This isn’t World War III. It’s football without pads.
“Championships are not won at 7-on-7s,” said Charles Collins, Oaks Christian High’s first-year head coach.
No local prep football teams earned section rings during the Conejo Classic passing tournament, but coaches gained insight from the exhibition battles on June 16 at Newbury Park and Westlake.
“With 7-on-7s, you get to see how your kids do against other kids: Who’s going to compete for footballs and who can catch and throw the ball,” said Jason Klein, Newbury Park’s head coach.
While returners shake off the cobwebs, newcomers are learning the playbook.
Oaks Christian, Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Grace Brethren competed at the Conejo Classic.
The stacked Warriors, who retooled with a plethora of transfers, went a perfect 6-0 at the Conejo Classic. According to their coach, they’re still learning to win gracefully.
“We came out (June 9) and had great energy, but I think we did it wrong,” said head coach Tim Kirksey. “I think we came across as talking a little bit too much trash, and I agree with that. We’ve been working on how to have great energy, but making it all about us and making sure we’re respectful when doing it. This week was a whole lot better than last week in that category.”
If having one defensive starter doing their best rendition of the triple jump on the sideline while the Warrior offense padded its lead against Rubidoux is better, then, yes, the Warriors were better at the Conejo Classic.
It’s probably hard to stay humble with all that Division I talent on the field. The Warriors are obviously a force, and will enter the fall as arguably the strongest team in Ventura County.
“Everyone’s expecting a lot because we have a lot of talent on this team,” said Narbonne transfer Jordan Patterson, an incoming senior who plays receiver, corner and safety. “Everybody expects a championship out of this team.
“I say we’re going to state, but we have a lot to put in. We have to come out, compete and get better at practice every day.”
The addition of transfer De’Gabriel Floyd, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior linebacker committed to Texas, makes Westlake a legitimate competitor. He played at Golden Valley last year, and he spent time at Hawkins the previous season.
Quarterbacks Marco Siderman and Patrick Roberg, both former Oaks Christian gunslingers, are dueling for the starting job. Siderman, an incoming junior, played his freshman season at Westlake.
“They’re going head-to-head in a really good competition,” Kirksey said. “It’s fun to watch.”
OAKS CHRISTIAN LIONS
First-year head coach Charles Collins has options at quarterback.
He could stick with incoming senior Josh Calvert, who led the Lions to a CIF-Southern Section Division 2 title last fall. Collins could also pick incoming senior Tripp Mitchell, an Alemany transfer who also spent time at Calabasas. Collins might also just go with option No. 3, a mystery quarterback.
Oaks Christian recently received a transfer quarterback, but Collins declined to tell the Acorn that player’s name.
“We have another guy that’s coming that we haven’t talked about yet this summer,” the coach said.
The time will eventually come for Collins to name a starter, but Calvert is a proven commodity.
“He’s such a monster there at quarterback, and he knows the offense,” the coach said of Calvert. “We’ll definitely have a two-headed monster system at quarterback.”
There are plenty of talented targets, including returning receivers Ty Shamblin, Bryce Farrell and Sebastian Macaluso.
Calvert’s younger brother, Ethan, an incoming sophomore slot receiver, impressed the staff during the Conejo Classic.
Kaylin Moore, an incoming sophomore cornerback, shut down opposing receivers, including Valencia’s Mykael Wright, an Oregon commit.
The Lions are confident heading into the season.
“We got moved up to (Division 1) but we’re not scared of anybody this year,” Macaluso said. “We’re going for it all again.”
THOUSAND OAKS LANCERS
Chris Casillas liked what he saw from the Lancers in his team’s first, and only, passing tournament this spring.
“The kids are putting in work,” the Lancers’ first-year head coach said. “For me, the summer is just getting the kids to learn to play together and build that camaraderie.”
Ryan Vasquez, an incoming senior receiver and cornerback, said Thousand Oaks has been developing camaraderie.
Chase Artopoeus, last year’s starting quarterback, transferred to St. Joseph of Santa Maria. Lancer receivers are still getting acquainted with incoming senior quarterbacks Hudson Volk, Dylan Cain and Jass Stanley.
“We’d go throw on the weekends and after practice just to get more chemistry,” Vasquez said.
Volk, a 6-foot-5, 195-pounder who transferred from St. Bonaventure early last year, pitched for the T.O. baseball team this past spring. He’s the leading candidate to start the regular season opener on Aug. 17 against La Serna.
“Hudson has really good arm strength,” Vasquez said. “He can fit the ball into hard places with bullet passes.”
Volk said he’s fitting in well with his teammates.
“ Everyone’s doing good right now,” he said. “They’re all easy to throw to. They all get to their spots on time and they catch the ball.”
Linebackers Trevor Howarth and Andrew Lichtenstein looked active making open-field plays.
Garret Juels, an incoming senior defensive lineman, is an intriguing prospect. He’s back on the team after deciding to skip his junior season.
“He has a motor that doesn’t stop,” Casillas said of Juels. “He’s a guy that’s very hungry to play this year.”
NEWBURY PARK PANTHERS
The Panthers have no question mark at an important position.
Ben Gulbranson will start at quarterback for Newbury Park this season.
Gulbranson, an incoming junior listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, looked poised dishing out tight spirals at the Conejo Classic.
“I’m just trying to get the timing down with my receivers,” Gulbranson said. “We’re working out the routes to see what works against what kind of defenses. It’ll prepare us for fall.”
Braden Handy, a third-year varsity quarterback with more than 1,500 passing yards and 18 touchdown throws, has moved to receiver.
“We’re actually also trying to talk him into seeing if he wants to learn some defense,” head coach Jason Klein said of Handy. “The great thing about Braden is what a tremendous leader he is. Him being on the field and playing receiver for us is really going to help.”
Handy joins of plethora of playmakers at receiver, including Jacob Ziegler, Christian Sisneros- Mills, Tyson Lundring and Bret Schuyler.
Christian Middleton, a sophomore, excels on both sides of the ball as a running back and cornerback.
Blake Roper, a senior linebacker, leads the Panther defense.
“We’re very pleased with where we’re at,” Klein said. “We’re continuing to get better every day. That’s our mantra this year. We want to take that step forward every day.”
In a nutshell
• Westlake, Oaks Christian, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Grace Brethren participated in the Conejo Classic high school football passing tournament.
• The Warriors won the classic by going 6-0 on June 16.
• The regular season kicks off on Aug. 17, a week earlier than last year.