Talented Vista Murrieta Set for Another CIF Title Bid

Vista Murrieta football coach Coley Candaele instructs his players during a practice before tonight's season opener. One might th...

Vista Murrieta football coach Coley Candaele instructs his players during a practice before tonight's season opener.

One might think that, having led his team to 25 straight league victories and five consecutive CIF championship football games, Coley Candaele rides his players like a drill sergeant 365 days year.

Listen to the Vista Murrieta High School coach and judge for yourself.

"Kids need to be kids," Candaele said after practice the other day. "This is a game; it's not a lifestyle. We don't touch a football in the off-season except for spring practice. The more we can keep them being kids, the better off they are. When you're 16, you should be allowed to be 16."

This is not to say Candaele is laid back as a coach or less intense than others. Watch him lead the Broncos through precision-like drills and you'll see how focused he is. But is there an atmosphere of fun? Absolutely.

Besides, Candaele must be doing something right. As the Broncos head into tonight's season opener at Downey High, they are once again considered the team to beat in the Southwestern League and perhaps all of the CIF West Valley Division. Last year, the Broncos posted a 12-2 record, losing to Corona Centennial in the CIF finals.

Unlike most teams, the Broncos didn't play a game in the CIF's "Week 0" last week. Rather than starting a week early and having a bye week later in the season, Vista Murrieta stayed on the practice field in preparation for tonight's first game. This is the way Candaele schedules the season every year.

"My philosophy is that less is more," he said, preferring to give his players an extra week off during the summer before beginning fall practice. "Unfortunately, we live in a 'more is better' society. We might pay the price by not being as sharp in September, but I don't want my kids tired in December."

Despite losing 53 seniors to graduation, the Broncos appears to be in good hands once again as they begin their drive toward a sixth straight championship game appearance.

Quarterback Coltin Gerhart, who passed for 1,733 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, is now at Arizona State. Taking his place is junior Wes Long, last year's starting JV quarterback, who saw limited action as a varsity back-up last season.

"We'll find out tomorrow how ready he is," Candaele said on Thursday about the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Long. "In practice, you don't know. Things have looked good so far."

The starting running back will be returning starter Tito Feliciano (5-7, 170), who rushed for 1,077 yards and 11 TDs last season. Candaele said the Broncos will rotate in several running backs, but Feliciano is the leader of that group.

Candaele will be watching closely the offensive line, which returns only two starters -- both of whom are injured at the moment.

"That's a concern," the coach said. "We're going with five completely new guys right now, including three sophomores."

There's much more experience on a defensive unit led by middle linebacker Shannon Walsh (6-2, 225), defensive tackle Tevita Mounga (6-2, 310), safety Brandon Worthy (5-11, 174) and cornerback Jalen Russell (5-11, 170).

With that talent, coaching experience and the tradition of a winning program, it appears Vista Murrieta will once again be the team everyone is out to beat.

"When you've won some games and had some success, you have to be ready at all times," Candaele said. "No one is going to have a bad game against you."

It all starts tonight at 7. Check Murrieta 24/7 Saturday morning for complete game coverage and throughout the season for coverage of Vista Murrieta football.

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