No. 3 senior wide receiver Mack Alleyne (R) from Tustin High School in Orange County, California. (Courtesy of Caesar Ocular)
Balance is a commodity that every team desires, on both sides of the football.
Thanks to an influx of transfer students added to a solid corps of returning players, undefeated Tustin High School in Orange County, California, will carry enviable talent and depth into an Oct. 6 Empire League home game against Valencia.
“We feel like we have kind of our complete team now,” Coach Anthony Lopez told The Epoch Times after the Tillers ran their record to 6–0 by dispatching previously unbeaten Kennedy, 47–0, on Sept. 28 at Western High in Anaheim. “It’s nice to see all those pieces come together.”
Two of the newer additions to the jigsaw, senior wide receivers Mack Alleyne and Marques Guzman, played starring roles against Kennedy.
Alleyne, a 6-foot, 180-pounder who arrived from Illinois during the summer, caught a 25-yard option pass from junior running back Eimesse Essis for a touchdown and ran for two more scores, one on a 15-yard reverse and the other 52 yards after taking a direct snap.
Coach Anthony Lopez (C) with football team members from Tustin High School in Orange County, California. (Courtesy of Caesar Ocular)
“When he arrived on our campus, it was like, ‘All right, we have a really good wide receiver,’” Mr. Lopez said. “We have to find ways to get him the ball.”
Alleyne, who has scored 15 touchdowns this season, isn’t the least bit picky about whether he’s asked to return kicks, carry the ball, or haul it in via the air.
“It doesn’t matter to me, as long as I can get it to the end zone,” Alleyne told The Epoch Times.
Guzman, meanwhile, caught five passes for 123 yards, including two touchdowns, in his Tustin debut after gaining eligibility following a transfer from Katella. With senior Larry Allen providing another dangerous receiving threat, the 6-3, 185-pound Guzman adds a totally different dimension.
“We knew he had that in him,” Mr. Lopez said. “We had some stuff dialed up to make sure he got some touches, and he did a great job of going out there and doing what he needed to do.”
Junior running back Eimesse Essis from Tustin High School in Orange County, California. (Courtesy of Caesar Ocular)
Though he had only 49 yards rushing on seven carries against Kennedy, Essis is averaging nearly 158 yards per game on the ground. And despite the picture-perfect throw to Alleyne for a touchdown, the 5-8, 165-pound Essis knows full well where his biggest football strength lies.
“Running it,” he told The Epoch Times.
Mr. Lopez, line coach Sam Baker, “the brains behind the whole offensive operation,” and senior quarterback Jack Stupin clearly have an enviable array of weapons from which to choose.
“If [opposing] teams want to put a bunch of guys in the box, then we have to get the ball to the edges and let our skill guys do their thing,” Mr. Lopez said. “When they spread out, then we hand the ball off to Eimesse, and he does his thing up the middle. Jack does a great job of knowing where to go with the ball, and when. He’s kind of the main guy of the operation, obviously, as all quarterbacks are. He’s been tremendous for us in terms of leadership and accountability.”
So many attractive options and just one football to go around could create issues, but the Tillers seem to have struck a nice balance there, as well.
“The coaching staff put a lot of plays together for each player, and we have trust in our quarterback, Jack,” Alleyne said. “He knows where to put the ball up for each receiver and where we can make plays.”
Senior quarterback Jack Stupin (C) from Tustin High School in Orange County, California. (Courtesy of Caesar Ocular)
Tustin is also enjoying the labors of a strong offensive line cobbled together by Mr. Baker, a former Tiller and USC standout who went on to play in the NFL. Despite being short on support behind them, seniors Jeremy Agwanda and Alex Parada, juniors Alex Peterson and 6-1, 309-pound Manu Segovia, and sophomore Gabriel Minchaca have meshed nicely.
The story is remarkably similar on defense, where coordinator James Tindukasiri also has some shiny new toys. Guzman, who played both ways against Kennedy, also intercepted a pass to set up a touchdown. Senior William Leapart, another transfer from Katella, stepped in at cornerback opposite senior standout Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins.
Senior defensive back Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins from Tustin High School in Orange County, California. (Courtesy of Caesar Ocular)
“Our pass coverage got a lot better with Marques and Will Leapart out there,” Mr. Lopez said.
Freshman Taven Epps also came up with an interception against Kennedy, while 6-2, 300-pound senior defensive tackle Annas Davis rumbled some 65 yards with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Seniors Alex Hage, Jairo Vasquez, and A.J. Diaz, along with junior Josiah Adams, join Davis in a formidable defensive-line rotation.
Longtime former Tustin coach Myron Miller, who serves as an “analyst,” special-teams coordinator Rob Marquez, and assistant coach Chris Hawkins, meanwhile, surround Mr. Lopez on an outstanding coaching staff.
With games against Crean Lutheran and Pacifica to follow Valencia on the schedule before a regular season-ending matchup against defending Empire League champion Cypress, the Tillers are attempting to take matters one step at a time.
“Not to look ahead, but like I’ve said before, they’re the Empire League champions until they’re not,” Mr. Lopez said. “If we want to win the Empire League, we have to beat Cypress. But I really love our team this year. I think they’re going to compete no matter who’s across from them.”