Highlanders look to repeat despite loss of playmakers
By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
It seems like just a couple months ago, La Habra was celebrating yet another last second miracle catch to win the CIF Championship, but alas the 2016-17 football season is nearly upon us once again.
The La Habra Highlanders will officially kickoff the season at home against El Toro in just three weeks.
As always, the Highlander football players and coaches find themselves searching for another CIF title. While La Habra will undoubtedly be in the hunt for another ring, they are first and foremost searching for a quarterback to take the reigns on offense.
After the departure of one of the most dynamic playmakers in school history, Eric Barriere (Eastern Washington University), Head Coach Frank Mazzotta has yet to name his starting quarterback.
Mazzotta said the position battle is between freshman Alex Flores , junior Zach Fogel and senior Joe Hernandez, a transfer from nearby St. Paul. While he is still unclear on how things will shake out, Mazzotta said he is happy with the progress of three players competing for the job thus far.
Starting at quarterback as a freshman is a tall order at any school, especially at traditional power like La Habra. With that said, Mazzotta believes Flores has a bright future and has been impressed with his football-IQ.
“Alex loves the game of football so much, he is really a student of the game,” Mazzotta said.
Fogel saw some action last season in lopsided victories and showed the ability to move the ball when given the opportunity.
Hernandez played the majority of the snaps behind center for St. Paul (Norwalk) last season, throwing for over 700 yards and three touchdowns.
With Barriere, Amon Fellows and CJ Taylor no longer around, the Highlanders will be missing three-quarters of their key playmakers on offense. However, they still have the explosive Prince Ross at receiver and seniors Eli Anderson and Madison Wheeler in the backfield.
Ross was one of Barriere’s favorite targets a season ago and caught the CIF Championship-winning touchdown from Barriere as time expired the last time he was on the field.
Mazzotta said the carries will be split between Eli Anderson and Madison Wheeler.
Wheeler will also play a pivotal role on defense. He is expected by many to be one of the top recruits in Southern California.
Another key returner on defense is linebacker Camron Rivas. The senior is equally adept at rushing the quarterback and stopping the run. He is also unquestionably one of the vocal and emotional leaders on the team.
Senior outside linebacker Marcus Carrasco, will also be a major force on defense. Carrasco has the prototypical collegiate linebacker size and will be one of the leading tacklers for the Highlanders once again this season.
According to Mazzotta, the Highlanders will be returning just four starters on offense and five on defense.
One thing you can count on every season under Mazzotta’s tutelage, is the Highlanders will play physical and well coached football, from top-to-bottom.
Mazzotta has led the Highlanders to a Freeway League title 12 out of the last 13 seasons, and amassed an impressive seven CIF Championships in that span.
With a young and explosive Buena Park team returning a lot of key playmakers, the Coyotes will most likely be the stiffest test for La Habra en route to capturing their 10th consecutive Freeway League title.
It wouldn’t be reasonable to set expectations as high as they were coming into last season, especially with the uncertainty at the most important position. However, Mazzotta has proven to be masterful at building a winning program that can continue winning at a high level, despite the turnover of multiple key players year-in and year-out.
Mazzotta called the team a work in progress at this point, but said the team is right where he thought they would be at this time.
“The kids have done a nice job in the passing league, but it’s hard to tell exactly where we are at until we get into real competition,” Mazzotta said.
The Highlanders will get their first test against El Toro, Friday August 26 at 7 p.m.