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Samohi Optimistic About Football Chances:

When the 2008 high school football season begins Culver City will be trying to win the Ocean League for a third straight season.

But Santa Monica has other ideas.

In my annual pre-season conversation with Coach Zach Cuda I found him to be quite upbeat. The optimism stems from what he’s seen in off-season workouts and summer leagues. Although 12 starters graduated the returnees include three members of the offensive line and two prized running backs.

Cuda talks about the Vikings being a strong contender in the league race with the possibility of going deep into the playoffs.

And what about the graduation of three-year starting quarterback Ryan Katz, who is now at Oregon State?

“You don’t replace a player of Katz’ caliber,” said Cuda. “But I believe Garrett Safron is going to surprise a lot of people.

“Garrett is accurate and efficient.

Safron is a junior who has gone from 150 pounds to 170 in the last year with weight training.

After spreading the field often last season to take advantage of Katz’ running ability, Samohi is returning to an offense Cuda favors – the I-formation.

“We’re going to run between the tackles,” he said. “But we can use play action passes too. We have an experienced offensive line and Vince Lawrence and Christian Ross to carry the ball.”

Cuda expects both runners to have outstanding seasons and doesn’t rule out the possibility both could gain 1,000 yards.

That offense would take pressure off Safron, who played primarily on the Viking junior varsity last season.

Last season’s plan was for Lawrence to be the main ball carrier. But when he was injured Ross took over. Moving from the defensive backfield, Ross became much more than a fill-in.

A 160-yard game was not uncommon for him, and now he’s an integral part of the running game from the outset.

A fullback is required in the I-formation, and Drew Hammond appears to be the choice. Hammond is the Vikings’ middle linebacker but the depth there seems sufficient to give him some relief, allowing him to play more on offense.

One of the Vikings receiving the most attention from Division 1 colleges is Brennan Erdiznik, who is 6-7, 240 and also plays defensive end.

The offensive linemen were young last season. That’s not the case anymore, and tackle Amar Pal (6-5, 270) is an all-league player also receiving Division 1 attention.

Max Klein, described by Cuda as “athletic and smart,” is another key offensive linemen.

Then there are guards Nick Rimicci, an eight-game starter, Alec Szestel, who played significantly as a reserve, and Joe Duiou.

That’s a lot of talent, and Cuda will be surprised if they don’t do well.

There’s also depth with sophomore Justyn Colter and Glen Kullbrenner, a transfer from Venice who participated in Samohi’s summer program.

Samohi’s season opener will be at Leuzinger Sept. 12. The first four games will be on the road while FieldTurf is installed at Corsair Field.

In earlier years a Turf field resulted in a great deal more speed, but the latest versions play just a bit faster than grass.

As a result, Samohi’s game plans won’t be affected by the change to turf. But Cuda says the players are happy they won’t have to play on grass following rain anymore, when the caliber of play has been marred considerably.

Next week: The Samohi Defense

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