East Vallley football: Wildcats may still be paying price for 2014

REV football coaching staff gather in celebrating the 2014 season's many accomplishments and awards including the Minuteman trophy presented at a special assembly by the Army National Guard and MaxPreps during its Tour of Champions on Jan. 29, 2015.

Rich Lunsford, the second-year football coach at Redlands East Valley High, is paying for the high-achieving years of his predecessor, Kurt Bruich.

“You know how hard it is to build a schedule?” Lunsford said last spring.

“Coaches out there … teams don’t want to play us. They’re still looking at that 2014 state championship and saying, ‘it’s not that long ago.’”

Here’s Lunsford’s dilemma: He just graduated a virtual entire roster of seniors, though he does return one of the county’s top safeties, Boise State-bound Isaiah Bradford.

On this year’s non-league schedule, REV has Santa Margarita (3-7, 0-5 last season), La Habra (7-4, 5-0), San Marcos Mission Hills (5-7, 2-3), plus perennial powerhouse teams Menifee Heritage (7-4, 2-1) and Norco (9-3, 4-1).

“I’m trying to make our schedule a little easier,” said Lunsford, who expected REV to drop from CIF Division 2 down a notch to Division 3 back on May 24, “but no one wants to play us.”

He put out a communique on the CIF scheduling website. First three responses came from Corona Centennial (12-1 last year), Santa Ana Mater Dei (13-2) and Bellflower St. John Bosco (13-1).

That’s three of the top high school programs in California and, perhaps, the country. Lunsford’s answer was a quick laugh and a hearty, “no, no, no.”

Presumably, that was one “no” for each team.

Not even sure if Bruich would’ve taken on those teams in that glorious 2014 season.

If it seems like Lunsford’s ducking good teams, consider it might be football suicide to line up against programs that have different reputations.

St. John Bosco, for instance, just accepted a trio of top-flight transfers from REV’s rival, Citrus Valley.

Meanwhile, Lunsford is going with the neighborhood kids that grew up thinking “Wildcats.”

Plus this: REV, with all of its senior graduates, is in the rebuilding stages.

At places like Centennial, Mater Dei and St. John Bosco, it’s the old saying: Those teams don’t rebuild. They re-load.

“It’s a credit to Coach Bruich,” said Lunsford, referring to the REV coach who showed up in 2001 and left for cross-city Citrus Valley in 2018.

Lunsford, meanwhile, has checked in with a variety of schools looking for a scheduling match.

Division 5 small-school power Aquinas was willing to play REV. Lunsford said, “we couldn’t match up on the dates.”

Teams like Riverside Poly and San Jacinto, teams out in the Coachella Valley, have all put REV on hold.

“We’re not ready, coach,” said Lunsford, “is what they tell me.”

Norco, incidentally, beat REV twice last season, including a Week 3 game and a first-round playoff.

You can almost throw the Cougars into that Mater Dei, Centennial and St. John Bosco crowd.

Bruich, he said, “built the superior program in the city.

That reputation still exists.” REV dropped Upland (12-3), a 35-7 winner over REV last season from its schedule.

Another drop was Ontario Colony, a 6-5 team beaten 48-14 by the Wildcats in 2018.

“I’ve got something going with Citrus Hill,” said Lunsford, referring to the hard-nosed, high-achieving team in nearby Perris.

New coach Jason McMains and Lunsford knew each other well when both coached in the Riverside school district — Lunsford at Arlington and McMains at Rubidoux.

Those REV glory years — 10 CBL championships, playoffs every year since 2002 — might be dying off.

“Teams don’t care,” said Lunsford.