Palisades High Football Seeks Outright Western League Championship and Return to City Section Open Division Playoffs
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Only once in 58 seasons has Palisades High made the finals of the City Section upper division football playoffs. That was back in 1974 when the Dolphins lost to San Fernando 12-10 on a foggy night at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Last season, Palisades came within a few plays of the Open Division semifinals and earned a share of the Western League crown for the third time in four seasons. So the goal in the program’s 59th campaign is to finish undefeated in league—a feat the Dolphins haven’t accomplished since they went 5-0 to win the Crosstown League en route to the 3A final in 1987.
“Camp is going as expected,” Coach Tim Hyde said. “We coaches know we have to get all the young kids ready for meaningful minutes once league starts.” RETURNERS
There is strength in numbers and the Dolphins’ 60-man varsity squad features 33 seniors, led by middle linebacker/tight ends Syaire Riley and Noah Ghodooshim, each of whom will be on the field almost every snap.
Riley, following in the foosteps of older brother Syr (an offensive lineman at Washington State), led the team with 110 tackles last fall and won the Joe Spector Award as the team’s co-MVP at the postseason awards banquet. Ghodooshim was second in tackles (63) and third in catches (18 receptions for 244 yards).
Palisades allowed but 88 points in 10 regular season games last year thanks to one of the best defensive backfields in the City, anchored by Will Janney and Jake Nadley (who will be teammates this year at College of Idaho). They were aided by Waka White (five deflections and two interceptions), Xavier Whitfield (five pass deflections) and Jared La Violette (who batted down a desperation pass in the end zone on the final play of the Dolphins’ 24-17 upset at rival Venice), who all return.
The Dolphins also have depth at running back, where Max Palees is back to wreak havoc in opposing secondaries. He led the team in all-purpose yards (1,193) and touchdowns (nine) last year.
Also getting their share of carries will be Nick Carpenter, Kenny Cline, Tayari Gloster, Adam Cravens and Diago Pickens. Brandon Forrest starred on JV last fall before moving up to varsity for the regular season finale at Hamilton.
Palisades has had five 1,000-yard rushers in Hyde’s first six seasons—Joey Velez (2013), Desmond Box (2014), Innocent Okoh (2016), Dakota Hamilton (2017) and Palees last year—a testament to an offensive line that has been among the best in the City over that time span.
Counteracting the graduation of Janney and Nadley and Cristian Popescu at wide receiver are Teddy Suisman, Jake Lyon and Eli Manheim. Throwing them the ball will be Forrest Brock, who emerged as the quarterback of the future since taking over the starting role and leading the Dolphins to league victories over Venice, Westchester and University as a sophomore last fall. He passed for 596 yards and five touchdowns in four games with a rating of 103.7.
Nick Calcaterra had a team-best 66 pancake blocks and earned All-City honors as a sophomore last year. He returns to highlight a front five that will rotate senior tackles Justin Bahari and Erwin Barillas, centers Michael Eberlein (a senior) and Luca Anna (a junior) and senior guards Jared Sierra, Rickie Chatman, Andy Lopez and Matthew Flores.
Despite the graduation of Jack Stansell, last year’s Western League Defensive Lineman of the Year after making 51 tackles (16 for losses) with 5.5 sacks, three pass deflections, one caused fumble and one recovery last fall, the Dolphins are again strong on that side of the ball. The senior trio of ends Immanuel Newell, Malachi Gregory and Joe Huff will apply a steady pass rush while Will Clifford, Gage McCloskey and Christian Duran add linebacker depth.
Tommy Meek is back as the placekicker and punter after 23 of his 46 kickoffs last season went for touchbacks. He converted 33 of 38 extra-point attempts and six of seven field goals while averaging 41.7 yards per punt.
Standouts on JV last year, twins Jack and Johnny Babala and Alec Barron will shore up the pass coverage and Ricardo Abrego, the JV Rookie of the Year winner as a freshman last fall, makes the jump to varsity at linebacker.
Nicholas Raddon, JV lineman of the Year last season, will be in the rotation at offensive tackle; Jaxon Bell, Josh Eastland, Justin Gilbert and Matthew King add to the receiving corps and Isaias Alegria joins the crop of tailbacks.
The role of backup kicker will be filled by Sebastian Conway-Burt, MVP as a 10th-grader on JV last year after making 28 of 31 extra points, four of six field goals and four touchdown-saving tackles on special teams.
Ryan Crayton, who had one of the Dolphins’ three interceptions against Granada Hills last year as a freshman in the JV game, adds depth at cornerback.
The Dolphins once again play a challenging slate of opponents, beginning with four games against San Fernando Valley teams—the first three of them on the road.
For the third straight season Palisades opens against Cleveland. Last fall, the Dolphins led only 7-0 at halftime before pulling away for a 27-0 home victory over the Cavaliers, who finished third in the West Valley League and lost to Crenshaw in the first round of the Division I playoffs. Among their returners is signal-caller Jonathan Castaneda, but they have a new coach in Scott Faer.
Six days later Palisades travels back over the hill to face a Taft squad that has fallen on hard times since its glory days under Troy Starr (who piloted the Toreadors to their lone City crown in 1998). The Toreadors went 0-10 last fall and were outscored 493-28. One problem has been continuity at the top, as Edwin Tucker replaces Ed Evans and is the team’s fifth head coach in as many seasons. The last time the teams met was in 1997 in the quarterfinals of the City 4A playoffs when Taft won 28-7.
In Week 3 the Dolphins journey to John Elway Stadium for their annual Charter Bowl matchup against Granada Hills looking to extend their winning streak to eight in a series started in 2006. The Dolphins are 6-0 against the Highlanders in Hyde’s tenure, including a 28-13 win last year. Like their league rivals Cleveland and Taft, the Highlanders are breaking in a new coach, Bucky Brooks, after three years under Walter Roby.
Perhaps the Dolphins’ most intriguing nonleague contest is the Sept. 13 home opener against Reseda, a team that went 10-2 last fall and lost in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs to eventual champion San Pedro. One of the Regents’ key returners is Derek Boyd II who rushed for 806 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman last year. The teams split a pair of nonleague meetings in 2007 and 2008 when Palisades’ head coach was Kelly Loftus.
After letting a 13-point lead slip away in the last two minutes of last year’s inaugural “Sunset Showdown” against Brentwood, the Dolphins will be highly motivated in the rematch at Stadium by the Sea on Sept. 20. Two of the area’s top quarterbacks will go head-to-head in Brock and fellow junior Cole Lourd, who threw for 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading the Eagles to an 8-1 record as a sophomore.
Palisades’ four-game homestand continues in Week 6 against Westchester, which won its first six games last year before being dealt a 20-6 defeat in Brock’s first varsity start. Westchester returns one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the City in Jeliun Carter, who passed for 1,974 yards with 26 touchowns and rushed for 859 yards and 16 scores as a junior.
While Palisades has beaten Venice two straight times on the road it has yet to beat the Gondos at home in the Hyde era and that will be the task Oct. 11 when Duke-bound senior quarterback Luca Diamont comes to town. He threw for 2,560 yards and 26 touchdowns last year but is 0-3 versus Palisades, missing his sophomore year due to
injury when the Gondos prevailed 34-28.
The Dolphins hit the road in Week 7 when they take on University, which is a Division II school for the playoffs. Hyde is 6-0 against the Wildcats, including last year’s 35-0 shutout.
Hamilton comes to Palisades October 25 with new coach Norris Milton. The Yankees were blanked 41-0 last fall. Palisades closes the regular season at Fairfax, which dealt the Dolphins their only loss in league last season behind now-graduated quarterback Scott Harris and wideout Andrew Cox. Longtime coach Shane Cox stepped down after the season and is succeeded by Juan Solorio. The Lions shared the league title with Palisades last year, then fell to top-seeded Dorsey 34-16 in the Division I quarterfinals. They will be led by senior signal caller Shawn Holly and tailback/linebacker Jordan Reed.
“Our expectations remain the same… to be in the league title race going into Game 10,” Hyde said. “Our league is extremely competitive and this year will be no different. Venice is always the favorite since they have the best player. I’d say Westchester is right up there as an Open Division team as they have 18 starters returning.”
In the past, Coach Ray Marsden has had a pessimistic view heading into the season. This year he is optimistic—and why not?
The Dolphins have a solid group returning from last year’s team that rebounded from a home loss to Cleveland to win eight straight—including five shutouts. The Dolphins have lost one league game in the last four seasons.
The varsity and JV teams will host El Camino Real in a scrimmage at 5 p.m. Friday at Stadium by the Sea.