The 2023 West Valley League Football Preview
It's no secret the West Valley League is one of the most competitive leagues in the city section. The league sets the standard in the San Fernando Valley and the statistics back it up. Five of the six teams in the league won at least one game in the postseason in 2022, and Birmingham and Granada Hills come into 2023 as the reigning Open and Division I champions respectively. The old adage “iron sharpens iron” applies when talking about the talented teams that reside in the West Valley, and this season promises to be as competitive from top to bottom as we have seen in recent years. Here's what you need to know heading into Week Zero about the squads in the West Valley.
Birmingham Patriots – 2022 record: 5-0, 9-5 overall
The Patriots don’t just run the West Valley, they run the entire city these days. The Patriots have won 34 straight games against city section competition. While other top teams may not like it, the fact remains until someone ends their reign of terror, they have the right to call themselves the standard program. During the 2022 regular season, Granada challenged that notion and pushed the Patriots to the brink of defeat, but Birmingham held on to win a one-point game. The question facing head coach Jim Rose is whether they can continue to hold off the teams in the West Valley who are gearing up to take them down. In recent seasons the Patriots have loaded up their non-league schedule to prepare for what the city has to offer in the last half of the year. They will have another tough schedule this season opening the season on the road at Royal before their home opener against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame
Key to the season for Birmingham: Managing expectations.
When you’ve been as successful as the Birmingham program has been in recent years, it becomes about what is next. The Patriots don’t just think in terms of winning the league. They expect to win the West Valley, the city, and a state championship. A lot of this will ride on their talented junior quarterback Kingston Tisdell and dynamic wideout/defensive back Payton Waters to lead the way on a team filled with college-bound athletes. The road won't be easy for them as they will take a trip to Texas in late September to face Steele before having to open league play against Granada Hills.
Granada Hills Highlanders – 2022 record: 4-1, 12-3 overall
Maybe the most intriguing team in all of the city section this season is the Highlanders, coming off of a dream year in 2022. Granada Hills was one of only two teams to come close to beating Birmingham last season. Despite losing the uber-talented Dijon Stanley to college, the roster is still loaded. The Highlanders' expectations are high seeing as how they won the Division I championship on the backs of four blowout victories by an average of 37.5 points. If the next logical step for Granada Hills is being a team competing alongside Birmingham in the Open Division playoffs this season, they will need to get out of the blocks quickly. Their schedule is tough to begin the campaign, with road contests against Franklin and Palisades with their home opener against a southern section opponent in Village Christian.
Key to the season for Granada Hills: Dominant defense.
While it is easy to get enamored with how well the Highlanders ran teams out of the building, it wasn’t just the offense that dominated teams. The defense was just as efficient at breaking the will of the opposition in 2022. Unfortunately, Dijon Stanley didn’t take Oliver Taylor and Chance Heximer with him when he graduated, so those bookends on the defensive line will still be around to cause havoc every snap this season. Look out for Darrell Stanley to also take a leap in his development as the centerpiece of this squad. It's his show now and they will need him to step up and lead the way if they are going to win the West Valley.
El Camino Real Royals – 2022 record: 3-2, 5-6 overall
2022 was a season of perseverance for the El Camino Real Royals, having been misplaced all season long due to their field being unplayable for home games. Not the kind of program to make excuses, El Camino battled all year long and finished in third behind Granada Hills and Birmingham in the West Valley. This promises to be a season where they will have to band together as well, as the team will still be dealing with field issues for at least some portion of the campaign, and they will have to figure out how to replace the production of quarterback Javen Hall, who moved on from the program. This is still a roster with great talent that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If teams do, you will find yourself on the losing end of the score against the Royals in 2023.
Key to the season for El Camino Real: Leadership.
Yes, the road won't be easy for El Camino Real, but this isn’t a stable without horses. One thoroughbred that is a prime candidate to slide into a true leadership role for this squad is Jake Shirley, the 6”2” senior tight end/defensive end is hard to miss on the field, not only for his size but his ability to make plays on both sides of the ball. They’ll need him to have a big year while bringing some of the younger talents along with him. Opponents will be keying on Shirley, which will help other players get opportunities to make plays for the Royals.
Cleveland Cavaliers – 2022 record: 2-3, 8-5 overall
The Cavaliers got off to one of the best starts of any team in 2022, including a big win against the #2 ranked Palisades Dolphins in non-league play. Things fell apart for the Cavs in league play due in part to injuries and missed games by key players. Which led to their 2-3 fish in the West Valley. Their biggest playmaker returns for his senior season in Kory Hall, a versatile receiver/defensive back whose name appears all over the stat sheet every game. In 2023 head coach Pete Gunny will have to figure out who will get the starting nod at quarterback at the beginning of the season, but this team should be right in the mix as one of the premier offensive teams that will take the field on any given week in the San Fernando Valley.
Key to the season for Cleveland: Balance and Health.
Last season, the Cavs became a little too reliant on the magnificence of Hall, which caught up to him in the second half of the year. What will ultimately get the Cavs over the hump this season will be the incorporation of other talented players like running backs Donovan Powell and Daniel Guzman to keep teams from double-teaming Hall. On the defensive end, players like Emmanuel Okelola and Usman Ajayi must become playmakers. If that happens, the sky is the limit for Cleveland, and they may get a shot at lifting hardware at the end of the season.
Taft Toreadors – 2022 record: 1-4, 5-7 overall
There is a new vibe coming out of the Toreadors program, and it is not just the brand-new facilities around the campus. Head coach Fred Emerson is making waves before the Toreadors have even taken the field for his first game. Taft will have a new look offensive system that will remind you of days past when people talked about this program’s dominance the way they speak of the Birmingham program today. Emerson believes he can get the Toreadors back to that and it starts with some big games right out of the shoot, opening their brand new building with games against Westlake, Los Angeles, and top-15 ranked Dymally to start the season. If the Toreadors emerge from the non-league play with a winning record, it will surely put the West Valley on notice that the Toreadors are back and in a hurry.
Key to the season for Taft: Keep the same energy.
There is a real belief from people within and outside the building that Taft can compete with the big boys in the city right now just because the cupboard wasn’t bare when Emerson took over. He only added and enhanced some of the playmakers that already existed there like Legend Wilson, who will move from more of a traditional backfield position to a Swiss army knife who can line up anywhere and get touches in Emerson’s air raid scheme. The problem is they will play a tough schedule this year, so even if the record gets rough, if the players continue to buy into the change of direction, they will be a tough team to play every week in the West Valley.
Chatsworth Chancellors – 2022 record: 0-5, 4-9 overall
The Chatsworth Chancellors may have fished sixth in the West Valley, but do not underestimate what kind of game you are in for when you take on this team. The Chancellors have had to deal with less-than-ideal circumstances with their facilities, but if you know head coach Marvin Street, there are no excuses allowed in his program, just hard work and dedication to the craft is accepted. The squad will still have their work cut out for them in 2023, but they are built to be physical and bully opponents who aren’t prepared to play their style of football. It all starts with their bruising tailback Isiah Rameau, who was a nightmare for teams to tackle last year.
Key to the season for Chatsworth: Consistency in the discipline department.
What may have plagued Chatsworth the most in 2022 was the fact that they would routinely put themselves behind the eight ball with self-inflicted mistakes. If Chatsworth cleans up penalties and improves their concentration up front, Rameau might have a season that compares to some of the best we’ve ever seen in the city section. We will see when they take on a tough-minded Monroe squad on the road in Week zero.