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If history is any indicator, Palmdale High may again run away with the Golden League title. As one of the premier programs within the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) southern section, Palmdale comes off a 10-1 record in 2012 and looks prepared to defend its title and then some.

This was evident in the 42-7 victory in its season-opener on Aug. 31 at Burroughs High in Ridgecrest. Palmdale boasts the Golden League’s most potent offense, led by Demario Richard who is considered one of the state’s best running backs. Against Burroughs, Richard rushed for 152 yards and scored three touchdowns in 14 carries. Last season, Richard rushed for more than 1,700 yards and tallied 26 touchdowns to lead the Falcons to the 2012 Golden League title.

This season Palmdale could be just as tough on defense with defensive back Dameon Baber poised for a breakout season. The hard-hitting junior reportedly put on an additional 20 pounds during the summer but still runs the 40-yard dash in just over 4.5 seconds.

“Demario is an exceptional athlete and humble young man,” said Palmdale head coach Jeff Williams. “He is a good leader, versatile on both sides of the ball.”

The Palmdale defense is anchored by senior linebacker Joe Lankford, a three-year starter and listed as one of the league’s most effective tacklers. Also for Palmdale, offensive lineman Nathan Corliss has gained the confidence of Coach Williams to be the perfect blocker for the speedy, crafty Richard who is expected to top his outstanding 2012 season. Williams is also impressed with his hard work ethic, noting “he will be a force this year on both offense and defense.”

Tyreon Rankins, a junior, has impressed Williams at defensive back. “[Rankins] is definitely an impact player.”

And there’s junior quarterback Darrell McIntyre whom Williams believes is ready to blossom into a reliable signal caller.

Although Palmdale lost in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Richard’s presence in the backfield makes the defense constantly adjust because of his explosive speed, field awareness and leadership ability. To date, Richard has 17 college scholarship offers, including one from UCLA. Palmdale is ranked 97th statewide in the MaxPreps pre-season computer forecast and is one of the state’s best programs.

“We were young last season, and with all those wins under our belt, we may have looked past that playoff game,” Williams said. “We’ve gained maturity … that’s an important part of the learning curve.” Palmdale will play Valencia in a neutral, non-conference game tonight at Lancaster High. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Quartz Hill High, ranked 320 statewide, finished last season at 8-4 and is led by offensive lineman Daren Harrell. The 6-3, 220-pound senior was an all-league selection last season.

Rey Rodriguez, place kicker for the team, is another all-league senior who kicked three long-range field goals last season.

Linebacker Zach Zavala is another talented senior, claiming 87 tackles (50 solo) in 2012 and also three quarterback sacks.

Mason Dicob will start at running back this season for Quartz Hill; the junior takes over for graduated standout back Osirius Burke. Rounding out the Quartz Hill attack this season will be fullback/linebacker Jesse Kiess whom Coach James Vondra calls a “… tough, hard-nosed kid and hard worker.” Quartz Hill has had six consecutive playoff appearances and will host its season opener tonight at 7 against Oxnard High.

Highland High lost its opener last week against Oak Hills, 44-22, and is coming off a 6-5 season. The team returns with the Golden League’s leading wide receiver in senior Jamire Jordan, who has committed to San Jose State.

Jason Nein, an offensive lineman, is another all-Golden League player for Highland; the three-year starter is considered among the league’s top hitters.

Quarterback Donte Ross accounted for 28 touchdowns last season (14 passing and 14 rushing), while senior linebacker Brandon Romaine garnered 75 tackles in 2012. Highland High is ranked 230 in the statewide MaxPreps poll and will host Yucaipa High tonight at 7.

Antelope Valley High, 7-4 last year, may have a formidable weapon this season with sophomore running back Ty’Rayl Martin. “Oh, man, he’s kicking butt,” commented AV High Coach Ron Wilson about Martin.

Andrew Alegria, a defensive back, had an amazing 115 tackles in 11 games for AV last year; while running back Cameron French played quarterback last year but will switch back to his natural spot this season.

Defensive back Tracy Williams, a senior, had four interceptions last season and will be looked upon again to anchor the secondary.

Ron Wilson begins his first season as head coach at AV and is joined by former UCLA running back (and AV High alum) Jermaine Lewis as his offensive coordinator. Antelope Valley opens the season at home tonight against Boron High. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Knight High School, 4-6 last year, has one of the league’s biggest offensive lines, including two 300-pound-plus returning starters. The team is led by senior running back Bobby Franklin whom Coach Corey Guilfoos believes is primed for a 1,000-yard season. “We are a very inexperienced team that is searching for its identity,” Guilfoos said. “We have been challenged early with changes in the athletic department, but are fighting through the obstacles.” Knight High is counting on Rider Long, a 6-4, 315-pound defensive tackle, as well as defensive standout Kalem Williams who has impressed the coaching staff when defending the run and pass. Defensive end Chandler Jones has been described by Guilfoos as “very disciplined” with terrific speed and impressive leadership abilities. Other Knight players to watch this season are senior lineman Marcus Robinson, and senior placekicker Jesus Salinas, a first-year soccer convert. Senior linebacker David Thomas had 75 tackles last year. Knight hosts Oak Hills (Hesperia) tonight at 7.

Eastside High School, 5-5 in 2012, features standout wide receiver/defensive back Airistica Gilliam. Coach Richard Lear is expecting a “breakout season” for Gilliam and notes that his program has “… the talent on both sides to be competitive.” MaxPreps ranks Eastside 452 statewide. Eastside defeated Granite Hills in its opener last week, 40-18, and will travel to the South Bay tonight to play Leuzinger. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.

Rounding out the Golden League are Lancaster and Littlerock high schools which each had a disappointing 2012. Lancaster High does feature running back Angel Morgan, a senior who is among the league’s best running backs.

Jason King, junior quarterback for Littlerock, will lead the Lobos under new head coach Adam Fabela, himself a former standout linebacker for the school in the late 1990s. Lancaster will take on Woodbridge High (Irvine) at University High this evening at 7:30. Littlerock opens at home tonight at 7 against Barstow High.

While the National Football League and thousands of former players moved last month to resolve concussion-related lawsuits, concern has risen of late about concussions in the prep ranks. This season nationwide, officials will be looking closely at “targeting” which is a deliberate action—usually among the defense—to “spear” or hit the head or neck area, whether it be with the helmet, shoulder, forearm or hand. This type of tackle is now illegal and will result in immediate ejection.

“Stay away from the neck and the head,” explained Jamie Garcia, an officiating veteran of 31 years and the current president of the El Paso chapter of the Texas Association of Sports (football) Officials. “We’re really going to watch out for the blind side, the dirty plays, the ones that make fans go, ‘Oohh what a nice hit!’ Well, it’ll be a nice hit if, again, it’s by the numbers to the waist, bottom line.” Garcia is referring to the new statute that encourages players to strike in the chest area (the numbers) down to the waist. Garcia explained further: “The government came out, not only to the NFL but possibly the NCAA and said, ‘police yourselves or we’re going to come in and police it because of the concussions and the serious injuries that occur.’ So we’re going to do our best to prevent that.”

As a follow-up to last year’s rules change that requires players to sit out one play if their helmet dislodges while the ball is live, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee at its winter meetings this year have stipulated that an illegal personal contact foul be added to “Rule 9-4-3” to state “no player or nonplayer shall initiate contact with an opposing player whose helmet has come completely off.”

Also, a new listing in Rule 9-6-4 will state that it is deemed illegal participation “for a player whose helmet comes completely off during a down to continue to participate beyond the immediate action in which a the player is engaged.” Essentially, a helmet-less player shall not block, tackle or otherwise participate beyond the immediate action in which the player was engaged prior to losing the helmet..

Brad Garrett, chair of the NFHS rules committee, said player safety will continue to be a top priority. “These rules changes regarding helmet-less players are more examples of the group’s commitment to minimize risk within the game,” Garrett said.