FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Sunny Hills football seeking to bring home another CIF championship, win Freeway League

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Audrey Seo

Second-year quarterback senior Max Spero runs with a football while dodging the defense during a summer camp scrimmage Aug. 5 at the Sunny Hills field. The team prepared for its upcoming season with three hour-long practices that began June 21.

Henry Lee

Coaches: Peter Karavedas (head coach), Ron Newton (assistant head coach/defensive line/special teams), David Wilde (offensive coordinator/RB’s), Bruce Wallace (offensive line), Joseph Karavedas (wide receivers), Nick Karavedas (defensive backs)

Top Returning Players: Bryan Echavarria (12), Ethan Johnson (12), Dylan Lawson (12), David Mahood (11), Jacob Neumann (12), Max Spero (12), Nick Wilde (12)

Top Newcomers: Miguel Berrios (11), Jonah Martinez (11), William Park (12), Drew Patel (12), Jose Rojo III (11)

Last season: The Lancers finished second place with a  4-1 Freeway League record, finishing 5-1 overall — the only loss coming in the last game of the shortened season against La Habra. 

Outlook: After winning its 2019 CIF Division 8 title, the Sunny Hills football team aims to be CIF champions once again while setting a goal to wrestle the Freeway League title from La Habra.

“For us right now, it’s about how do we beat Canyon in game one, and then after Canyon, it’s how do we improve for game two,” Karavedas said. “You got to go one week at a time.”

Karavedas said the team does not think about future competition until that day comes.

“We’ve got a group that’s hungry, that wants to be good, improve and play at a high level, so we’re excited about that,” he said. “We’ve got a tough schedule with some quality football teams, and our guys are up to the challenge.”

Teams such as the Capistrano Valley Cougars and El Modena Vanguards will be strong adversaries for the Lancers to get an understanding of their own skills and prepare better for future games, Karavedas said.

“This season is still going to feel the effects of the COVID-19 season,” he said. “The boys understand what it takes to be a champion, and they’re working really really hard to get to that level.” 

Because COVID-19 delayed the last football season to spring, the Lancers did not have playoffs and only played six games compared to playing 10-15 games in past years.

“First of all, we were just so excited to play because we knew we had a good team,” Karavedas said. “I remember being on the field during the COVID-19 workouts one time. I texted my wife, and I said it would be such a shame if this team never gets to show what they can do because they’re a special group.”

We’ve got a group that’s hungry, that wants to be good, improve and play at a high level, so we’re excited about that”

— Pete Karavedas

In a normal off-season, the team would be lifting in the weight room from January until the end of summer so that the players’ bodies and mindset would be ready, but with COVID-19 procedures last season, the players were not able to train extensively like they used to.

“A lot of lifting was outside and with dumbbells, so it wasn’t the level that we’ve done in the past,” Karavedas said. “We couldn’t do a bench press because we didn’t have a bench press rack outside.”

When the Lancers were able to go back inside the weight room to work out, they had a month before school ended and summer started, so their time in the gym was limited.

Despite the limitations the team faced in order to condition, the program continued its traditional summer camp schedule, June 21-July 16, and players came for three-hour practices four days a week.

“When [the boys] are pushed, they get stronger, and when they get pressure on them, they improve as opposed to teams or people, where when they get pressured, they shy away from that,” the head coach said. “This group does not shy away from a challenge.”

Karavedas once held four practices in 48 hours during summer camp and plans scrimmages against each other to train his team’s mentality and stamina.

“We expect them to play at a certain level, with high energy, a certain physicality, and we expect them to play mistake-free football,” he said. “Because we’ve got some new starters in some spots, we haven’t adjusted our expectations – this is what it takes to be great and you’re either going to do it or not.”

With almost the entire varsity staff returning from their 2019 CIF championship run, the Lancers look forward to a successful year with experienced and knowledgeable coaches. Kevin Oberlander, the former offensive coordinator, moved to Sonora High School for the head football coach position and teaching opportunity, and Grady Smith, a close colleague to Oberlander, followed. 

“[Because of the returning staff], we certainly have a consistent philosophy and consistent work ethic at the varsity level,” Karavedas said. “Our core values are integrity first, team before self and excellence in all we do, so we talk to our guys about doing the right thing because when you do the wrong thing, it reflects on all of us.”

Quarterback Spero believes that this year’s camp benefited many players, which will allow Sunny Hills to have a run at the Freeway League title against its toughest opponent, La Habra High School, which Sunny Hills has continuously fallen short to the past few years. 

“I think this team is pretty unproven, given that last year, we weren’t able to play a full season, so I think this season will show just how great Sunny Hills football has become,” he said. “We work hard during practice, and you can tell these guys have something to prove.”

Linebacker Echavarria said he has set a goal for himself to make as many tackles as he can so he can shut down the other team.

“We treat every opponent the same when it comes to preparing; we watch a lot of films and study what they do in certain situations,” he said. “With how much we prepare, I really think we can bring home a win this Friday against Canyon.”

The team will play its first home non-league game against Canyon High School on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. and will play its first home Freeway League game against La Habra High School on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. Lancers football has yet to win a Freeway League title since 1998.