Mike Burnett built a successful football program at Santa Monica High the last two years, then left to coach a high school team in Virginia.
Zach Cuda, a Samohi assistant, has taken over and understandably has a high level of expectations for the 2006 season, which begins September 8 at Hueneme.
With several Samohi players likely to receive college scholarships, Burnett agonized about leaving but made a choice for family reasons – most notably being able to afford a home, something becoming increasingly difficult in Southern California.
He hoped Samohi would choose one of his assistants as head coach to maintain continuity in the program. That seemed like a good idea to athletic director Doug Kim, who then decided to concentrate on teaching, and new athletic director Norm Lacy.
Cuda has the good fortune to inherit a wealth of talent that includes quarterback Ryan Katz, running back/linebacker E.J. Woods, receiver/defensive back Cameron Collins and imposing 250-pound lineman Damon Middleton.
Expect to read these names on the Division 1 university level in the future.
And now it appears likely Cuda has received some very good news.
Lewis Adeyemi, an all-Ocean League running back and defensive star, is coming back after being injured in an off-season automobile accident. At first it seemed like Adeyemi, the Vikings’ captain, might not be able to play this season. Of course the Vikings will be cautious, but Adeyemi now seems likely to participate.
Santa Monica was 6-5 two years ago and 8-3 last season following a 0-9-1 record in Burnett’s first season. Besides an array of returning talent – nine offensive starters and seven on defense – there are several promising players coming up from the lower level teams.
The league had three powerful teams last season and all look good again. Beverly Hills was the winner, barely beating out Santa Monica and Culver City.
But even when the Vikings lost their CIF playoff opener to Arroyo Grande High in San Luis Obispo, Burnett was proud of them.
“It was what high school football should be,” he said. “Good competition, no fighting and a lot of respect shown all around when the game ended.
“We were outclassed in the playoffs the previous year but not this time.”
Samohi proved it could compete against a strong team in Division 4. The next step would be to win a playoff game against a quality opponent.
It begins with Katz, who made second team all-league as a sophomore. Cuda said that in summer passing leagues Katz’s arm was stronger.
The Vikings had the luxury of having two all-league running backs in Adeyemi and Woods, who kept defenses honest and wanted to focus on Samohi’s passing game.
If Adeyemi is limited, Woods seems ready to carry a heavier load as a junior. Woods is also being viewed as an outside linebacker by some universities.
With the graduation of Robert Garcia, the fullback appears likely to be David Naylor.
Even with Katz and Woods on the squad, Collins may be drawing the most attention of any Viking by college scouts. Besides being a premier receiver and defensive back he’s been the backup quarterback and will continue in that role until Isia Carillo develops. Carillo, up from the junior varsity, has plenty of talent.
Katz will be throwing to Collins, talented returnee Geo Allen and tight ends Max Monbouquette and Nick Mays.
Speedy John Dunn will be another receiver and could be prominent even if he doesn’t start.
The offensive line is anchored by Middleton and center Justin Williams. Others who figure in Cuda’s plans are Charlie Poland, Amar Pal and Mitchell Rathner, a starter at tackle who has been moved to guard.
All three of the Vikings’ defensive ends graduated. Newcomers Mays and James Grossman entered fall practice as the starters based on their summer work.
Middleton and Williams will have an impact on defense too, as will linebackers Naylor and Monbouquette.
Woods, Allen and Adeyemi are experienced linebackers, Adi Adeyemi (no relation) is the best cornerback, Collins the free safety and Keith Kilgour, Taylor Wright and Dunn available to play in the defensive backfield wherever needed.
“I’m excited,” said Cuda. “Things are where they need to be.”
Although it’s hard to pick apart an 8-3 record, it can be said that Samohi lost to the three best teams it played last season – Venice in a non-league game, Beverly Hills in a league showdown and Arroyo Grande in the playoffs.
A marquee game this season will be a non-league meeting with perennial power Los Alamitos in the fifth week of the season at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
Beverly Hills has running back Raymond Judkin back. He’s the player who gained 200 yards in one half against Santa Monica last season.
Culver City has a quarterback in Darius Banks, who is rated alongside Katz as a college prospect. Both are juniors.
While Samohi strives for balance out of the I-formation, Culver City spreads the field and features passing from start to finish of games.
The Samohi schedule:
Sept. 8 at Hueneme
Sept. 15 home vs. Palisades
Sept. 21 (Thursday) at Venice
Sept. 29 home vs. St. Monica
Oct. 6 Los Alamitos (Veterans Stadium)
Oct. 13 at Morningside
Oct. 20 home vs. Beverly Hills
Oct. 27 home vs. Culver City
Nov 3 at Inglewood
Nov 10 home vs. Hawthorne