Football: No. 1 Servite

Servite has had standout players on defense, and this season Butch Pauu figures to step to the forefront. Courtesy of Laurence Martinez

Can Servite win three consecutive Southern Section Pac-5 titles? History indicates that it's not likely, but since Troy Thomas took over a program that had won only three league games in four seasons, the Friars have won a share of six straight league titles, reached at least the semifinals four times, won a State Bowl Championship, and won the state's toughest division in back-to-back years.

The Friars should again be tough on defense even though only four starters return. The last two years Servite had a leader with a bruising physical presence — Jake Slemmer in 2009, and Matt Inman in 2010. Who will rise into that role this season? The obvious choice is Brigham Young-bound linebacker Butch Pauu, who's in his third season as a starter.

Last season's embarrassing 48-8 loss to Concord De La Salle in the Open Bowl Championship series ended a 25-game winning streak and forced the Friars to refocus even though they have won 28 of their last 30 games.

"We've made a step up on both sides of the ball — we had to," said Thomas, who is 96-29 in nine years as a head coach, 62-16 at Servite. "We learned that what we were doing wasn’t good enough. Technically, we were not doing a good enough job to play with a De La Salle up front, and that’s on me. We’ve been studying hard and working diligently as a coaching staff. I’m really happy with our offensive line coach (Jim O'Connell) and defensive line coach (A.J. Gass). They’re doing some amazing things with our guys. Technically, we’ve really improved."

They've improved? That can't be good news for opponents.

Here is a closer look at the Friars:

Team: Servite

Coach: Troy Thomas, seventh season

2010 record: 14-1, beat Mission Viejo for Southern Section Pac-5 championship; lost to Concord De La Salle in Open Bowl Championship Series.

Returning starters: 12 total. Eight on offense, four on defense.

Key players on offense:: RB Sean DeRosa, OL Travis Averill (Boise State), WR Sam Hunt, QB Cody Pittman, TE Ainslie Johnson, OL Michael Meyer, OL Miles Williams.

Key players on defense: LB Butch Pauu (BYU), DE Jherremya Leuta-Douyere (BYU), DE Conner Einck, FS Domain Mora.

Difference maker: Pittman was just trying to win the job at QB last season and was considered the weak link, yet he was remarkably efficient; he completed 65 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. A running threat and improved passer, he comes into this season with more confidence. Thomas says that "he's as good as we've had," at the position, and considering Cody Fajardo was the QB two years ago, that's saying something.

Newcomers: TB/MLB Andrew Moore, a sophomore who will find his way onto the field.

Not to be missed: Santa Margarita vs. Servite at Cerritos College, Nov 11. If the season plays out the way it's projected, the Trinity League title will be decided in Week 10 by the two best teams. The first round of the playoffs will be a step down, for sure.

Coach's comment: " I don’t know how good we’re going to be, we’re just going against each other," Thomas said. "But I’ll tell you this: I really like my team. I like how they practice."

Final analysis: Servite's trademark under Thomas has been its physical play and its defense. By the time Trinity League play rolls around, the defense should be solid. Servite has only one interest, and that's punching its ticket into the Pac-5 playoffs. Even if it has a handful of losses — owing to the difficult schedule that could be the case — the Friars won't be on anyone's wish list come the postseason. Until someone beats them in the playoffs, they're still the team to beat.