Strathmore moves to Div. V, start season next Friday

Division V, finally. 

The move was a couple of years in the making with Strathmore High School football going three years straight as CIF Central Section Division VI champions, CIF State Regional champions, CIF State finalists and the team winning Tulare County’s first-ever football state title in 2017.

But finally the Spartans are Div. V. Although they couldn’t care less right now.

“It feels like nothing at the moment because all we can do is get ready for the schedule that we have and our first game is Boron,” SHS head coach Jeromy Blackwell said. “So we’re going to get ourselves ready for them.”

Strathmore started last season with a 48-6 win at Boron. Electing to take their bye this week and play all 10 regular season games straight, they’ll host the Bobcats next Friday to open the season.

“You know how we do it,” Blackwell said. “We’re just going to go one game at a time, one play at a time and one situation at a time. And over the course of the season that will prepare us for whatever task is out in front of us.”

As has been the case in the previous two seasons, a concern lies on the Spartans’ offensive line where they replace everyone except senior tackle Angel Colunga and senior center Aaron Estrada.

“We’ve got four brand new guys and Aaron’s like the senior dude with 46 games under his belt,” Blackwell said. “And slowly that’s tightening up. It was very raw and shaky (the first days of practice) but it’s tightening up.”

With the varsity squad since he was a freshman, Estrada’s been a part of all of the Spartans’ success, boasting a career record of 43-3 with the team.

“I’m pretty excited not gonna lie,” Estrada said. “Each year to me gets better and better, almost. A lot of things are expected out of the seniors and I know we have a good group of guys out here. We always do, it’s Strathmore.”

On the line, Estrada said, “We’re pretty good. I know the guys that have been in the back, they’re going to shine. I know that. They’ve been in the program now for a few years so they know the plays, there’s no doubt that they’re going to do good on game day.”

Where there’s no shortage of returners for Strathmore is at the skills positions. Senior quarterback Trace Pugh returns after throwing for 563 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception last season. His top two receivers, senior Lee Navarro (408 yards, three touchdowns) and senior Andre Bravo (296 yards, three touchdowns) are also back.

The Spartans’ bread and butter has always been in their run game and they’ll finally have back sophomore Carlos Moreno, who was the team’s top rusher after Alonso Acevedo (1,797 yards, 32 touchdowns) with 676 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing three games due to injury. Senior Christian Onsurez (492 yards, four touchdowns) and junior Javier Garcilazo (three touchdowns) are also back.

“These guys are very quick and agile, and they’re actually probably stronger as a unit than any of those groups that we’ve had before,” Blackwell said. “...It’s a different style of running game. It’s going to be five or six yards and a cloud of dust. I don’t know if you’ll see the big, explosive plays but we got ways to do that too.”

Less explosive plays could give Strathmore’s passing game a little more exposure and it’s an opportunity Pugh looks forward too.

“I think we’re going to throw more this year,” Pugh said. “We don’t have too much of a ground and pound team, we’ve got a good line, but we don’t have Alonso where he’s just going to take off running. I feel like we’ll pass more, run a lot.”

Defensively, the secondary is made up of the same skills players like Navarro, who is the starting cornerback. Linebacker was a tougher position to fill but the team will have Onsurez and senior Cristian Rodriguez there. However the defensive line is shaping up well. 

 “Some big guys are starting to step up and look like that (2017) team when we had those big guys in the front with Angel Colunga,” Blackwell said. “And we just found this sophomore kid who just came up from the (junior varsity) team. Alex Guzman, who looks really stout. Cutter Zeller is taking on a serious playmaker role on the D-line.” 

Strathmore has a shot at retaking the East Sequoia League crown after losing it to Woodlake last season. The Tigers beat the Spartans 38-20 for the team's first loss in league since 2015. It was the team’s only loss on the season besides a 49-0 loss to Hilmar in the CIF State D6-AA championship game. 

Strathmore won't face any Div. V teams except Woodlake in an ESL game on October 4, but without looking too far ahead, the team is still confident in what they can accomplish this season.

“This is a really good football team,” Blackwell said. “We’re going to open some eyes and people are going to say, ‘How did they do that? They just graduated all those guys again and they did it again.’ But we’re blessed with really good kids that are streaming through at the moment.”

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