Coach Erick Streelman comes into his second season at Valley Christian High trying to outdo is first campaign. It won't be easy, as the V.C. alumnus guided the Crusaders all the way to the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division semifinals.
But the coach is cautiously optimistic about winning the Olympic League title, which eluded the Crusaders last year, and making another strong postseason run.
Valley Christian returns three of its key players - QB Kyle Cameron, all-around standout Brett Struiksma and LB Chad Musser - and the team is a year more versed in Streelman's systems.
"We feel we can win every game," said Streelman, however, noting that Paraclete remains the No. 1 team in league. "They are the two-time defending league champion, so they are the top team until someone knocks them off."
Also standing in the Crusaders way are Whittier Christian, Village Christian and L.A. Baptist.
"This team's greatest strength has nothing to do with talent," Streelman said. "They have all bought in and committed to something bigger than themselves. They are unified in a common goal."
Coach: Erick Streelman
2007 finish: 7-6, 3-1 (second)
Key returners: Kyle Cameron, QB, 6-0, 170 Sr.; Brett Struiksma, WR/RB/DB, 6-0, 180, Sr.; Chad Musser, LB, 6-2, 205, Sr.; Jayson Dekruf, WR/LB, 6-4, 205, Sr.; Jared Vos, OL, 6-4, 300, Sr.; Omar Williams, OL, 5-7, 205, Sr.; Greg Gardner, OL/DL, 6-2, 265, Sr.; Ryan Montgomery, RB/DB, 5-9, 165, Sr.; Wil Bater, DL/OL, 6-2, 210, Sr.
Key newcomers: Greg Saarloos, WR, 6-2, 190 Sr.; Lewis Hendrick, WR, 5-11, 170, Sr.; Kyle Kurian, RB/DE, 5-11, 200, Jr.; Anthony Binford, RB, 6-0, 160, Jr.; Sam Phillips, DL, 6-3, 210, Jr.
2008 outlook: When Streelman came back to his alma mater, he brought with him a pass-happy offense, which was a real break from the school's ground-it-out tradition. It took some time to find the quarterback, and when Cameron finally emerged, the Crusaders took off - all the way to the CIF semifinals. In six games, Cameron threw for 1,250 yards and 10 TDs, which if he duplicates those kind of numbers over a full season he will break several school records. "His confidence is much improved," Streelman said. "We are expecting a big year from him." With a solid offensive line bolstered by the likes of Vos, Williams, Gardner and Bater, the biggest question is at receiver. But Streelman thinks he has the answers there. Struiksma, who is a real wild card with his ability to play every skill position, will start at slot back, and Dekruf is a returning starters at WR. The addition of newcomers Saarloos and Hendrick round out the talented but overall inexperienced WR corps. Montgomery will start the season as the lead running back, but "I reserve the right to move Brett there anytime I want," Streelman said of Struiksma, who had nearly 1,000 yards in offense a year ago. Musser, who made 116 tackles last season, in the undoubted leader and anchor of the defense. Bater, who led the team in sacks last year, joins Gardner, Phillips and Kurian up front, and Struiksma will solidify the defensive backfield.