The Eagles enjoyed a breakout season in 2000 and are expected to field a bigger, faster and even more exciting team in 2001 as they defend their Serra League championship and work deeper into the playoffs. The squad began preparation for the upcoming 2001 season with running and weight training drills in December. They will open the 15 day spring period with a 65-man varsity roster - their largest ever - including 42 returning lettermen, and will conclude drills with the Annual Spring Game on June 8th. The team will have a healthy balance of youth and experience with a school record 32 seniors, and an impressive group of 24 juniors who have posted a 19-0 record at the lower levels and are expected to make huge contributions in 2001. Twelve full or part-time starters return from 2000 such as All-State Underclassmen Ashton White (Jr., 6-0, 195) and Curtis Cooper (Sr., 5-10, 175), Division I-A offensive lineman prospects Spencer Hollison (Sr., 6-6, 265) and John Finneran (Sr., 6-6, 285), returning center and All-County candidate Mike Tirabassi (Sr., 6-2, 240), TE Dustin Slinkard (Jr. 6-2, 200), the two-headed inside receiver tandem of seniors Cole DeVitis (5-6, 175), and Kyle Rutenbar (6-0, 175), future All-State candidate DL Chris Cutler (Jr., 6-3, 275), stellar DB/WRs Johnnie Walker (Sr., 5-11, 170), Thomas Cappelletti (Sr., 5-11, 165) and Trevor Zinn (Sr., 6-0, 175), and although he didn't start in 2000, promising QB Marshall Tharpe (Sr., 6-3, 195) who after being the understudy to two All-American QB's at Santa Margarita will finally get the chance to shine now that Chris Rix (Florida State) and Matt Dlugolecki (Illinois) have graduated.
Although Santa Margarita lost All-American QB Matt Dlugolecki (Illinios), Serra League MVP Tyler Thompson (USC) and All-Southern Section OL Ryan Lumm (William & Mary) the Eagles will take the field in 2001 with significantly more depth than in recent years, blazing speed (nine players at 4.52 or better) and more size, particularly on the offensive line, to make the transition to a new season seem like re-loading instead of re-building. The team features nine returning All-Serra League players and several skill position players such as Cole DeVitis and Kyle Rutenbar, although not returning all-league players, figure to help make the 2001 edition of the Eagles a high-scoring machine. Although excitement is in the air, the production from Tharpe, and the play of three new starters at linebacker will be keys to the season. As always, their success will hinge on durability, continued improvement by the defensive front, contributions from the junior class and the level of production from talented skill position players who return to help the Eagle program take the next step.
In 2000, for the first time in years, the Eagles firmly established a solid running attack. Thompson and White got most of the work at running back during the 2000 season, combining for 357 carries and over 2,000 yards, and the running game is once again expected to be a strong point. Speedy junior Kyle Massey (5-10, 175, 4.46 40-time) and seniors Travis Widner (5-10, 175, 4.52 40-time) and Chase McWhorter (5-9, 170, 4.48 40-time) are expected to back up White - one of the most promising California underclassmen in recent years. Ashton was a significant contributor in 2000 on offense, defense and special teams picked up 809 yards rushing, collecting three interceptions and logging a 24.5-yard kickoff return average in 2000. Seniors Dante Jordan (5-10, 170) and Ryan Schlom (5-8, 195) and junior Josh Thornberg (5-9, 190) will compete for the fullback spot. Tharpe, who played in several games and completed four of six passes for 64 yards, and is deceptively fast (4.40 40-time) will be the field general with reliable junior Case Colaw (5-10, 160) and sophomore Doug Reinhardt (6-2, 180) backing him up.
The offensive line, which was inconsistent for much of the 1999 campaign, looked greatly improved in 2000 and features three key returners for 2001. The new starting group, averaging 6-2 ½ and 259, is expected to be a key to the Eagle success this year. Senior center Mike Tirabassi along with senior tackles Spencer Hollison and John Finneran are returning All-Serra Leaguers who bring experience. Adding to the depth in the line will be senior Michael Konopisos (6-1, 275) and junior standout Nick Corrado (5-11, 230), seniors Will Sales (5-11, 225) and John Pollak (6-4, 275) and juniors Chris Cutler and Brant Jesperson (6-0, 245). The receiving corps will be an asset in 2001. This group will be lead by seniors Curtis Cooper, Johnnie Walker, Kyle Rutenbar, Cole DeVitis, and Renny Jackson (6-0, 175, 4.57 40-time). Junior TE Dustin Slinkard is expected to be a major factor next season with Jeff Prenovost (6-0, 205) also expected to see plenty of action.
Defensively, the strength will be in the secondary where all four starters return. Questions about who will fill in for three All-league players at linebacker will be answered in Spring, but one can count on the new starters to provide the size and speed necessary to counter the top running games that the Eagles seemingly face week-in and week-out in Division I. On the line, expect Chris Cutler (6-3, 275) to stand out. The returning All-Serra leaguer set the school record in the off-season with power clean with a lift of 310 and ran a swift 4.70 in the 40. Look for senior DE Brad Dillahunty (5-11, 180), and Josh Thornberg to battle for one DE spot and senior Mike Leiter (6-2, 200) and sophomore Matt Rupp (6-2, 235) to compete for the other spot. Brant Jesperson and Mike Konopisos will play nose tackle. At linebacker, look for Kyle Rutenbar, Jeff Prenovost, juniors Brad Genovese (5-8, 165), and Mike Godino (6-0, 225) and sophomores Jack Meehan (5-9, 195) and Doug Reinhardt (6-2, 180) to compete for a starting spots. In the secondary, expect Ashton White and Tom Cappelletti to start as safeties while Renny Jackson and Curtis Cooper provide depth. At the corner spots, Johnnie Walker and Trevor Zinn return while Cole DeVitis and junior Joe Ramsey (5-11, 165) will compete for playing time.
Special teams unit will be a strong suit for the Eagles. They will be led by record-setting punt returner Johnnie Walker and kickoff return specialist Ashton White. The kicking game should be stronger in 2001 with the return of placekicker Curtis Cooper and junior kickoff specialists Jeff Ferrier (6-3, 195) and Will Johnson (6-0, 175). The punting duties are unresolved entering spring drills although Joe Ramsey is in the lead for the job.
Super Sophs: The sophomore team was the talk of the campus last fall posting an impressing 10-0 record and capturing the Serra League title after doing the same in 1999 as freshmen. This group has posted a combined 19-0 record at the lower levels and as mentioned above, the season will hinge on how well this group performs.