Tracking Down Victories — Canoga Park running backs Darius Jones (left) and Tyshon Hamilton, both seniors, have gotten the Hunters off to a 3-0 start.

 

They like to call themselves “Thunder and Lightning,” and it’s easy to see why.

“Thunder” is Tyshon Hamilton, a thickly muscled specimen who’s cut like a diamond. “Lightning” is the lean and lithe Darius Jones, who looks like he could outrun his own shadow.

They are running backs for Canoga Park, two seniors who happily share the ball and love to confound defenses with their speed and power. When Hamilton is not overrunning them, Jones is zipping past them.

They are also each other’s biggest fan.

“I like to see him run the ball because of his power,” said Jones of the 5-10, 210-pound Hamilton. And Hamilton gushes right back about the 5-11, 175-pound Jones. “[Darius] is just an exciting player. He’s one of those that whenever he touches the ball, I want to see what he’s going to do.

“It’s like you get to see two halves. I’m the power half of him, and he’s the speedy half of me.”

 The pair are the key reason the unbeaten Hunters (3-0), who take on Pacific Palisades this Friday, Sept. 19, are looking like an early contender for the Valley Mission League championship. So far they’re the only team in the league with a winning record.

It’s kind of a shame they will only have this one season playing together. Jones, 17, who so far has totaled 443 yards and eight touchdowns on 52 carries, has been on the Canoga Park varsity since midway through his sophomore year. But Hamilton, 17, transferred to Canoga Park last spring from El Camino Real.

Hamilton, who has rushed 277 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries, said the change of schools was needed.

“I just felt Canoga Park offered me a better place to showcase my talent, as far as how the offense runs,” Hamilton said. “I was looking forward to being in a better program. I feel that Canoga has a better football program. The team is more of a family here, as opposed to it being ‘just business’ at El Camino. We actually care about one another here. I’ve grown more closer to this team in one year than I did in my three years at El Camino.”

Jones is grateful to have someone else to share the workload. Even though he rushed for an imposing 2,134 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, he couldn’t lift the Hunters to the same heights they reached in 2012, when they reached the City Division II championship game (losing to San Fernando). Canoga Park was only 5-5 overall last year, and didn’t make the playoffs.

“I felt like we have a better team this year,” Jones said. ‘Last year we had a lot of juniors. It was a younger team. This year we’re more mature, and we can play better together now.

“We had to go through last year to get to where we are now. They can’t stop us both. He comes in fresh, then I give him a break and come in fresh. I’m not as tired as I was the year before.”

Coach Ivan Moreno is pleased with the progress the Hunters are

showing in 2014, especially since after the team was moved into City’s Division I last year. Division I has been hard on Valley area teams of late; Birmingham (2007) was the last one to reach the title game. Even though

Canoga Park is a small school as far as population, wants his teams to dream big. But he’s also pragmatic enough to realize Canoga Park has to prove it can become an elite team.

“As a head coach you want to see progression in the program as well as the team,” Moreno said. “I want us to improve. We have now moved to Division I, and our goals have changed.

“To try and compete at highest level in City, we have to get to play

better teams in county. We’re trying to lift the dreams here. That’s why we’re now playing Taft and Palisades; we continue to challenge ourselves as a program and as a team. We haven’t played our best football yet, and as the season goes on we can become better.”

Playing Palisades (1-1) on the road should, at the very least, start preparing the Hunters for the kind of hostile environment and physical game they could face in the playoffs. Both Hamilton and Jones expect Friday’s game to give them a sense of the team going into league play next week.

“I think it’s our turn to take the [league] championship … we have a strong offense and defense,” Jones said.

“I feel that playing [Palisades] just before league will let us know where we are,” Hamilton said. “If we can overcome them, it will make us more confident going into league.”

Where the Hunters will be happy to be the hunted.

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