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2017 Prep Football Preview: Experienced Bishop Diego Squad Ready to Tackle Challenging Schedule

The Cardinals are led by four-year impact players John Harris and Ashton Borgeson

Seniors John Harris and Ashton Borgeson are the offensive and defensive leaders on the Bishop Diego football team. Click to view larger
Seniors John Harris and Ashton Borgeson are the offensive and defensive leaders on the Bishop Diego football team. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

This is one in a series of previews on South Coast high school football teams.

It was the earliest end of a football season in the high school careers of Bishop Diego’s Ashton Borgeson and John Harris.

Last fall, they walked off the field at La Playa Stadium after the Cardinals suffered a CIF first-round playoff defeat against L.A. Salesian. 

As they enter their senior year, Borgeson and Harris are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure the Cardinals’ season goes a lot longer.

“We want a CIF championship, that’s the main thing, and have everyone play the best they can and win,” says Borgeson, the team’s tackling machine at middle linebacker.

“It’s CIF, nothing besides that,” says Harris, a superb all-around athlete who rushed for 1,495 yards, averaged 7.7 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns as a junior. “We want to beat Grace Brethren, get the league title and go as far as we can.”

Borgeson and Harris lead a senior-heavy Bishop Garcia Diego High School squad this fall. 

“I think this is the most seniors we’ve had since 2013,” said coach Tom Crawford, who enters his 18th year.

The 2013 team advanced to the CIF semifinals, falling 24-21 to Nordhoff. “This team is very similar in the sense it’s not just an older group but an older group with experience.

“There is a sense of purpose the way they go about things,” he added. “They will tell you that they weren’t satisfied with the way we performed last year. We didn’t perform to our standards at home. There is an incentive to show that’s something that’s not going to linger. We got the ability to be better than we were last year.”

Borgeson and Harris are big reasons why the Cardinals should be better. They have been playing varsity football since they were freshmen and during that time Bishop Diego has won 29 games (10-2, 12-1, 7-4), lost seven, reached the Division 3 quarterfinals in 2014 and the semifinals in 2015.

They are the heart and soul of the Cardinals.

Borgeson follows in the line of outstanding middle linebackers in the school, players including Matt Shotwell, Christian Pearson, Thomas Lash and Abel Gonzalez. 

“Ash is in that same mode, a physical throwback, a down-hill kind of guy who just really thrives on the contact and clearly is a vocal leader on the defense, ” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said of the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder.

Junior Jake Engel and senior David Gladish will share quarterback duties. Both started games last season. Click to view larger
Junior Jake Engel and senior David Gladish will share quarterback duties. Both started games last season. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Borgeson’s nose-for-the-football prowess reflects in his tackling statistics: 84 solo tackles and 138 total tackles as a junior; 85 solo, 125 total as a sophomore; and 33 solo, 53 total as a freshman.

“Defense has always been my favorite part about football,” said Borgeson. “I love getting out there and cracking people.”

Harris blasts through defenses with his power running. And he’ll be delivering bigger blows this season as he’s bulked up to 210 pounds on a 6-2 frame.

“I got to look ahead and prepare for what’s to come,” he said of his improving his strength for playing in college.

Several schools have an interest in Harris, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, UC Davis and Cal Poly. 

“When I talk to college coaches about him, I find you don’t have enough time to talk about him as an athlete,” said Crawford of Harris, who has played and started in volleyball, basketball and soccer for Bishop. That all-around athletic ability makes him incredibly valuable on the football field.

“He can play so many positions on the football team and be the best at those positions,” Crawford said. “You see him play other sports, too, and you see he is just a naturally gifted young man. He combines good size with tremendous strength and agility, and you add to that his sports IQ, his intelligence level, and you got a really remarkable young man to watch perform.

“I think one of the things that says it all is he started at defensive end as a freshman for us.”

With talent and depth at the running back position, Crawford is looking to use Harris in several positions on both sides of the ball.

Harris said he’s looking forward it. “I’m up for whatever,” he said. 

The Bishop offensive backfield is loaded with experienced players. Senior Evan McKeegan, (5-11, 202) had a big rushing games against Carpinteria and Nordhoff last season; Borgeson played some fullback and Edgar Perez (5-8,155) returns for his senior season. Junior Adrian Sorocco (5-10, 185), saw action last season and Chris Mesipan (6-1, 210) is a power back from the JV team.

“We have a nice combination of guys, so John is not simply the only guy. That will free us up to use John’s talent on the defensive side of the ball,” said Crawford.

David Gladish (5-10, 163, senior) and Jake Engel (5-11, 160 junior) return at quarterback. They both saw considerable action last season.

“Those two guys both developed and grew over the summer,” Crawford said. “They’re much more comfortable with what we are doing and they’re much more in command and relaxed.”

Crawford plans to use both quarterbacks in games.

“If one gets the hot hand, we'll go with him for an extended period of time,” he said.

The receiving corps is led by seniors Isaiah Veal (6-1, 173) and Dylan Streett (6-3, 180). Veal returns after injuring his knee last season.

Kicker/punter Jack Luckhurst is a weapon for the Cardinals. He made 4 of 6 field goals and 43 of 46 PATs. As a punter, he averages 48.3 yards. Click to view larger
Kicker/punter Jack Luckhurst is a weapon for the Cardinals. He made 4 of 6 field goals and 43 of 46 PATs. As a punter, he averages 48.3 yards. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk)

“He’s 100 percent and is a nice deep-threat receiver for us with his speed,” said Crawford. Seniors Nick Martel and Victor Ramirez are also speedy receivers and junior Isaia Morones (6-0, 180) is a nice target on the outside.

At tight end, seniors Will Goodwin (6-1,200) and Mitch Heller (6-3, 240) and junior Mark Vehslage (6-2, 226) are big targets for the quarterbacks.

At the offensive line, Crawford calls senior center Chris Jablonka (6-1, 215) “one of the best we’ve had in terms of his ability to figure out blocking schemes and make calls. Chris is a guy who does a lot and doesn’t get the accolades he deserves.”

Jablonka has size on both sides him. On the right, there’s tackle Jacob Songer (6-5, 270) and guard Aidan Guillen (5-11, 272). The left side has Xavier Carroll (6-2, 250) at tackle and Brian Kim (6-1, 240).

The Cardinals have an outstanding kicking game with junior Jack Luckhurst, the son of former NFL kicker Mike Luckhurst. He was an All-State selection last season with a 48.3-yard average as a punter. He made 43 of 46 PATs and was 4 of 6 on fields, with a long of 43 yards.

“He’s a weapon,” said Crawford. “You get a guy like Jack and you go, ‘Wow.’ He is so accurate with the things he can do, and his leg is so powerful that he is a field-changing type of player; he’s just explosive. It’s a real treat to have him.”

Borgeson, an All-State selection last season, leads a solid defensive unit. The other linebackers include returnees McKeegan, David Solis (5-9, 200), Perez and Goodwin and newcomer Mesipam. Sorocco also can play linebacker.

Carroll and Heller play at defensive end and the tackle spots will be filled by several players, including Guillen and two big freshmen, Semis Falemaka (5-9, 320) and Toby Pouso’o (5-9, 291).

“We got some kids that we think are going to good and we’re going to get them in the rotation. We want to build depth, so we’re fresher in the fourth quarter,” said Crawford.

The secondary has experience with Street at safety and Veal and Martel at the corners. McKeegan also plays safety and look for Harris to see action there.

Bishop plays a demanding schedule, starting with its opener on Friday against Nevada Division 3 state champions Desert Pines of Las Vegas at La Playa Stadium, at Santa Barbara City College. 

The Cardinals also play perennial powers Arroyo Grande, St. Joseph of Santa Maria and Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach in pre-league games.

“We’re going to have to be good in those early games,” Crawford said. “Hopefully, the idea is we deal with that and we get better as a result of the competition. And once we get to league and the playoffs, we’re very comfortable about our ability to compete.”

Borgeson and Harris are ready for the tough games.

“We have a harder schedule than in previous years, but we’re looking forward to playing the best and showing the area what we have,” says Borgeson.

“It’s go big or go home,” says Harris. “You want to give yourself a challenge, you might as well.” 

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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