Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Mountain West Connection

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Football’s Return Met With Embrace

Franchise Sports Media


Editors Note: Zo was covering football on the California coast over the weekend. With football returning to Las Vegas as well as California, he wanted to emphasize how important it is for the players to get on the field and play. He also highlighted players who are or may be a UNLV target, so you can get to know the players a little bit better. 


California watched other states turn on the Friday night lights in 2020, all while waiting for its own turn to illuminate the football fields and get high schoolers back on the field. The Golden State has finally got its turn the last two weeks and in this week’s Zo Huddle, Lorenzo J. Reyna shares his personal memoirs of this past weekend while letting you know who stood out from his eyes…


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Lorenzo Reyna / Franchise Sports Media

I couldn’t wait for 7 p.m. on March 19.

I didn’t care if the rain splashed and saturated Doug Hitchen Stadium’s grass field in Arroyo Grande. I honestly cared less if there was no barbeque aroma or BBQ smoke. Even if I had to wear a mask, I still couldn’t wait to stand on the sideline, see old colleagues from my Santa Maria Times days and finally…see the joy and relief on both sidelines.

All I cared about was high school football returned in the football-loving 805 and football-crazed California…and it ended the longest sabbatical I’ve ever had regarding prep football the moment Atascadero and Arroyo Grande took the field.

And both teams took the field in a matchup that had to be done at the last minute due to the unfortunate news of positive COVID-19 cases within Righetti – the original opponent for the Arroyo Grande Eagles. Atascadero was set to play Pioneer Valley in Santa Maria, but PVHS also got hit with the COVID-19 bug, forcing the scramble of putting together a game at the last minute.


The game was quickly signed off and ready to go under a rainy AG sky, and it opened the door for me to return.


If you have followed my career, a bulk of my 13 years were spent covering games in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and for one night, Oakland. Sitting at home and doing “Netflix and Chill” from August to December on Friday nights felt weirder than leaning your elbow on a cushion-less side of the sofa. Atascadero versus Arroyo Grande ended my personal streak of 504 days of not covering a regular-season high school football game.

But more important, it ended the longest anxiety period for anyone involved with football. Both head coaches of Arroyo Grande and Atascadero shared their reassurance with me that football is indeed back.

Said AGHS head coach Mike Hartman: “I’m so happy for our kids. I can’t fathom, and none of us as adults can’t fathom this. This has never happened. The mental strain on these kids and the things we’ve asked them to do…and the whole ‘We’re going to do this in January and start practicing, and it’s not going to happen. The guys have been on a yo-yo. It was the weirdest week in the weirdest season – and I hope it’s the last weird week. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case. But I’m so happy for our kids and happy for the effort they put in. You always look for silver linings and things that we can control. I think some of these kids re-found the joy of the game a little bit.”

Added AHS head coach Vic Cooper: “I feel great for the kids, but also the coaches. It’s been so long. The roller coaster…it’s been up and down. I’m happy for them. I’m proud of the boys and their efforts. As much as we push, you have to control what we can control. It’s not always the easiest thing to do. But when we got the word (that the Greyhounds could play), that’s when we got rejuvenated.”

The personal comfort period continued the following day at 1 p.m. in San Luis Obispo. For the first time in three years, I got to put on the headset and provide color commentary. I was Tony Romo, Troy Aikman, and John Madden…even though I’m neither of the three. But teaming with fellow colleague Brian Stanley and doing so through PrepSports.net was the additional signal I needed to be reminded that football is back in my great region, and I’m a part of its return.

Unlike AHS/AGHS, Nipomo at Mission Prep was played underneath a pristine San Luis Obispo sky with a breeze flowing through the field. And for those who love defense, you would’ve loved the hard hits from the Titans or the two defensive touchdowns the Royals had.

And now, it leads me to end my personal memoirs and dive into who I believe have made the most of Cali football’s return…irrespective if they played one or two games.


So who stood out to the Zo Huddle?


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Before we begin, and as is the normal disclaimer from someone in the media, I can’t highlight everyone. And the guys I’ve awarded are ones who I’ve seen in person, read about from my peers, or, in the case of one QB, already has two games on his resume, including a matchup with a national powerhouse.

Got to start with junior Makai Puga of Arroyo Grande. Rainy nights often mean scrapping the air attack for the ground game. And the junior made good use of toting the rock. Facing an Atascadero defense that often played their safeties closer to the box, Puga broke off a combo of breakaway runs and violent grinders that saw him bounce off tackles. Built more like a slot wide receiver, Puga broke off 199 yards (114 in the first half) and the hat trick (three TD’s) in the 33-21 victory.

It felt amazing (to play again),” Puga told me. “In the beginning, I wasn’t really thinking because of the nerves and everything. But after the first drive, it started to click.”

Lucas Soto of Atascadero stood out in the trenches from my sidelines view. A two-way starter, the 6-foot, 230-pounder showed a strong burst off the snap and helped control the middle early on for the Greyhounds…before the Eagles began to run away from his side. Soto has the potential to be one of the best three-technique DLs in SLO County in this truncated season and beyond as he’s a 2022 prospect.

Again, Mission Prep scored twice on defense. But Conner Lopez is spearheading the future for the Royals. Only a freshman, the linebacker set the tone with his scoop and score for the game’s first TD. Throughout the afternoon, he showed excellent eye awareness for the ball and didn’t hesitate to throw his body into the pile for tackles or for big plays.

Staying with MP, Caleb Alalem powered both trenches for the Royals. But the 2022 DL had a football fall to his hands for the fumble recovery…one of many highlights for the two-way trench standout. Alalem’s 6-foot, 295-pound presence filled inside running lanes his side and kept the chains moving in the run game while lining up on the line.

Despite the loss, Nipomo continues to show it’s one of the best in the 805 at defense, no matter the month the Titans play. It took the Royals until late in the fourth quarter to finally get their biggest play from scrimmage. The Titans also collected takeaways plus eliminated the big passing plays, even in the absence of Carlton Brown (Nevada) and Assani Berkeley (San Jose State) of MCP.


Other guys who caught the Zo Huddle’s attention…


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: 24/7 Sports

D.J. Stevenson, quarterback, Fresno (Calif.) Central – His Grizzly debut was delayed due to HSFB getting pushed back to 2021, but the transfer from Clovis (Calif.) Buchanan showed calm, and confidence in getting the 2019 state champs to roar back from a 21-0 deficit and win 35-31 over Clovis High. Stevenson – son of NBA champion DeShawn Stevenson – showed a big arm, fearlessness on QB keeper plays, and he showed both against a traditional 559 heavyweight in the Cougars who had their own dynamic passer in Nate Johnson (a recipient of seven FBS offers including nearby Fresno State and Michigan).

Tyler Voss, QB, Valencia – Talk about making a good first impression in your debut game. Nah, it was dominant. Voss not only took the reins for the first time in his varsity career but responded by carving up West Ranch for 435 yards, three touchdown passes, and completing 19 of 25 passes in the 63-20 romp.

Colton Antzoulatos, linebacker, Valencia – The West Ranch game was also the Vikings’ debut for the 2022 LB. He responded with five tackles and a forced fumble, plus helping limit a West Ranch team led by San Jose State QB commit Walker Eget to just 20 points despite Eget throwing for 370 yards and three scores.

Charlie Spencer, QB, Thousand Oaks – Aside from his multiple TD’s, Spencer engineered an eight-play, 80-yard drive in the game’s final four minutes per the Ventura County Star to lift the Lancers past Newbury Park…and end a 25-game losing streak for TOHS. The dual-threat is already helping change the culture at the alma mater of former UNLV QB Max Gilliam.

Cavin Ross, QB, Lompoc – In the only football game played in the Northern part of Santa Barbara County, the 2023 QB Ross fired 345 passing yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the Braves’ 24-7 win over Santa Ynez. At a school known more for power running attacks and dual-threat QB’s, Ross has given LHS a rare pro-style element behind center.

Daniel Duran, QB, Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon – The junior Duran stood up to behemoth St. John Bosco with two touchdown passes and showing no hesitation in threading the needle between DB’s despite the 42-21 loss. Duran, though, got his completion percentage to skyrocket the following week: Going from a 42.3 percentage versus the Braves to 69.2% in the 56-0 trouncing of Playa Del Rey (Calif.) St. Bernard.

Cole Bullock, LB, Sierra Canyon – Bullock began the shortened 2021 season with nine tackles, including a solo stop for the loss versus St. John Bosco. He followed that with 16 tackles with three behind the line of scrimmage against St. Bernard. Oh, he’s a 2021 prospect still hoping for a collegiate opportunity. And he pushed 225 pounds on the bench press 21 times… proving he dominates the weights too.

Ezekiel Larry, defensive end, Sierra Canyon – The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Larry was lined up across a 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle this past weekend. And here’s how the shorter Larry fared: Four sacks, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. He used his freakish get-off and upper body violence to win one-on-one’s. The 2022 DE looks like UNLV signing Nick Dimitris on film.




Travis Throckmorton, QB, Simi Valley – He’s the newest signal caller for Ventura County legendary head coach Jim Benkert and he went off against Simi’s rival Royal: Five combined touchdowns (four passing) plus showed grit after getting hit hard by an oncoming defender yet still delivered the red zone TD pass. He went 16 of 21 for 221 yards in the 56-20 romp.



Overall, I’m elated to see prep football make its return to California, but I’m more energized for the kids, coaches, parents even fellow media scribes who have sat in press boxes or taken video from the sidelines. Here’s hoping that we’ll play as many games as we can in these unpredictable times. Going to give FSM a Cali HSFB element along with other football-related projects.


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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Zo on Twitter: @LJ_Reyna

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