The562’s season previews for the 2022-23 school year are sponsored by Vertical Raise, the official team fundraising partner of The562.
The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by JP Crawford, Class of 2013
Everything feels different around the Lakewood football program and that’s a good thing. The Lancers finally have their own stadium on campus with a turf field where they can run well organized practices with more than 100 players in the program.
Lakewood is coming off of a 3-7 in which it narrowly missed the playoffs for just the third time since 2001, but the Lancers have a ton of experience coming back in key positions.
“Last year I feel like our team was young and now we have that family bond and we can all bring it together on offense and defense,” senior captain Noah Mallon said.
Lancers alum and second-year coach Justin Utupo thinks a full year with offseason activities on their own turf will pay dividends.
“The chemistry and competitiveness is there,” Utupo said. “We’re anxious and eager to play. We want to see our boys compete all four quarters, I think the message this year is finish.”
Lakewood opens the season next Friday against Orange Vista. The first game in the newly dedicated John Ford Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s not just being able to play on our home field, it’s practicing on our home field so that when it’s Friday it actually feels like home,” Utupo said. “Even in the past when I was here, we tried to perceive the grass (at the stadium) so we were always on the baseball field. Having the turf and being able to practice here all week will start to feel like we’re protecting our home field.”
Starting this season has been carefully constructed by Utupo and his coaching staff full of Lakewood alums. The practices on the new field have been run tightly and with attention to detail, which is specifically important for the new offense.
First-year offensive coordinator and Lakewood alum Damon Lampkin is coming from coaching at LBCC, and wants to run a high-tempo offense full of options for returning quarterback Brayden Downen.
After throwing for over 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, Downen is embracing the challenges in his senior year.
“I’ve been in my playbook, studying film and learning to make better reads,” Downen said. “It’s been really good because (Lampkin) holds me accountable. If I mess up he’s going to let me know about it. He’s got us going really good right now being able to stay balanced or whatever we need. I like the fast tempo because it gets defenses out of sync and they’re unorganized and we can take advantage of the base defenses.”
“It all starts with him,” Utupo said. “After being in our offensive system for a full offseason you can see the growth. He’s starting to see and read defenses much better to put our offense in the best situations possible.”
Downen will have a lot of help in the backfield with senior running backs Kaleb Foster and Zion Smith returning. The stout team captain Foster is back after leaving for Lawndale, and the speedy Smith averaged almost 75 all-purpose yards per game last season. Exciting newcomer Cayden Clark could also get some carries.
“We’ve got a lot of returners, we’ve been working hard and we’re sick of losing,” Smith said. “Last year we were getting mad at each other when we should have been encouraging each other to do better.”
The offensive line is led by tackles Michael Salinas and Jay Tauala-Harris who are both junior returners. Center Isaac Pascual is also a junior returner, and he’ll be flanked by a few guards who are battling for playing time. Utupo said guys like Brendan Raygoza and Abraham Sanchez are in the running, but the scrimmage against Peninsula today will be the last chance for guys to prove themselves.
The receiving corps doesn’t have a lot of returning depth but senior Takim Raye-Brown Jr. is back after producing 21 catches, 319 yards and two touchdowns last season. Utupo said newcomer Ethan Sharp could really stretch defenses with his speed in the slot, and St. John Bosco transfer Ellis Gibson will be a solid addition.
“This group is much more disciplined,” Downen said. “We’re just much more prepared for this season.”
Lakewood’s defense gave up 34 points per game last year, so Mallon said this season the defensive line wants to live in the offensive backfield to set the aggressive tone. He will play next to nose guard and fellow team captain Rahkeen Moore.
READ MORE about Rahkeen Moore.
Kaleb Foster, Kenai Foster and Junior Tautai will also be in the rotation on the front lines, and behind them junior Tyree McCowen will need to play a big role at middle linebacker. He will be joined by Montreal Mingo, EJ Baltazar and others at outside linebacker.
In the defensive secondary, there are two important returners at safety in Jace Casillas and Anthony Winston Jr. while Smith and newcomer Justin Holt will be at corner.
8/19 vs. Orange Vista
8/25 vs. San Dimas
9/2 at Laguna Hills
9/9 at Mayfair
9/16 at Long Beach Poly
9/23 at Cabrillo
9/30 vs. Jordan
10/7 vs. Millikan
10/21 at Wilson
10/28 vs. Compton
QB Brayden Downen
RB Kaleb Foster
RB Zion Smith
RB Cayden Clark
LT Michael Salinas
C Isaac Pascual
G Brendan Raygoza
G Abraham Sanchez
WR Takim Raye-Brown Jr.
WR Ethan Sharp
WR Ellis Gibson
DL Rahkeen Moore
DL Noah Mallon
DL Kaleb Foster
DL Kenai Foster
DL Junior Tautai
LB Tyree McCowan
LB Montreal Mingo
LB Ej Baltazar
DB Zion Smith
DB Justin Holt
DB Jace Casillas
DB Anthony Winston Jr.