For the first time in years, the Silverado football team is not favored to win the Desert Sky League championship.
And that's just fine with Hawks coach Carl Posey.
"It's kind of refreshing," Posey said. "I'd rather be the guy that's chasing the leader instead of the guy that everybody's trying to catch."
The last time Silverado didn't win the DSL title was 2005, when Burroughs won it on its way to a CIF championship. Then Burroughs coach Jeff Steinberg departed, and instability plagued the league. Silverado and Victor Valley were the only DSL programs to retain the same head coach in each of the past three years, and Leland Eudy's Jackrabbits struggled through back-to-back winless seasons.
While every other team was rebuilding, Silverado was reloading with a cadre of talented athletes every year, steamrolling through an increasingly weak league. The low point was 2007, the Hawks' second-straight undefeated DSL campaign. At 6-3-2, they were the only team in the league with an overall winning record.
Last year things began to change: The Hawks captured another DSL title, but this time they had to share it. Silverado lost to Burroughs during the league season and ended up in a three-way tie for first place with the Burros and Barstow.
Still, the Hawks were considered the league's strongest team, and when they met Barstow in the CIF-Southern Section Eastern Division semifinals, they were expected to win. The Aztecs shocked the Hawks, 37-27, putting an end to Silverado's playoff run — and its air of invincibility.
Some prep football pundits — such as the folks at Calpreps.com — have picked Barstow to finish ahead of Silverado this year.
"We beat Silverado in the playoffs, (but) we've got to beat Silverado in the regular season," Barstow coach Jose Rubio said. "You've still got to look at Silverado. But this whole league, there's no cake-walk."
Rubio points out that every team in the league has its starting quarterback returning — except for his own.
But the Aztecs have Steven Deverell, a junior who might have started at QB last year if not for a severe ankle sprain. In his second year as head coach, Rubio has 26 seniors on the roster, including standout tailback/defensive back Curtis Webb and most of the offensive line.
Silverado, on the other hand, is not so experienced up front. The Hawks have standout quarterback Jemeryn Jenkins returning for his senior season, but he'll be playing behind a mostly new offensive line and will have to find a new favorite target to replace receiver Maurice Brown.
Burroughs, meanwhile, is finding stability entering its third year under head coach Matt Gracey. The Burros return starting quarterback Derrick Dison and standout linebacker/tight end Shane Lloyd, but Gracey isn't ready to put his team among the favorites.
"If things go our way we'll be a much better football team, but games aren't won on paper," Gracey said. "If you ask anybody in this league who the teams to beat are, to a man they will say Barstow and Silverado. We got up there with them last year. We've got to do that more than one year before anyone's going to be looking at us as one of the top teams."
Victor Valley, having finished fourth in the league in 2008, is looking to build on its moderate improvement. The Jackrabbits have athleticism at the skill positions — such as running back J.W. Morgan and receiver Jordan Calhoun — but they'll have to get a big effort from their undersized lines.
Granite Hills, in its second season under head coach Justin Price, is feeling confident despite last year's winless DSL season and 2-8 overall record.
The Cougars return many key players on offense — like tight end Bryce Quigley — but have lost several standouts on defense and will need new starters to step up.
Posey and other coaches in the DSL seem pleased that league is achieving not just parity, but quality.
Just two years ago, the DSL was being derided as the wasteland of the CIF-SS Eastern Division.
"Our league is on the up," Posey said. "Our league is becoming one of the strongest in the division, and that makes me smile."
Kris Reilly is the sports editor of the Press Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 951-6274.