Ready for Kickoff

Pali High assistant coach Johnny Garcia implores the varsity linemen to hit the sled hard.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

The start of the season is still a week away, but Palisades High football players are super excited about tomorrow afternoon’s scrimmage against El Camino Real and consider it more than just a dress rehearsal.

“It gives us a chance to run some plays, over some things and see where we are,” said varsity head coach Tim Hyde, who is entering his sixth season with the Dolphins. “With five less days of practice this year, any experience we can get before our first game is a plus.” 

Palisades returns only one starter on the offensive line, 285-pound senior TJ Michel, but physicality and a potent rushing attack have been the Dolphins’ trademarks in the Hyde era and opponents can expect more of the same this fall. The bevy of backs will include Max Palees, Xavier Whitfield, Kaalan Day, Kenny Cline, Tayari Gloster, Diago Pickens, Nick Carpenter and Adam Cravens—all juniors.

Daniel Hayes is back at quarterback after passing for 1,426 yards and 14 touchdowns and running for 243 yards and five scores as a junior last season. His primary targets will be wideouts Jake Nadley, Will Janney, Teddy Suisman, Jake Lyon and Cristian Popescu and junior tight end Noah Ghodooshim.      

“The thing we need most for Week One is more intensity and firem” said Ghodooshim, who saw action in five varsity games last year, making six catches for 49 yards. “My position involves a lot of motion, it’s a mixture of running, catching and blocking. Since the start of camp we’ve been breaking the offense down much easier, we’re much more confident in our rout running and our coach has made good decisions about who to put on the line. We have a lot of guys willing to play hard for all four quarters and that’s what it’s going to take.”

Tommy Meek was the starting punter and kicker on junior varsity last year but steps up to varsity as a junior to replace Campbell Geddes, among the most highly rated kickers in the state last season.

Anchoring the defense will be 6-foot, 225-pound middle linebacker Sy Riley, who racked up 82 tackles (32 solo, 50 assisted) and three sacks in 11 games as a sophomore last season. Up from JV are linebacker Will Clifford, cornerbacks Darion Robinson, Chandler Hooks and Jared La Violette, strong safety Waka White and free safety Alec Barron.

“I’ve felt since May that the defense is stronger, but football is a team sport and everyone has to do their part for us to be successful,” said Riley, whose brother Syr graduated from Pali High in the spring and is now a freshman offensive lineman at Washington State. “We have to give 110 percent every day—any less is failure. Given what we had I thought we underachieved last year and this team is nowhere near as talented so we have to work even harder and learn things quicker.”

Palisades finished third in the Western League last fall behind Fairfax and Venice, then routed Canoga Park in the first round of the City Section Division I playoffs before losing in the quarterfinals to Dorsey.

The Dolphins have posted a winning record in every season under Hyde and hope to extend that streak, beginning with a nonleague game versus City Section Division II finalist Cleveland next Friday night at Stadium by the Sea. Palisades defeated the Cavaliers 37-28 in last year’s opener in Reseda.

After piloting the Dolphins’ JV team to its most dominant season ever, head coach Ray Marsden admitted the cupboard is bare, but his primary goal is not winning games but preparing players for varsity.

“We had a lot of freshman waiting in the weeds last year who never played because of our depth who will now get their chance,” Marsden said. “Of our 22 starting positions on offense and defense last year, all except three were sophomores and those three are all up on varsity. We also have only one transfer, which is rare.”

The JV went 10-0 with seven shutouts and outscored its opposition 330-20 last fall. Of the 50 players on the roster, only 19 were freshmen.   Perhaps most impressively, the Dolphins didn’t allow a point at home.

“All you can ask is that they work hard,” Marsden added. “These kids want to carry on the legacy and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.  We know the target’s on our back and every team is out to get us, but the kids coming back have never lost on this field and want to keep it that way. Cleveland was our closest game last year (8-0) so I expect another tough game with them. We’ll probably start off as the favorite in league based on last year but most of these kids are freshmen and all of our linemen are either new to the program or have no experience playing on the line so [assistant coach] Kelly Loftus will have his hands full.”