This story was updated Sept. 10 to include a statement from quarterback senior Luke Duxbury about last year’s Aliso Niguel away home opener.
Coaches: head coach Pete Karavedas, assistant head coach/offensive line/special teams coach Ron Newton, offensive coordinator/running backs/corners coach Jae Byun, defensive line/tight ends coach Scott Enrico, quarterbacks/safeties coach Phil Hughes, linebackers/fullbacks coach Ernest Akina, assistant running backs/freshman head coach David Wilde, freshman assistant coach Josh Laguana
Top Returning Players: Jun Ahn (12), Wilson Cal (12), Luke Duxbury (12), Carson Irons (11)
Top Newcomer: Kevin Hu (11)
Outlook: Coming off an 8-3 record and another first-round exit in the CIF playoffs last season, the Sunny Hills football team will play its first home game Aug. 30 against Aliso Niguel High School at 7 p.m.
And for the first time, the players will compete on the newly installed turf field at Buena Park High School’s stadium, which the Lancers will continue to share with the Buena Park High School football team.
“It’s a fun experience being the first Sunny Hills team to play in the new stadium as well as being the last team to play in the old stadium last year,” said wide receiver and defensive back Cal, who is in his third year on the team. “The field is a lot better, and it’s just a fun experience having a brand new stadium for a season that we expect to be special.”
Teammate and second-year middle linebacker Irons agrees with Cal’s assessment, adding, “Turf has a different feel. We have done some practices on [the new field] and will have our Wednesday practices there to continue to get used to it.
“I think it’s better than the grass field because the turf has more traction.”
Neither the players nor Karavedas has noticed any of the Lancers having a tough time with practicing on grass at Sunny Hills and then going to Buena Park to practice over there every so often.
“We’ve been practicing on it a little bit so we don’t change anything about what we do,” he said. “It’s just about the players feeling comfortable.”
Besides the new field, Karavedas said four of his Lancers are ranked in the Orange County Register’s online Hot 150, which rates the top high school football players in Orange County.
Irons is ranked 127, while running back Ahn is at 94; wide receiver and defensive back Cal is at 91, while the highest rated Lancer is third-year quarterback Duxbury at 71.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever had four players ranked at the same time,” the coach said. “The most we’ve ever had is two when we had Brandon Won and Alex Jung recognized a couple years ago. To have four players recognized in the Hot 150 is pretty special, and we’re excited about it.”
With the highest ranking among his teammates, Duxbury said he aims to stay focused on what he needs to do on the field to help his team.
“It’s cool to see [the rankings] online, but I try not to look at it too much,” he said. “It’s nice having the media around, but I don’t want to get too caught up in it because everyone’s going to love you when you do good and hate you when you do bad.”
Despite the media attention, Karavedas said it all comes down to performance on the field for his players to have a successful season.
“We have our top receiver, running back, quarterback and top defender all returning, which is pretty significant,” he said. “People expect us to hopefully have a successful season, but we also have a lot of guys who are in new positions, and they’ve got to perform well so we can actually have the successful season that people think we’re supposed to have.”
In his fifth year guiding the Lancers, Karavedas said he also has high hopes for this season’s offensive line.
“Three or four of our five guys in the first offensive linemen group are all seniors,” the coach said.
Though they provide the protection needed for Duxbury, the quarterback said he feels the weight of the team’s offensive performance will fall on other players as well.
“[The offensive scheme] is a little bit different from last year because we lost some more players, but it’s more independence on me, the receivers and the running backs,” he said. “If we perform and do what the coaches have schemed up for us, we can be successful on the field again.”
Karavedas agrees with his quarterback’s assessment of the value of the team’s offensive line protection.
“It creates situations where we can get our skilled guys the ball,” he said. “We know that those skilled guys have been there before as well and that’s hopefully going to go well for us.”
The home opener against Aliso Niguel follows last year’s first-game 28-27 loss to the same opponent in an away game. The Lancers’ rally fell short on a missed two-point conversion with 39 seconds remaining.
Despite last year’s loss, the players feel confident in their ability to do well and redeem themselves — this time at their home field.
“We feel really good about this season,” Duxbury said. “We’ve been preparing this whole off-season, and we’re confident in our guys that have put in the work to go and be successful on the field.”
In addition to starting off on a winning note and going deeper into CIF playoffs this season, Karavedas said he has set goals to strengthen the team as strong individuals.
“On the field we want to be great, but ultimately our program is about creating men of character who love each other, who are effective in their community as leaders, and who are great husbands and fathers,” he said. “That’s the ultimate long-term goal.”