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Young Country Day football team hopes to defend title

La Jolla Country Day’s football team may be the three-time defending champion of the Pacific League, but with a youthful team short on experience in 2007, the Torreys are looking for any edge they can possibly gain. So they are happy to get the chance to start their season a week earlier than most teams when they face Crawford in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 25.

The Kickoff Classic is an annual event that is in its fifth year and features four football games in two days across various divisions. On Aug. 24 at San Ysidro High School, Horizon Christian will play Eastlake at 5:30 p.m., and Christian will face San Ysidro at 8 p.m.

On Aug. 25 at Patrick Henry High School, La Jolla Country Day will play Crawford at 5 p.m., and Mission Bay will face Patrick Henry at 7:30 p.m.

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Participating teams were selected by officials of the CIF San Diego Section in the spring. The games are officially counted as scrimmages, but unlike most pre-season scrimmages, they are played under normal game conditions to help prepare teams better for the upcoming season.

“It’s an honor to be chosen to play in the Kickoff Classic,” Country Day coach Jeff Hutzler said. “The teams that are playing are all good programs, so we’re honored to be chosen. The kids are really excited to get going.”

Whereas a scrimmage this time of year would normally involve play only on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and might allow teams a set amount of plays per series, the Kickoff Classic will include special teams play and will be no different than a regular pre-league or league game. That means the Torreys have had to begin working on special teams play a week earlier than normal, but Hutzler isn’t complaining - he’s happy to have the chance to work out the kinks without having to do so in a game that counts on his team’s record.

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Country Day’s schedule before it opens league play is no cakewalk. The Torreys face Meadows of Las Vegas on Aug. 31, travel to Calexico to meet Vincent Memorial on Sept. 7, meet city rival The Bishop’s School at La Jolla High School on Sept. 15 and then host Francis Parker (on Sept. 20) and Foothills Christian of El Cajon (on Sept. 28) before they open play in the Pacific League on Oct. 13 versus Tri-City Christian.

Last season, the Torreys went 9-2 overall and a perfect 6-0 in Pacific League play. They eased past Army-Navy Academy of Carlsbad, 48-8, in the first round of the playoffs before suffering a disappointing 37-14 defeat to city rival The Bishop’s School in the second round and seeing their season come to a premature end.

The Torreys were a powerful team, too, averaging 39 points per game while allowing their opponents just under 10 points per game.

Country Day placed nine players on the All-Pacific League team first team and three of its members on the second team. The league’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards both went to Country Day players.

Given that they graduated so many experienced players, the Torreys will be young and could be green this season. Hutzler expects to have two freshman play on varsity, which is rarer in football than in any other sport, and could start as many as five sophomores.

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“We’re going to have some growing pains, having that many young kids on the field,” Hutzler said.

Still, Country Day has a crop of talented players it expects to lead the squad. Quarterback Derek Hatfield is a sophomore, but led the junior varsity team to a 7-1-1 record last year. Senior Andy Altman is expected to anchor the offensive and defensive lines once he returns from a battle with mononucleosis, and will be joined on both lines by senior Anthony Barkett, one of the Torreys’ four captains.

Senior Jon Hansbrough could be the team’s top receiving threat from the tight end position, and on defense is a versatile player who can move from linebacker to defensive end to a down line position. Senior Mark Hannum is also a solid contributor at tight end and defensive end.

The Torreys’ opponent this week, Crawford, went 1-8 last year and struggled to a 1-4 record in the Central League, missing the playoffs. But Crawford is one of the largest schools in Division IV (with an enrollment of 1,700 students in grades 9-12), so the Colts should provide a good challenge for Country Day, one of the smallest schools in Division V (with just under 400 upper school students).

The Torreys get off to an early start, and like always, have high expectations.

“We expect to challenge for the Pacific League title,” Hutzler said. “We feel it is ours to defend.”

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