Team Preview: Palomar

SAN MARCOS - Coach Joe Early expects 120 players as the Palomar football team, 8-3 last season and with high expectations for 2009, opens practice on Thursday.

The Comets return eight offensive starters and some of their top defensive players from a team that was ranked No. 17 in the nation at the conclusion of the season by the J.C. Grid-Wire and defeated Cerritos 38-33 in the Golden Empire Bowl at Bakersfield.

Matt Christian (6-foot-3, 220, Carlsbad High School / Fresno State) returns as the starting quarterback after winning the job midway through the 2008 season and guiding the Comets to four wins in their last five games.

Christian completed 104 of 178 passes for 1,331 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. He also ran for 249 yards and a touchdown. Christian was named Player of the Game in the Golden Empire Bowl when he was 20-for-29 passing for 253 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Palomar also returns its three top rushers. Tyler Lavea (5-9, 185, Oceanside High), Orenzo Davis (5-8, 180, Columbine High in Littleton, CO) and Noel Phillips (5-8, 175, Escondido High) rushed for 1,549 yards and 11 touchdowns between them.

They'll be running behind a Division I-size offensive line anchored by USC-bound right tackle Brice Schwab (6-8, 315 pounds, Monitau High in West Sunbury, PA), right guard Samuela Tupula (6-3, 314, Wilmington Banning High), left tackle Sam Steiner (6-7, 325, Vista Murrieta High) and center Tom Berry (6-5, 290, Murrieta Valley High). Schwab, Tupula and Berry are returning starters. Steiner, a red-shirt freshman, missed 2009 with a season-ending pre-season injury.

The Comets return their two leading receivers from a year ago -- LSU-bound Martavious Lee (6-2, 188, Coral Gable High in Coral Gables, FL) and Paul Moore (5-10, 170, Miami Central High). Lee and Moore had a combined 77 catches for 1,067 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also back -- Saalim Hakim (6-0, 170, Palo Verde High in Las Vegas), who runs 4.31 in the 40 and is the brother of former San Diego State and NFL receiver Az-Zahir Hakim.

The top two tight ends from last season also return, Arthur Williams (6-4, 270, Miami Carol City High) and Jared Bamber (6-4, 249, Temecula Chaparral High).

Top defensive returnees include free safety Chris Boudreaux (6-0, 194, Centennial High in Las Vegas), outside linebacker Gator Pugh (6-1,190, Rancho Buena Vista High), corner Anthony Young (5-9, 177, Colony High in Ontario) and middle linebacker Tyler Seau (5-10, 235, Mission Hills High). Seau is the son of Junior Seau.

The Comets will have a public intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 22 at 10 a.m. and will kick off their season on Sept. 5 at Southwestern at 7 p.m.

Early is 42-22 in seven seasons as head coach and has produced four nationally-ranked teams (No. 4 in 2002, No. 22 in 2003, No. 25 in 2007 and No. 17 in 2008).

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