Football is the marquee sport of Santa Monica High’s well-regarded athletic department.
The team is usually well-stocked with talent. The program has a rich history. And crowds fill the seats on Friday nights at Corsair Field.
But last season Samohi didn’t qualify for the CIF playoffs. And that was quite a disappointment.
The failure of being one of three teams from the Ocean League to be selected provides motivation for the new season that begins September 7 at home against Hueneme High.
Besides trying for a better finish in the league, Samohi will attempt to end a four-year losing streak against non-league Westside rival Venice High, one of the favorites to win the LA City championship.
“I’ve been here four years, three as Mike Burnett’s assistant and last year as head coach, and we haven’t beaten Venice,’’ says Zach Cuda.
The Vikings, who had a 6-4 record last season, will enter the season with a premier senior quarterback, Ryan Katz, who has committed to Oregon State.
Katz is an outstanding passer and his running has improved so much that Cuda has added a shotgun formation to the team’s traditional I-back look.
In discussing the passing attack, Cuda heaps praise upon 5-foot-6, 140-pound John Dunn, a speedy slotback.
Although Dunn is small, he likely has a future in college football also.
“He’ll probably be our leading receiver in both receptions and yardage,’’ said Cuda.
The coach is also excited about Terry Wilson, a member of the Samohi baseball team and half brother of former Viking star Charles Gordon, who now is in the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp.
If both players are on the field at the same time, defenses will be challenged to match up with the speed.
Max Monbouquette, a first team all-Ocean League linebacker, is also the starting tight end and will be backed up by sophomore Luke Zelon and 6-foot-4 Ron Austin, a transfer from Philadelphia.
Austin arrived late last season and didn’t play but has made an impression in early Viking workouts.
Junior Vince Lawrence, who played prominently last season due to team injuries, has established himself as the primary running back. Lawrence, a baseball player, is another two-sport star. He caught the winning pass in a summer passing league game, then played in a baseball game the same day.
Cuda wants the Vikings to have a strong running attack, and the presence of Jah-Herb Johnson at fullback should help.
Johnson was a second team all-league defensive end last year and has handled his fullback assignments well in practice as he replaces David Naylor, who graduated.
The new backs replace Lewis Adeyemi, now at Villanova, and Naylor. As seniors they were leaders on last year’s team.
Cuda says the offensive line can be one of the team’s strengths. He’s encouraged by the dedication of players during off-season weight training.
“The group will be young. There’s only one starter back. But they’re bigger and stronger because of the work they’ve put in,’’ he said.
Charlie Poland, the only returning starter, has moved from left tackle to right. He was a second team all-Ocean League choice last season.
Amar Pal will be the left tackle, Nick Rimibichi and Billy Arnold the guards and Max Klein the center.
Cuda’s biggest concern on defense is replacing Cameron Collins, who is now at Oregon State.
“Players of his caliber don’t come along often in high school,’’ says Cuda, who doesn’t have one player in mind to take over Collins’ safety spot. For now, Christian Ross and Dunn are listed there.
But there remains a superior player on the defensive unit. That’s Monbouquette, the middle linebacker
“He’s physical, versatile and a big part of what we do,’’ said Cuda.
Up front, Samohi must replace Mitchell Rathner, who is no longer in school. Johnson and Austin will be the defensive ends, Arnold the noseguard and Pal a tackle.
Drew Hammond, who was defensive player of the year on the junior varsity, should be another starting linebacker. Newcomer Zelon and Wright are also in the game plan.
The cornerbacks will be returning starters Wilson and Adi Adeyemi.
As of this writing, Cuda hadn’t settled upon his kickers. He wants to find a punter so Katz won’t have that duty again.
Four of the first five games are scheduled at Corsair Field and the other one might be played there too if renovation of Palisades High’s field isn’t complete.
A concern is that Samohi will have two tough games – against speedy Long Beach Jordan and physically powerful Los Alamitos – in the fourth and fifth weeks before opening Ocean League play in the sixth.
The schedule was upgraded, with Long Beach Jordan replacing outmanned St. Monica, with hopes of impressing the playoff selection committee if that becomes necessary.
It won’t be, of course, if Samohi finishes first in the league.