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Previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in California: No. 38 Rancho Cucamonga set to dominate the aerial game yet again

Scorebook Live logo Scorebook Live 8/1/2022 Lance Smith, SBLive

SBLive is previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in California ahead of the 2022 season. Here’s an inside look at the Rancho Cucamonga Cougars of the CIF Southern Section, the No. 38 team in our countdown.

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA TEAM PAGE | 2022 SCHEDULE

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HEAD COACH

Brian Hildebrand:

  • 2nd season as Rancho Cucamonga head coach
  • Overall record: 6-6

2021-22 AT A GLANCE

  • Overall record: 6-6
  • League record: 2-2 (tied for 2nd in Baseline League)
  • Defeated Saugus in CIFSS Division 3 playoffs
  • Lost against Roosevelt (Eastvale) in Division 3 quarterfinals

2022 SCHEDULE

All games are at 7 p.m. unless noted otherwise.

  • Aug. 11 @ Bishop Amat (SCRIMMAGE) – 6 p.m.
  • Aug. 19 vs. Servite
  • Aug. 26 vs. Apple Valley
  • Sep. 2 @ Norco
  • Sep. 9 @ Valencia (Valencia)
  • Sep. 16 @ JSerra
  • Sep. 23 vs. Cajon
  • Oct. 7 @ Etiwanda
  • Oct. 14 @ Chino Hills
  • Oct. 21 vs. Damien
  • Oct. 28 vs. Upland

ALL-BASELINE LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED

  • QB Xavier Washington – 1st Team (and 1st Team All-CIFSS Division 3)
  • DB Deilon Davis – 2nd Team
  • DB Jake Jensen – 2nd Team
  • DL Toni Holani – 2nd Team
  • LB Kevin Enriquez – 2nd Team
  • OL Thomas Sanft – 2nd Team
  • DL James Rivera – Honorable Mention
  • DL Ji Dooley – Honorable Mention

PLAYERS TO WATCH

DB Christian Pierce – SR.

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Pierce announced his presence as a junior, leading the team with 103 tackles and a whopping nine tackles. He has since received a 4-star ranking and at least 18 offers, and committed to USC. Pierce can shine playing any position and any role in the secondary, which includes occasionally blowing up a run or short pass closer to the line of scrimmage.

QB CJ Tiller – SR.

Last season at Williams Field, the 11th-ranked team in Arizona, Tiller threw for 2,458 yards and 27 touchdowns on 68.4% completion, good for a passer rating of 130.8. He's a 3-star Boise State commit.

WR Jonah Dawson – JR.

Dawson led the Cougars with 1,020 yards and 11 touchdowns receiving as a sophomore. He was subsequently named First Team All-League and Second Team All-Area by IE Varsity, and picked up a 3-star ranking and offer from Colorado State. At 5-10 and quick, Dawson is both a natural slot receiver and a serious downfield threat.

WR Julian Lundy – SR.

Lundy caught for 730 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Upwards of 6-3 with long arms and good body control in the air, he's another 3-star prospect and all-league first teamer.

WR Jason Harris – JR.

Yet another 3-star prospect and reigning First Team All-League at receiver, Harris caught for 664 yards and four TDs last fall.

CB Amaurey Brooks – JR.

Brooks made First Team All-League at corner last season despite making his varsity debut at the onset of league play. He recorded 15 tackles, four pass break-ups, and a forced fumble in just five games while providing strong coverage.

OL Tyler Chen – SR.

Chen made Second Team All-League last season and will anchor Rancho's O-line as a senior.

OL Rey Rivera – SR. 

Rivera is another returning all-league (Honorable Mention) senior on the offensive line.

DB/QB Rahim Wright – JR.

A nationally-ranked ATH prospect with an offer from Purdue, Wright should be a big factor in the defensive backfield and can also play QB.

CB Kyren Condoll – JR.

Another 3-star DB transferring in from Damien, Condoll recorded 30 tackles in five games last season and has three Pac-12 offers. 

TE Jeremiah Beck – SR.

Last season at Summit, Beck led the SkyHawks with 390 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

WR/RB Nemo Harrison – JR.

Harrison caught for 358 yards & three TDs as a sophomore in addition to doing some damage on the ground.

LB/RB Sitani Mikaele – JR.

Mikaele is coming off a strong sophomore campaign at Summit in which he totaled 59 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, six PBU's, 560 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns.

RB Trey Wilson – JR.

Wilson suffered a season-ending injury in Week Three last season, but he's ready to go as a junior and likely to be a central contributor.

IT'S AN AIR RAID!

Death, taxes, and Rancho Cucamonga's passing game being loaded.

Dating back to the program's rise to prominence in 2008, every Cougars QB1 except for two have gone on to play D-1 ball, and the other two both still played NCAA football. Their second-to-last starting QB, C.J. Stroud, was a Heisman finalist at Ohio State last season. Their last QB, Xavier Washington, broke out to lead the Southern Section in regular season passing yardage before eventually going D-1. And that doesn't include the litany of receivers in the last several years alone who've gone on to play D-1 ball or at other high college levels.

Well, suffice to say, 2022 will be no different.

The Cougars believe they might have one of the top receiving corps in California, and they aren't wrong. Jonah Dawson (1,020 yards & 11 touchdowns), Julian Lundy (730 yards & 7 TDs), Jason Harris Jr. (664 yards & four TDs), and Nemo Harrison (358 yards & three TDs) all return, so there's really not much guesswork on the matter. Dawson and Lundy are both 3-star prospects with D-1 offers, and Harris is a 3-star recruit as well. They have deep threats and prototypical slot receivers alike, and Harrison is also a legit threat to run the ball. And that's all before adding in transfer Jeremiah Beck who was Summit's leading receiver last season as a tight end.

Taking over under center is 3-star Boise State commit CJ Tiller, who was one of the top QBs in Arizona last season at Williams Field. Without question, he will continue Rancho's trend of outstanding QB play.

Furthermore, when we say the Cougars will be dominant in the aerial game, that's not limited to their offense. With their talented secondary, they should be able to suppress some very good passing attacks. Christian Pierce is one of the best, most versatile DBs in SoCal, and he's joined by another returning all-league first teamer in Amaurey Brooks, plus nationally-ranked transfers CB Kyren Condoll and Rahim Wright.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

We start the Cougars at 38, and while they have a lot to prove to live up to that ranking, they're one of our top picks to potentially blow right through their preseason ranking. Pun not intended, the sky is the limit for this talented bunch.

Rancho likely has the upside to go undefeated. They'll be a massive underdog against Norco in Week 3 – and naturally, many of their games project to be evenly-matched – but we'll go out on a limb and say the Cougars' best-case scenario would be to go undefeated. That would put them in prime position to contend for a Division 2 title, or even in the Division 1 bubble.

Last year, the Cougars played one of their worst games of the year against JSerra and got blown out, and also fell soundly to Division 1 playoff team Norco. If they were to lose one of those games, maybe even both, but win out for the rest of the season, they'd still project as a contender in Division 2 if they swept league and entered the playoffs playing their best ball.

MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO

Despite having talent and toughness all across the field, the Cougars are likely to be the physically smaller team against many or most of their opponents. When they struggled last season, that was usually a root cause, as many of the top teams in the IE have no shortage of size. That could hold them back and makes them more of a wildcard than they otherwise would be, but they're still poised for a strong year.

If there's a growth curve and Rancho Cucamonga loses three or four regular season games, its sights will likely be reset to a Division 3 playoff run. And the same could be said about Division 4 if the record is closer to the 5-5 range – although we certainly see them as a likely Division 2 squad.

BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON GAME?

Etiwanda. Rancho very nearly defeated Etiwanda last season in league play, which would've forced a tie atop the conference standings, but narrowly came up short. The matchup is already a major rivalry, and is projected be worth a league title again in 2022 – although anything can happen in the Baseline League.

QUOTABLE

"We were a young team last year and we have really matured. [Our] identity on and off the field remains the same as far developing our players to win in life on and off the field. At the end of each season we will reevaluate our program and do what's necessary to make things better for our players before next season."

GOAL: "Prepare every week to go 1-0 on Friday night."

--2024 WR Jonah Dawson & coaches

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