Sports

If it's Friday the 25th, it must be prep football season

 
Menlo senior JH Tevis is one of the top linemen in the area and made a verbal commitment to California. Photo by Pam McKenney/Menlo Athletics.

Here it is, still August and prep football season is upon us. All the local 11-man football teams get underway Friday, playing season openers in August so that the extended state playoffs don't run all the way up until Christmas.

The season getting started so early is just fine with local teams, who are all just raring to play games that count.

WCAL powerhouse Bellarmine visits Menlo-Atherton at 7:30 p.m. This is the marquee matchup of the opening week.

Menlo-Atherton is looking to build on last year's historic accomplishment. The Bears concluded the 2016 season as Central Coast Section Open Division I champions -- in other words the best team in the CCS.

They went on to win a Northern California championship with a 49-21 win over Manteca before having their 12-game winning streak ended in a 39-21 loss to Paraclete in a state championship game.

M-A played Bellarmine twice last year, losing 34-20 in the season opener but then winning 21-0 in the CCS semifinals, an outcome that signalled something of a changing of the guard as the new kids on the block announced their presence by sending the tradition-laden Bells down to defeat.

"There will be a motivation factor on their side,'' Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. "They've had this date circled ever since then.''

One of the most stunning aspects of M-A's romp through the CCS playoffs was the way the defense played. The Bears followed up the shutout win over Bellarmine with a 17-0 win over Milpitas in the CCS championship game. And with five members of this season's front seven already having received offers from Division I colleges, it's apparent that this year's unit could be even better.

"We have the talent and ability to do what last year's team did,'' Ravipati said. "But we'll have to work for it.''

The Bells return running back Austin Ajiake (6-3, 215), who rushed for 134 yards and two TDs in last year's season opener, and standout lineman Cade Hall, the son of former 49er Rhett Hall.

"They're going to be a load to deal with,'' Ravipati said. "We're going to have to bring it.''

Opponents will have a load to deal with in Bears junior lineman Noa Ngalu (6-2, 285), who may see action at running back.

After opening with Bellarmine the Bears continue a power-packed non-league schedule with games against Mitty, Palma and Los Gatos before beginning Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division play.

Also on Friday:

Palo Alto at Patterson, 7 p.m.

Last year Palo Alto hosted Patterson in its season opener and won, 25-12. This year the Vikings will travel to Patterson and get a taste of small-town football.

"We're going to have to be prepared for the atmosphere,'' Palo Alto coach Danny Sullivan said. "They will want to get us back for last year.''

Patterson High football is the big event in town come Friday night.

"We went into a restaurant and asked a waitress what it's like,'' Sullivan said. "She said it's an excellent time to rob something because on Friday night the whole town shuts down.''

Paly's goal this season is to improve on last year's 4-7 record. Sullivan was not at all pleased with his team's performance in its scrimmage with Burlingame last Friday.

"It did not go well,'' Sullivan said. "We have a lot to learn this week.''

Improvement in the passing game is a key to the team's success Junior Jackson Chryst is in his second year as the starting quarterback.

Jackson Chryst is the younger brother of Keller Chryst, who starred at Paly and is now the starting QB at Stanford.

"Last year was his first as a quarterback,'' Keller said. "He'll do nothing but improve. He's changed his whole mindset. He's focused on being the best he can be. He's truly embracing the position. I work with him when our schedules match."

Sullivan has noted the development.

"I want to see him keep improving, but compared to last year it's night and day,'' Sullivan said. "If we can get the passing game going we could be real dangerous.''

That's because the running back tandem of Paul Jackson III and Sione Latu are both back after excellent seasons a year ago.

Jackson went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second time, gaining 1,266 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. Latu, who Sullivan says ``might be our most important player,'' rushed for 623 yards while also playing outside linebacker.

"Sione likes to hit people and he flies,'' Sullivan said. "We know what we've got with Paul. He makes big plays and is tough to bring down. Last year he rushed for 1,000 yards against teams playing eight guys in the box because we couldn't throw.''

In addition to the improvement shown by Chryst, Sullivan has liked what he's seen of junior Paul Thie and sophomore Jamir Shepard at wide receiver.

Linemen Bryant Jefferson and Ervin Brown-Alexander, inside linebackers Wes Walters and Seattle Hmelar and cornerback Damion Richard-Valencia are key players on defense.

There's a lot of work to be done, but Sullivan likes the program's potential.

"If we get it turned around this year who knows what happens in the future,''' Sullivan said.

Capuchino at Woodside, 7:30 p.m.

Woodside is young and relatively inexperienced. But the potential is there for the Wildcats to have another good offensive team. Shoring up a defense that allowed more than 50 points per game the second half of the 2016 season will be a key for Woodside to contend in the Peninsula Athletic League's Ocean Division.

Joseph King started at quarterback last year as a sophomore and performed pretty well, throwing for 1,830 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Woodside coach Justin Andrews said he will be looking for King to ``come out of the gate firing like he did at the end of last year.''

Derek Smith played in the slot last year and had 14 receptions for 227 yards. He's been moved to the outside and will likely be King's No. 1 target.

It will be difficult to replace the graduated Marcellus Chester-Riley, an electrifying broken-field threat, at running back.

"We have a stable of running backs, kind of a 1A-1B thing,'' Andrews said.

Darnell Ellis was Chester-Riley's backup a year ago and averaged 6.7 yards per carry, gaining 276 yards on 41 carries. Isaiah Henderson, up from the frosh-soph, will also get some carries.

"We're going to see if Darnell can be an every-down back,'' Andrews said.

Woodside has gotten off to 4-0 starts in nonleague play in each of the last two years before running into tough times in the PAL Ocean. Last year the Wildcats were torched for 259 points the last five games of the season.

"A lot of the defensive woes we had should be improved,'' Andrews said. "It was mostly due to breakdowns in the secondary and that's an area I think we'll be much improved, much more competitive.''

Woodside opens with Capuchino, a team the Wildcats beat 19-0 in last year's opener. Capuchino has a new coach with Miguel Nava replacing Ben White.

"It's the same old Capuchino identity,'' said Andrews after watching film of Cap's scrimmage. "Smash-mouth football, pound the ball and see if you can stop them. It will be an interesting challenge.''

Soquel at Gunn, 7 p.m.

Second-year coach Tony Kelly feels like he has some quality on his roster this season. The problem is a lack of quantity. Heading into Friday's opener Kelly has 21 players ready to suit up. And that includes several who have never played football before.

"Growing pains,'' Kelly said. "I may have to call up a couple frosh-soph kids, which was not my goal. But if we can stay healthy I think we can be competitive all year.''

There is some talent on hand. DJ Barnes was named the most valuable defensive back in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division last season. Kelly says that San Jose State and Fresno State have shown interest in Barnes, who will play tailback and receiver on offense.

Solomone Paletua is a key player at running back and linebacker and Leemaster Howard is another talented receiver and defensive back.

Kelly is planning on having those three players share carries.

"The kids have bought into what we're doing,'' Kelly said. "But you've got to walk before you run.''

Hudson Alexander (6-2, 185) will start at quarterback and at outside linebacker.

"Hudson was the first kid I met when I came to Gunn,'' Kelly said. "We'd ride around campus in my golf cart and recruit. I had 13 kids at first. He helped me get up to 22.''

Quinn Treadway (5-11, 220) has a soccer background. But Kelly likes what he's seen of Treadway in his transition to football and thinks he will do a good job on the offensive line.

Ethan Houston (6-0, 220) is another newcomer to football. He is formerly a resident of Beijing, China, where he played rugby. Kelly has him penciled in on the offensive line and at linebacker.

"I found him at orientation,'' Kelly said. "He's never played a down of football in his life.''

Andre Vega is another starter on the offensive line and at linebacker.

There's a girl on the team as well, and not just a kicker. Maia Foelsch decided she wanted to play football rather than volleyball this fall and will see time at wide receiver and defensive back.

Gunn has its first three games at home with James Lick and Harbor following Soquel, and then travels to Andrew Hill for its final nonleague contest. They're all winnable games.

Soquel went 2-8 last year.

"If we can block up front I think we can beat them,'' Kelly said.

Menlo School at East Nicolaus, 6:45 p.m.

Menlo, which went 11-2 last year, has upgraded its nonleague schedule. East Nicolaus went 13-0 last year before losing to McClymonds in a NorCal Division 5-A bowl game.

The Knights also have a home game scheduled for Sept. 16 against Palma.

"We're treating it like a business trip and to set the tone for the season,'' said standout defensive end JH Tevis (6-5, 228), a Cal commit, about the trip to East Nicolaus, which is in the Yuba City area. "We're going to have to be locked in.''

In addition to Tevis, who said he's planning on studying international business and Dutch at Cal, Menlo also has linemen Ty Corley (6-3, 230) and Mafi Latu (5-11, 209) returning, along with former receiver Cooper Stewart, making that an area of strength.

Emilio Simbeck, Hayden Pegley's backup at quarterback last season, steps up into the starting role with sophomore Kevin Alarcon, a standout on Menlo’s CCS championship baseball team last spring, backing him up. Simbeck will throw to a receiving corps that includes Aidan Israelski, Baily Deeter and David Schmaier.

Israelski, who had 39 receptions for 628 yards a year ago, will also see time at running back, along with Conor McCusker and Xavier Dickinson.

Both of Menlo's losses last year were to Half Moon Bay, losses which cost the Knights PAL Ocean and CCS Division V championships.

Half Moon Bay is no longer in the PAL Ocean, having moved up to the Bay with Hillsdale moving down to take its place. So the division title is up for grabs.

"The PAL is exceptional from top to bottom,’’ head coach Mark Newton said. “You know you're going to play quality competition every time.''

Sacred Heart Prep at San Benito, 7:30 p.m.

The Gators begin their project of bouncing back from the 3-9 season they endured last year. And it will be the first game for head coach Mark Grieb, who takes over from Pete Lavorato, now at The King's Academy.

Prior to last season, Sacred Heart Prep won four consecutive CCS championships and made two state finals appearances. Grieb, who has a wealth of football-playing and coaching experience, was an assistant in 2015 when the Gators beat Riordan in a thrilling CCS Open Division III final and went on to play Rancho Bernardo for a state championship.

So he knows something about the SHP tradition in football.

The Haybalers have a traditionally-strong program. Last year they went 10-2, losing to Milpitas 35-28 in the CCS Open Division I semifinals. They beat Sacred Heart Prep 30-12 in the season opener.

"That's a tough opening draw, a battle the first week,'' Grieb said. "But I'm excited. I feel good about it.''

Grieb said he will continue employing the fly offense Lavorato had made an SHP staple. And he has an experienced quarterback returning to run it in Brad Yaffe.

"Brad's an outstanding passer who can make any throw on the field,'' Grieb said. "He's smart and tough and his best attribute is his competitiveness."

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