Gridiron Greats: An exciting week one yields plenty of standouts

We’re in the thick of it now. Football season is well and truly upon us, and you can feel it. There’s a little extra something in the air, a nose-tickling crackle of ambient electricity. We’ve put to bed the question of how to fill up those lazy Friday evenings and busted our portable seat cushions out of whatever dark corner of the closet they were holed up in.

Here at the IV Press, the high school football season means it’s also time to shine a light on the Valley’s Gridiron Greats, underscoring some of the keynote performances from the past week’s games.

We encourage reader participation to select from among these candidates a Gridiron Great for the week. Winners from each week will provide the pool of candidates from which you’ll select an overall Gridiron Great for the season.

Cast your votes at

Nominees are:

Emilio Abizaid, Vincent Memorial

Vincent Memorial came into the season in an interesting position. A wildly successful 2017 raised the team’s profile, but a high degree of roster churn made it reasonable to question the Scots’ 2018 prospects. The opener must have been a bit of a tonic to those concerns then as they handily toppled Palo Verde Valley, 41-20.

In the thick of this impressive win was junior receiver Emilio Abizaid. Abizaid ran wild through the Palo Verde secondary converting big-gainers of 51, 59, and 61 yards into scores. All told he finished with 180 receiving yards on just four receptions.

Jose Berlin-Torres, Central Union

Central cruised to an impressive 40-14 win over the La Jolla Vikings on Friday, and though it may not jump off the stat sheet at you, Jose Berlin-Torres was a big reason why.

The big-legged junior continually hampered La Jolla drives by gifting them terrible field position. He handled seven kickoffs on the day and six of them went for touchbacks. Additionally he punted the ball eight times for 230 yards, with a long of 55. Four of his punts pinned La Jolla back inside the 20 yard line, an excellent 50 percent rate.

Central coach David Peña had nothing but praise for Berlin-Torres’s performance, being especially pleased with his touchbacks. He ensured that every Vikings drive was an uphill battle.

Jose Devoux, Holtville

Holtville opened the season against Salvatierra Prep out of Mexicali. And in the spirit of cultural exchange they brought our (somewhat) southerly neighbors a heaping helping of offense, putting 54 points up on the board en route to a 54-34 victory.

Running back Jose Devoux was a key instigator of the offensive onslaught, running for three touchdowns (all in the first quarter) as Holtville burst to a 28-0 lead. He finished with about 130 rushing yards and helped his team store up a bit of positive momentum heading into a tense week two matchup with Imperial.

Nathan Hart, Imperial

In week one, the Tigers found themselves behind the eight ball. Down 12-0 at the half, they knew they needed to find another gear in themselves to overcome the deficit and start 2018 off on the right foot. They did and roared out of the half all the way to a 29-18 victory — incidentally making Coach Kerry Legarra the winningest coach in Imperial High history in the process.

Of all the athletes out there that night, none it seemed had quite so many extra gears as Nathan Hart.

Hart was the quintessential Mr. Everything for the Tigers. He starred on offense, racking up 102 yards on 23 carries and tallying three TDs. He starred on defense with seven total tackles (four solo), three of which went for a loss. He even chipped in on special teams with a 28-yard kick return, helping his school over the proverbial hump.

Noah Jongeward, Holtville

Another key component of Holtville’s rocket-propelled offense last week, Noah Jongeward brought the thunder from all over. The newly-minted starting quarterback passed for four touchdowns and ran for one more, powering the Viking attack.

He was especially key in preserving his team’s lead after the Salvatierra offense started to make plays against the Holtville defense. He capped things off with a 44-yard touchdown pass in the fourth to remove the last inklings of doubt as to the game’s outcome.

Casey Kline, Brawley Union

Over at Warne Field, Brawley found themselves in a fight to start the season. The Wildcats couldn’t pull too far away from visiting Gila Ridge at first, nursing a six-point halftime lead. When they did give themselves a bit of breathing room at 27-7 in the second half, they found themselves somewhat threatened by a Hawks comeback that left the final score at 27-20.

However, a win — as they say — is a win, and the Wildcats will surely take this one.

Leading the way was senior quarterback and linebacker Casey Kline. Kline, appearing in his first game since week six of last year, stepped fairly easily back into his role as on-field leader and lynchpin of the Brawley attack, advancing the ball regularly to the tune of 137 rushing yards with one (30-yard) score and converting through the air on two TD passes, getting past a feisty opponent.

Michael Moreno, Brawley Union

Also doing work for Brawley was senior star RB/LB Michael Moreno. Moreno did plenty of pounding versus Gila Ridge, grinding out 157 yards on the ground and scoring once.

He made his presence felt on defense as well, forcing a fumble that set up a 22-yard scoring drive that ended in a TD reception by fellow senior, tight end Jon Gasaway.

Angel Nava-Esparza, Central Union

As mentioned above, Jose Berlin-Torres may have had a big hand (er, foot) in Central’s stifling of La Jolla, but even with the Vikings pinned deep in their own territory, it was up to the Spartan defense to ensure they stayed there.

This they did with aplomb, led by Angel Nava-Esparza. The junior was everywhere on D it seemed, making 10 total tackles (six solo), three of which were for a loss. He collaborated on a sack and forced a fumble, playing a key role in stymying the Viking attack, which never mounted a serious threat as the Spartans sealed things up tight.

Hernan Olivas, Vincent Memorial

If Emilio Abizaid was doing his best Jerry Rice impression on Saturday, then Hernan Olivas must qualify as his Joe Montana. Signing on to fill some big shoes (his predecessor at QB, Eduardo Valenzuela, wrote his name all over the record book last year as Vincent surged up the standings and was last year’s Gridiron Great of the season) Olivas seemed entirely unfazed by any outsized expectations he might be subject to, scorching the air for 330 yards and four touchdowns, asserting himself as the team’s quarterback of the present — and future. Olivas is only a sophomore.

Sports Editor Aaron Bodus can be reached at or 760-337-3434.

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