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July 30, 2008

Poway Preview Predicts Young Players

Poway High's year in 2007 was a thing of beauty: talented players, countless seniors, an undefeated season culminating in a San Diego Section Division I championship.

So what's in store for 2008? Much roster turnover and an abundance of varsity inexperience.

After playing .500 ball the previous few seasons, Poway finished 12-0 in 2007. To their dismay, Titan fans should expect a regression toward the mean this year.

Last season's starting quarterback -- and standout high jumper -- Tynan Murray (Cal Poly) and receiver Ryan Deehan (Colorado) left gaping holes

Senior running back Nick Ricciardulli is a 'sparkplug' that can carry a portion of the offense, coach Damian Gonzalez said, but he's one of just five returning starters.

A newly assembled, ultra athletic offensive line will try to clear Ricciardulli's path. After a 1,442-yard, 21-touchdown junior season that garnered interest from Boise State, Colorado State, Northern Illinois and San Diego State, Ricciardulli will have to prove his worth again without any mammoth-sized linemen.

Only senior blockers Garrett Trainer and Mitchell Meyer received varsity playing time last season.

"In my seven years here, this might be our youngest line, but also our quickest," Gonzalez said. "Nick will get it done with them. The kid has a motor that's nonstop. That's what makes him so unique."

At 5-foot-7, Ricciardulli relies on explosion, not size. Poway's new quarterback, junior Stu Bell, isn't much taller at 5-foot-8.

After leading the JV squad last year, Bell is in for an eye-opening experience. Whereas previously his height wasn't a factor, he'll struggle to see over the linemen on varsity.

At any rate, a glimpse of receiver/defensive back Brett Thomas might be all Bell needs. Following a sophomore season in which he picked off quarterbacks, made brilliant receptions -- meanwhile .430 on the baseball diamond -- Thomas looks like a surefire Division I prospect.

His roles include, but are not limited to: shutting down opposing receivers, making game-breaking catches and hitting the occasional home run on the grid iron and in baseball.

"He's unbelievably fast, has amazing ball skills," Ricciardulli said. "He just locks people down on defense. He covers me a lot of the time in practice."

In Thomas' freshman debut, he caught five touchdowns, and then broke his collar bone the next week. At the end of that season he tried out for varsity and immediately broke his wrist.

No matter. Playing with a cast, Thomas won a starting varsity spot and led the Titans in interceptions as a sophomore.

This summer, Thomas broke a rib in a passing league game (after he'd caught five touchdowns), forcing him to decline invites to events at Florida State and UCLA.

"Since Day 1, he's been unbelievable," Gonzalez said. "He's just a phenomenal athlete with amazing instincts."

If only Gonzalez could clone him.

Alas, that's not an option. The hunger of the few returning starters will have to replace the presence of head-turning talent.

Fortunately for Poway, hunger is prevalent, according to Ricciardulli. Angling for a scholarship, striving to show last year wasn't a fluke, Ricciardulli doesn't envision a season of .500 futility.

The lessons younger players learned riding the pine during the 2007 post season should yield positive returns, Ricciardulli said.

"A lot of the JV guys got time at the end of last year; hopefully that'll pay off," Thomas said.

Added Ricciardulli: "When we played in the title game, some guys got all wide-eyed. I think we all learned how to win in those big games. Hopefully that'll help us."

Please contact writer David Biderman at DVDDAB@Yahoo.com with questions, comments or suggestions for future stories.


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