With the first game of the 2019 Yucaipa High School football season set for Aug. 30 at home, it remains a mystery as to who will play in that game. Never in 10 years as Yucaipa’s football coach has Justin Price had to replace so many starters. Only four return leaving a whopping 18 positions up for grabs.
Any talk of Yucaipa football this season begins with its offensive line, led by talented Brandon Hernandez and Robert Joe Taylor. Both 6-foot-5, 300-pounders are three year starters who will play next year at Boise State and Taylor at University of Nevada. The two will be joined on the line this season by Jacob Fritzinger, Dashawn Broutchie, and Dylan Sprague. Price said a season ending knee injury to senior offensive lineman Ivan Schlitt was a “huge loss.”
Price acknowledged that he has a core of good athletes but the team lacks depth. Taylor and Hernandez say they can fill two more positions by playing defense too. “We’re in better physical shape than we’ve ever been and are ready to play the whole game,” said Taylor, who has played alongside Hernandez since eighth grade. “We’ve got such good chemistry that we know what each other is going to do without talking about it,” said Hernandez.
Price, Taylor and Hernandez agreed that the Yucaipa starting quarterback job is up for grabs. Each mentioned Kaleb Stamps and Citrus Valley transfer Elijah James, both juniors who are in fierce competition for the job. Price said he also likes what senior Casey Graff has to offer.
“We have two scrimmages before our first game. That will tell a lot.” Price did say since James is a transfer he will be ineligible for the first five games. “So it’s between Graff and Stamps and we’ll see how James fits in when he becomes eligible at the beginning of Citrus Belt League.”
Senior captain David Fisher feels it’s exciting to see so many players competing for jobs. “I can’t wait to see how these young players act once they play on the varsity,” said Fisher. “A lot of them have never played varsity football. Some will be able to. Others won’t.”
Fisher likes the athleticism of Stamps and James yet added that he “has no clue” who will end up the starter. Fisher and another senior captain Jackson Beamish complimented Kevin Graff by saying the 17-year-old is mature enough to serve the team as an assistant coach.
Beamish, a linebacker, and Fisher, a multi-purpose player, on defense and offense will be expected to take on added responsibilities. “Fisher can do everything and he’ll pretty much have to,” said Price.
Beamish said that some new players must learn to be more aggressive. “Varsity football is physical. Our young players must get that,” said Beamish. “Our team is a mystery and that’s a good way to put it. I’m confident everything will come together.”
Fisher and Beamish pointed out that this will be the first season in six years that YHS has not had a quarterback named Nathan Martinez or Keo McChesney.
Who will start at running back is another question. Price called sophomore Emmanuel Barajas the leading contender.
“He’s not that fast or big but he has good vision. He’ll be able to run behind Taylor and Hernandez. He finds the opening fast.”
Taylor and Hernandez like Barajas’ running style as well. Junior running back Kaden Pistilli is expected to get a lot of touches. Replacing injured senior back Mikey Seufalemua leaves another big hole. Price thinks Haiden Smith might be able to fill some of that void.
Price calls returning multi-purpose player Austin Bolinger “really good” and is pleased with the long range accuracy of junior kickers Brodie Aldama and three-sport athlete Gavin Mink. Price gave high marks to defensive players Nick Rosano, Dylan Stevens, Justin Stevens and Grayson Collins.
Yucaipa has not won a league title in 20 years. It has finished second six times during Price’s 10 years.
Price smiled when told some project YHS to have a 2-8 season. He thinks Cajon is still the team to beat in CBL, with Redlands East Valley a tough opponent.
“Citrus Valley is in the mix. The league title is wide open,” said Price.
Hernandez said, “We do have pretty much a whole new team but we’re starting to come together as one unit.”
Taylor added, “Yes, I take it personally that we are predicted to win only two games. We are motivated by that.” Both feel more responsible as seniors. “I feel a sense of urgency.”