For anyone who has followed high school football in the Coachella Valley, it’s clear what Palm Desert High School’s goals are this year.
Win the Desert Valley League, and take back the Victory Flag.
Palm Desert last accomplished those two feats in 2005, when this year’s seniors were in fifth grade. The Aztecs also excelled in ’07, finishing second in DVL after a 23-20 loss to La Quinta and advancing to their first CIF championship game.
But the Aztecs have been stuck in third place in the DVL for the past four seasons. They have lost six consecutive times to both La Quinta and Palm Springs, including two losses apiece in ’10 and ’11 to the Indians. They are eager to change the script; they will get their chance in one week in the third annual Mercury Bowl against Palm Springs.
Palm Desert has five starters returning on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Joe Castelli is starting his second season behind center. Coach Pat Blackburn has been pleased with his development during the offseason. He will hand off to Trae Riek, a junior replacing Tim Santa Maria. Riek will be a dual threat as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Castelli’s top target will be senior wide receiver Alex Jones, who Blackburn said was “uncoverable” during summer passing league games. Jones didn’t play much as a junior because of a broken thumb, but he’s poised to be a playmaker this year. Right guard Kody Capets and center Erik Martin return to anchor the offensive line.
On defense, the Aztecs have shifted to a 4-3 to try and limit the big plays that killed them last year. Capets and defensive end Jacob Paull will lead the defensive line, and seniors Jack Drinkwater and Kyle Brunson are the experienced players in the linebacking corps. They will both line up on the outside, with Chase Lemmermann in the middle. Jones will also play cornerback.
It will be interesting to see how Palm Desert’s season shakes out, especially against Palm Springs and La Quinta. For the last four years, the Indians and Blackhawks have fought for DVL supremacy. High school football players are young and impressionable, and the rivalry between Palm Springs and La Quinta has lately received much of their focus. Are those two teams overlooking Palm Desert?
I’m sure Palm Springs coach Dan Murphy and La Quinta coach Dan Armstrong will make sure that doesn’t happen. They know how tough the Aztecs are even though their players may not remember.