2010-09-09 / Sports

The Acorn’s High School Football Game of the Week

By Stephen Dorman sdorman@theacorn.com

Oak Park Eagles (0-0) at
Channel Islands Raiders (0-1)
Friday, 7 p.m.

BACK IN BLACK—Oak Park High standout Conner Phillips, right, will play middle linebacker for the first time in his career. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers BACK IN BLACK—Oak Park High standout Conner Phillips, right, will play middle linebacker for the first time in his career. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers There was a time, not too long ago, when Oak Park High dominated foes with a physical, tough-guy brand of football.

During a five-year span from 2003 through 2007, the Eagles averaged more than 10 wins per season and made three section title games by running the ball down teams’ throats and playing exceptional defense.

For the past two years, however, OPHS has managed only seven victories in 20 contests, with just a single postseason berth to its credit.

With perennial powerhouse Oaks Christian having been shipped out of the Tri-Valley League and into the Marmonte, Oak Park players say the time is now to reestablish the program’s lost swagger and return to the top of the league standings.

The Eagles’ journey back to respectability begins Friday night with a non-league seasonopener at Channel Islands.

“We just need to get our mojo back—because we’ve lost it the last couple of years,” senior middle linebacker/right guard Conner Phillips said. “Injuries, penalties during games—the discipline needed to change, and I think we’ve done that this year. . . .

“There’s no false hope anymore. We think we can handle our league now.”

Phillips, a three-year varsity member, is one of the Eagles’ tri-captains, along with senior quarterback Connor Hill and senior defensive tackle/center Chris Taylor.

Hill missed half his junior season following hernia surgery. When he returned to the field just before league play began, Hill’s strength and stamina were zapped and the young signal-caller said he was never able to fully rebound and perform up to expectations.

“It took a lot of heart coming back after my injury and trying to play with the little bit of preparation I had,” Hill said.

Fast-forward to the present day and Hill says he’s feeling as healthy as ever.

“I’m 100 percent better,” he said. “I was able to put some weight back on, my speed’s a little better, my reads and progressions are a lot better than they were even before last season started, and I’m just feeling so much more confident.”

With a collection of talented wideouts that includes seniors Nick Morelli and Matt Carson, as well as juniors Anton San Filippo and Nick Fahn, Hill should have plenty of places to go with the football.

Junior tailback Aki Zapata, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound speedster, will handle the bulk of the carries for Oak Park. Nick Rodgers, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior running back/outside linebacker, is the thunder to Zapata’s lightning.

Senior fullback Jeremy Chang will be called upon to move bodies and open running lanes.

Oak Park has solid size and strength along its offensive and defensive fronts.

Senior defensive tackles Connor McFadden and Justin Williams are expected to be difference makers along with Taylor and Phillips. McFadden also plays tight end, while Williams chips in at left tackle.

The first test for the new-look Eagles comes against a Channel Islands squad that was dominated in its season debut last week against Santa Barbara.

“Against Channel Islands,” Taylor said, “we need to be able to step it up, to play together and improve on things we didn’t do so well in our last scrimmage against Calabasas.”

Players to Watch
Oak Park Ch. Islands
QB Connor Hill QB Malcolm Allen
RB Aki Zapata RB/DB Ty Camarillo
FB Jeremy Chang WR Sione Valoaga
DT/C Chris Taylor DL Robert Gomez
LB/OG Conner Phillips LB Richard Palmer

Outlook

Forget about finesse, Oak Park players say it’s time to get back to being a physical force on the gridiron. The offense prefers to pound the ball to set up the pass, and the defense plans to shut down the run and get after opposing quarterbacks. Sounds just like the good old days, doesn’t it?

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