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Season Outlook

The effects of last year's historic season will be lasting at Santa Maria, though they may not be immediately visible.

But rest assured, the results of that run will show up. 

Santa Maria played for a CIF Southern Section title at its home stadium and won a league championship as the Saints piled up nine wins a season ago, a number the kids on Broadway rarely hit. 

Santa Maria coach Dan Ellington says his incoming class is a sign that sustained success at Santa Maria is happening.

"Our incoming freshman class shows the excitement level," the fourth-year coach said. "We're getting kids that, for some reason, weren't going to Santa Maria. Now they are coming to Santa Maria. We've got a good little incoming freshman class and people are looking forward to playing football for Santa Maria. That game was a great way to get us going again at Santa Maria.

"We just had a youth camp and we talked about the atmosphere of that night and the kids' eyes were big and it's just something fun and exciting to talk about.

"But now we've got to get back to this year's team."

The Saints have lost 21 seniors from the squad that fell to Big Bear in the CIF-SS Division 12 title game, but the cupboard is not completely bare. The Saints will have about 18 seniors on the 2018 team. They should be able to compete in the newly formed Ocean League. 

"We're not changing much, to be honest," Ellington says. "Just going into a different section isn't going to change the way we play football. But it is interesting and kind of exciting to anticipate playing teams that we've never seen before and in an area that I've never competed against. That's what we're looking forward to."

Ellington says his current junior class was on the small side, meaning he expects to have a larger number of sophomores on the varsity squad this year. The Saints do have a solid core of captains.

Expect Jason Sanchez, a junior, to lead the charge in the trenches. Sanchez (listed at 6-1, 210) had a solid sophomore campaign as he landed All-Northern League honors. He made 36 stops as a defensive tackle and will play on the offensive line at left guard.

On the playmaking side, John Rojas, a senior, is the most productive returner. Rojas was a reliable second target in the Saints' passing game, catching six touchdowns and working mainly in the short to intermediate range at receiver.

The biggest shoes to fill on offense come at quarterback. Blake Truhitte had a historically productive season last year, passing for over 2,000 yards while also rushing for over 2,000. He accounted for 56 total touchdowns (25 passing/31 rushing).

Sebastian Saiz is expected to see the most time at QB. Saiz has the same physical profile as Truhitte, at 5-7, 150 pounds.

Saiz says he won't be trying to replicate what Truhitte did in 2017. 

"I'm not Blake, I'm Sebastian," Saiz said. "I'm here to do what I'm going to do. I'm not here to mimic him or be just like him."

Saiz also feels that there are tangible effects from last year's run.

"Yeah, we actually have a little bit more confidence," Saiz said. "We kind of have that 'We made it to CIF' attitude on our backs."

The Saints will likely take their lumps in the preseason, which starts with the game Friday against Righetti, which is expected to take another leap in improvement in 2018. Tony Payne, a Righetti High grad, is in his first season leading the Warriors.

"It's a rivalry now. It's back to the Santa Maria-Righetti rivalry," Ellington said. "Righetti, this year, is very talented and they might just be the best team we have on our schedule throughout the whole season. We're looking forward to the challenge and I think it's going to be a great first game for us to see where we're at. We won two years ago and it was a great win and last year we had 11 turnovers and the game was closer than the outcome. The environment and atmosphere was great.

"Tony brings a lot of energy, so those guys will probably be climbing the walls before they get on the field. I'm sure Righetti is hungry for some positive football outcomes so it's going to be a big night and it's going to be fun." 

But the Ocean League doesn't appear to be an imbalanced conference, with Santa Maria playing Pioneer Valley, Nipomo, San Luis Obispo, Templeton and Morro Bay in league contests. 

Santa Maria went 3-0 in the Northern League a year ago, beating Nipomo, Morro Bay and Templeton. 

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Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State