Previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in California: No. 18 Rancho Verde Mustangs

SBLive California is previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2020-2021 season. Even with the season on hold, we will continue to highlight the best teams, players and coaches in California. Here’s an inside look at the Rancho Verde Mustangs of the CIF Southern Section, the No. 18 team in our countdown.

MORE: PRESEASON TOP 50 PREVIEWS

RANCHO VERDE TEAM PAGE | 2021 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

RANCHO VERDE HEAD COACH

Pete Duffy, 13th season as head coach (second stint)

  • 2005-2014 Rancho Verde head coach
  • 2015-2017 Murrieta Valley offensive coordinator
  • 2018-present Rancho Verde head coach

2019 AT A GLANCE

  • 11-1 record
  • 3-0 in Ivy League (first place)
  • Beat Serra Gardena 26-20 in the first round of the Division 2 Southern Section playoffs
  • Lost to San Clemente 13-9 in the second round of the Division 2 playoffs (San Clemente later forfeited)

ALL-SOUTHERN SECTION DEPARTURES

  • AJ Duffy – QB (Transferred to IMG Academy in Florida)
  • Jordan Jefferson – RB

2020-21 SCHEDULE

  • Jan 7, 2021 @ Vista Murietta – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Jan 15, 2021 @ Upland – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Jan. 22, @ Antelope Valley – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Feb. 4, 2021 vs. Norco – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Feb 12, 2021 vs. Elsinore – 7:00PM – League
  • Feb 19, 2021 @ Notre Dame Riverside – 7:00PM – League
  • Feb 25, 2021 vs. Temescal Canyon – 7:00PM – League
  • Mar 5, 2021 vs. Heritage – 7:00PM – League
  • Mar 12, 2021 @ JW North – 7:00PM – Non League

RETURNING STARTERS

  • 4 on offense
  • 8 on defense

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jonah Carnell (Senior-WR) (5-11, 170) (Northern Arizona signee)

Coach Duffy: “Jonah was our leading receiver last year and has really worked on his craft and gotten a lot better in the offseason. He’s faster and better.”

2019 stats: Caught 55 passes for 814 yards and eight touchdowns.

Armani Orange (Senior-RB/DB) (5-11, 175) (Eastern Washington signee)

Coach Duffy: “Armani is a physical, athletic, all around great football player. He’s a kid that will probably play defensive back in college, but he could have easily been a receiver or running back. He’s a great all-around player.”

2019 stats: 75 carries for 645 yards and six TDs. Caught 34 passes for 328 yards and four TDs. Made 31 tackles and had three interceptions.

André McKinney Jr. (Senior-WR) (5-8, 160)

Offer sheet: Southern Utah, Davidson and Cal Poly

Coach Duffy: “André is a burner. He’s a sprinter in track too, a true speed guy. He got a lot better in the offseason from what I saw during the times I saw him.”

2019 stats: Made 45 catches for 758 yards and nine TDs.

Alex Gilliam (Senior-LB/DL) (5-10, 225)

Coach Duffy: “Alex is one of our best players. He’s a guy who had we been able to play in the fall, that would have really helped him out. He’s a good student too.”

2019 stats: Made 35 tackles last season, with 10 coming for loss. Had two sacks, a forced fumble and a safety.

Demond Young (Senior-DB) (5-9, 175)

Coach Duffy: “Demond is a really good player. He started for us last year and is another kid who could have really benefited from playing. It really could have helped his cause. He’s a good student too.”

2019 stats: Made 52 tackles and had two interceptions.

IMPACT TRANSFERS

  • None

WHO TRANSFERRED OUT?

AJ Duffy – 2022 QB who transferred to play at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for his senior season.

https://twitter.com/anthonyjduffy/status/1338249792363790336?s=20

WHO’S THE QUARTERBACK?

Coach Duffy’s son AJ is a highly touted 2022 quarterback who played at Rancho Verde last season. The Duffy family decided it was in AJ’s best interest to transfer to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to finish his high school career.

“This wasn’t how the movie was supposed to end, that’s for sure,” coach Duffy told SBLive. “We as a family thought it was best with all of the stuff that transpired with not being able to play in the fall.”

That means sophomore quarterback Landon Debruyn will take over under center whenever Rancho Verde returns to action. Debruyn played on the freshmen team last season.

HOW COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED RANCHO VERDE FOOTBALL

COVID-19 has affected every high school football team differently. Coach Duffy shares how it has impacted Rancho Verde:

“We haven’t done anything since before Thanksgiving. We were conditioning because that’s all we were allowed to do. We shut things down for Thanksgiving and after that is when the big spike happened and there were concerns about gathering so we haven’t returned since.

“Overall, the full effects our team has felt from COVID-19 are yet to be determined. I haven’t been around the guys enough to really be able to see that yet. I think from a physical standpoint, not being able to lift weights for ten months has been devastating. Not being able to be around their buddies has been rough too. We have a lot of young guys that needed spring football. We’re just a neighborhood school. We don’t have guys that are ready made. They need to be developed and that hasn’t happened. It’s brutal.”

“We’ve had kids opt out. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to our numbers and what’s already happened to our numbers because I don’t know exactly where they’re at right now. We have guys who have taken jobs and have been working and other kids, especially seniors, who’ve said I’m just done and I’m going to focus on school.”

BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR RANCHO VERDE

In a normal year with AJ Duffy under center and Rancho Verde’s talented junior class from a year ago coming back as seniors, the Mustangs would be Ivy League favorites and Division 2 or 3 Southern Section title contenders. If games are played in February, there will be a lot of question marks for Rancho Verde because there may be some opt outs and early graduations that weren’t expected due to the pandemic. Right now, the best case scenario for Rancho Verde is to have a season to get the younger players up to speed in time for fall 2021.

MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO

If football can be played in February, the most realistic scenario is to play a shortened regular season against other teams from Riverside County. The Mustangs have won 14 league titles in the last 15 years so they’ll be competitive even with a potentially depleted roster.

COACH SAID

“I always feel like we have a chance to make a little run. Certainly, I think we’d be right there competing for a league title if we had played in the fall. Beyond that, it’s hard to say because there are so many moving parts. Who’s still in? Who’s opting out? I have some seniors that are going to graduate early that weren’t going to if we had played in January. It’s hard for me to speak on expectations right now.”

— Pete Duffy

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