Friday, August 19 vs. Ripon
Friday, August 26 vs. Downey
Friday, September 2 at McNair
Friday, September 9 at Atwater
Friday, September 16 Bye Week
Friday, September 23 vs. Lincoln
Friday, September 30 at Central Catholic
Friday, October 7 vs. Oakdale
Friday, October 14 vs. Manteca
Friday, October 21 at Sierra
Friday, October 28 at Kimball
Mike Kuhnlenz led East Union to its first postseason win since 1992 in his debut season as Lancers coach, and they’re looking to build upon the 6-6 finish.
They’ll have to do so with an almost-entirely new cast of athletes in the passing game that is now centered around the talents of Dylan Lee, a rising college prospect and one of the top receivers in the Sac-Joaquin Section last year. He has transitioned to quarterback after the now-graduated Luke Weaver shattered single-season passing records in the spread offense.
“We lost a lot of pieces from a really talented group,” Kuhnlenz said. All-Valley Oak League linebacker Adam Jimenez, receiver/cornerback Kainoa Ontai and receiver Jacob Toste are among outgoing talent.
Kuhnlenz believes there are enough returning veterans mixed with younger up-and-comers to make another run, and with promise at the lower levels there is hope for sustained success.
“We have six guys returning on offense and four returning on offense — that’s about half (of the starters) coming back,” Kuhnlenz said. “They know what’s expected of them and what to do in practice. If they believe we’re going to compete, they’re going to have to work for it and do what we’re supposed to in practice and they’ve definitely been doing that.”
East Union had chances to beat Manteca and Kimball in Valley Oak League play and was competitive with eventual SJS Division II champion Central Catholic. The Lancers routed Del Campo 51-7 to snap their 29-year drought of postseason victories. They were eliminated by eventual SJS Division IV runner-up Merced in the second round.
Here’s a deeper look into the Lancers’ 2022 season to come:
Standouts: A multi-sport (basketball, baseball) star, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Lee can play almost any role for the Lancers.
Last year, he was one of the most prolific receivers in the SJS with 69 catches, 1,350 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. He looks forward to returning behind center on Friday nights.
“I was doing it a lot last year over the summer, so it’s not like it’s been that long, and I played (quarterback) growing up,” he said. “It should be not that hard to get back into it.”
Lee will remain an every-down anchor on both sides of scrimmage. He is a three-star rated linebacker who holds offers from four NCAA Division I schools.
“We’re still going to throw the rock,” Kuhnlenz said. “He’s doing a great job of making his reads and he’s a very good runner. He’s a smart kid who knows the offense. If a D-I guy is touching the ball every down on offense, that’s probably not a bad thing.”
Senior offensive tackle Aaron Velazquez and junior linebacker Carson Sanders are returning All-VOL second-team selections.
On the rise: With Lee moving to quarterback, Nickolas Luna (318 yards, five TDs) is left as the lone returning starting receiver. Blake Mount is expected to emerge as another top target. He’s one of four sophomores elevated to the varsity team.
“We’re fast again,” Lee said of the receiving corps. “It’s our second year under Coach K, so we understand the offense and the concepts a little more. We’re just trying to get better one day at time.”
The hard-running David Flores, who led EU with 7.5 yards per carry last year, will get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield and provides additional pass protection. Fellow senior Emilio Perez Jr. and Sanders are also in the rotation at running back.
“We’ve been playing together for four years now, and we have that connection,” Flores said of his chemistry with Lee. “It’s going to be tough for the defense.”
The Lancers boast a deep rotation of defensive linemen, including juniors Sebastian Arrizano (6-0, 245) and Leland Crabb (6-4, 275). The talented junior class includes free safety Orian Germann and outside linebacker Ivan Alvarez, one of several midseason call-ups from the JV last year.
Schedule: East Union gets a solid test out the gate with Trans-Valley League power Ripon visiting on Friday, but it only gets tougher from there.
The following week, the Lancers host reigning Central California Athletic League champion Downey, pitting two spread offenses.
“Coach (Jeremy) Plaa is doing a great job over there and has done it for a long time,” Kuhnlenz said. “If you want to get ready for teams in league like Kimball or playoff teams that also like to air it out, let’s go play a big-time school like Downey. It’s going to be tough, but we want to prepare ourselves for later in the season.
“They went 9-2 last year and their quarterback is returning. If you want to play a program that is good year in and year out, Downey should definitely be on the list.”
The Lancers wrap up their pre-league schedule with another stiff test in Lincoln of Stockton after road games at McNair and Atwater.
Outlook: The Lancers went 2-4 in the VOL last season, and one of the teams they beat has moved to another league. They’ve even strengthen their non-league schedule with the additions of Downey and Lincoln.
It’s not an easy road back to the postseason, but these Lancers have already gotten taste of what it takes to get there, even through the week-to-week grind of the VOL. With Lee at quarterback, they may have the ultimate equalizer against their strongest opponents.
“We’re excited, but we understand that you have to give your best every single day,” Kuhnlenz said. “If you don’t on Friday nights in this league, you will be embarrassed.”