Football: No. 23 Vista Murrieta

Few teams in the Southland have put their imprint on a region as quickly as Vista Murrieta. The Broncos emerged as the class of Southwest Riverside County just three years after the school opened in the fall of 2003 and have remained the team to beat in the area.

Vista Murrieta has won 24 of its last 25 Southwestern League games, secured four outright league titles in the last five years and advanced to the Inland Division championship game the last two seasons. The Broncos feature another star-studded team this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Here’s a closer look at the Broncos:

Team: Vista Murrieta.

Coach: Coley Candaele, ninth season.

2010 Record: 12-2, lost to Corona Centennial in the Inland Division final.

Returning starters: 13 total. Six on offense, seven on defense.

Key players on offense: OL Corey Whitaker, RB Aaron Piecukonis, WR Cody Piecukonis, K Tyler Rausa.

Key players on defense: SS Su’a Cravens, DL Jeremy Castro, LB Randy Perez, DB Darion Williams.

Difference maker: Cravens is expected to be one of the top recruits in the nation for the class of 2013. He plays a disruptive style of defense, similar to what Troy Polamalu provides for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder accounted for eight sacks last season, three caused fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He has already been offered athletic scholarships by about a dozen schools, including UCLA.

Newcomers: QB Austin Mowatt, WR Esteban Ortuno, LB Jason Gardner.

Not to be missed: at Chaparral, Oct. 14. One of these teams has won the Southwestern League title each of the last five seasons and this year should be no exception. Both teams have plenty of returning talent on defense but the difference might be at quarterback, Chaparral has a returning starter and the Broncos do not.

Coach’s comment: “We have two new wide receivers and a new quarterback and how that’s going to affect our output, I don’t know yet. In the wonderful world of high school football, you’re just one injury away from going from contender to a guy just struggling to get by.”

Final analysis: With plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, the key to Vista Murrieta’s success this season will be putting enough points on the board. The Broncos averaged 37.5 points a game last season, but with quarterback Derrick Brown now at Washington, they might have to survive with half that average. A good indication of where Vista Murrieta stands will come in Week 1, when the Broncos play a much-improved Etiwanda team at Ontario Colony High.