra, an incoming junior receiver from Valencia, hauled in a catch on a quick sideline out against Royal. Teammates and fans sitting in the Thousand Oaks bleachers cheered for Guerra.

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