School started a few weeks back for area students and by the time that first bell rang, most prep reporters were knee-deep into the production process of that annual phenomenon known as the preseason high school football issue.
The process for us here at The Bee started back in July, with staff meetings and planning sessions, with a lot of story ideas popping up once we began talking to coaches and players and parents at the various training camps in our district. So many, in fact, that I’ve decided to write a column based on some of those storylines.
Since we’re about to embark on the 2014 season, how about a column on 2,014 points of interest this season? Well, on second thought, I’m not Dickens and don’t get paid by the word, so why don’t we just make it the 14 points of interest? (I’d have never made deadline the other way!)
1. Good Eats – This isn’t really a storyline, it’s just a thing.
Never miss a local story.
Last year, I tried to Tweet out photos of my pregame snacks at various stadiums throughout the district. The tri-tip at Escalon and Oakdale high schools was very good, and the sausage dog at Downey was tasty. But they all take a backseat to the linguica corn dog at Hilmar High, which, in my opinion, was the best. Apparently, I’m not the only who thinks so. The Turlock council of the Knights of Columbus picked up on the idea and sold the specialty menu item at the Stanislaus County Fair.
But enough about the appetizers – let’s get to the main course.
2. Trio Grande? – At times last season, Central Catholic’s march to a second consecutive state championship game seemed like a foregone conclusion. But there was a 17-13 nail-biter over Patterson in the Western Athletic Conference finale, a tougher-than-it-looked 24-10 win over Hilmar in the Sac-Joaquin Section title game, and a 17-14 squeaker in the NorCal championship against McClymonds (Oakland). This year, thanks to section realignment, the Raiders get kicked up to the rugged Valley Oak League, which could have an effect on their regular-season record, their statewide ranking and, in turn, their quest for a third straight championship. Which leads me to No. 3 …
3. Clash of the titans – The Raiders’ move into the VOL sets up a tectonic plate-shifting matchup between CC and Oakdale on Nov. 7 at The Corral.
Central is undoubtedly the greatest football dynasty in the history of the Stanislaus District – having won 17 Sac-Joaquin Section titles – while the Mustangs are perhaps the most consistent public-school program, with three section crowns in 11 trips to the finale, plus a NorCal title in 2012.
If you’re going to see one prep game this year, make it this one.
4. Family matters – Central Catholic tailback Montell Bland comes from a distinguished football family. His older brothers, Louis and Reggie Bland, each played in state championship games (Reggie came away with a pair of rings) at Central and cousin Freddy Bland was one of the great running backs during the Merced High dynasty back in the late ’80 and early ‘90s.
Montell was called up to the varsity midway through last season – as a freshman – and when 2,000-yard rusher Matt Ringer was unable to answer the bell for the state final against Bakersfield Christian, Montell stepped in and rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries, including an exciting 26-yard TD dash in which just about every BC defender had a shot at him – and missed.
I can’t wait to see what Bland’s sophomore season holds.
5. City limits – Downey, co-champ of the Modesto Metro Conference last season, was the clear favorite in this year’s MMC coaches poll. Gregori was the No. 2 choice, slightly ahead of 2013 co-champ Modesto. That’s the way I see it playing out this year, too. But Enochs, looking for a bounce-back season after last year’s disappointing 2-7-1 campaign, and Beyer, which earned the league’s third playoff berth in 2013, figure to make some noise, as well. The league is truly wide open.
6. How good will LG, RC and CV be? – What do Le Grand, Ripon Christian and Central Valley all have in common? Well, other than two-letter acronyms, each lost a 2,000-yard rusher and its head coach from last year.
Ripon Christian lost Andrew Brown to graduation and last year’s coach, Randy Fasani (the former Stanford and NFL quarterback), relocated to the Loomis area. Brown set the Stanislaus District’s single-season rushing record (2,781) and a Sac-Joaquin Section record for touchdowns (55).
Central Valley graduated Ja’Quan Gardner, the district’s all-time leading rusher (6,014) who ran for 2,467 yards, while former coach Jason McCloskey now is at Mountain House attempting to get that program off the ground.
Le Grand lost head coach Rick Martinez, who guided the Bulldogs to five straight trips to the section D-V title game and four straight wins, while son Ryan, who rushed for 2,010 yards, earned his diploma.
That’s a lot of production lost to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Had the coaches remained, it would be easier to forecast how the squads would respond; the new coaches make it a bit of a mystery.
7. Encore! Encore! – Manteca reached the NorCal Bowl last season, thanks largely to a huge offensive line (averaging about 270 pounds per man), talented tailback Alex Laurel, who nearly became the district’s fifth 2,000-yard rusher (1,876), and steady quarterback Joe Menzel. Those are key losses, but Manteca gets an infusion of talent from a junior varsity squad that went 10-0. Coach Eric Reis, one of the best in the district, should have this team ready to go for its Week Zero rematch with Santa Clara’s Wilcox, one of two teams to beat the Buffs last season. Manteca will “host” Valley Oak League rival Oakdale on Oct. 11 at the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium in a game that could decided the conference champ.
8. New sheriffs in town – There are 12 new head coaches in the Stanislaus District this season: Tim Garcia of Davis and Doug Severe of Beyer each have had positions within the district previously. Kevin Navarra takes over for the ultra-successful Kevin Swartwood at Buhach Colony, while Alex Gonzalez and Scott Edwards take the reins in Livingston and Central Valley, respectively. Another new face in the Western Athletic Conference is Michael Machado of Merced’s El Capitan High School, embarking on its first varsity season.
Mike Parsons, who led Modesto Christian to the state title in 2009 before taking the top job at Clovis West, returns to the TVL for his second stint as the Crusaders head coach.
In the Southern League, half of the eight teams will have new leaders: Noel Looney takes over at Waterford, while Ted Howze is the new man in Denair. Raul Alvarez was the offensive coordinator for Le Grand’s four straight section titles before getting the promotion and Ripon Christian’s Trey Ozenbaugh was the junior varsity head coach last year and moves up a level for 2014.
Former Southern League squad Turlock Christian, now a member of the Central California Athletic Alliance, welcomes Jake von Sherrer as its new coach.
Quick, without looking, name the 12 new coaches in The Bee’s Stanislaus District.
9. Class of 2016 – Gregori High tailback Demetrius Vinson may be the Stanislaus District’s true breakout star of 2014. He’s ranked by Cal-Hi Sports as the No. 74 junior in the state of California and was one of the top-ranked players at Oakland’s Nike SPARQ Camp in May. Central Catholic’s Sam Mundt, brother of Oregon tight end John Mundt, is ranked 94th in the state by Cal-Hi.
10. TVL supremacy – Two years ago, Ripon had its best team under head coach Chris Johnson, losing only once in 12 games, falling to eventual state champ Central Catholic in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. Last year, Hilmar’s only loss in 14 games came in the Sac-Joaquin Section finale, to the eventual state champion Raiders. Will there be a Trans-Valley League team to step up this year? Perhaps 2010 state champ Escalon? Or will it come down once again to Ripon and Hilmar?
Either way, the Trans-Valley League will be, once again, one of the best small-school leagues in the entire state.
11. Gimme a P – Patterson and Pacheco are the favorites to win the Western Athletic Conference title this season. Their matchup on Oct. 24 should decide the league championship. Pacheco running back Frank Ginda, built like a brick house at 6-2, 230, is a star for the Panthers and one of four returning 1,000-yard rushers in the district; Patterson receiver/corner Damarrio Hammonds is a returning All-District performer.
12. InSite insights – Gregori High junior varsity player Dominic Barandica made news this preseason when his proposal secured the Jaguars a $10,000 grant from Doctors Medical Center to purchase InSite sensors made by equipment manufacturer Riddell. The sensors measure high-impact collisions that will alert sideline personnel if a concussion is suspected. It’ll be interesting to see: a) how many alerts the sideline receives this season and b) if the sensors do their job well enough to prompt the purchase of more sensors for other schools in the district.
13. Do me a favor, fellas – I’ve crawled out on a limb with the cover story of this year’s preseason edition, essentially proclaiming 2014 the Year of the Quarterback.
C’mon, guys, I’m counting on you to make it look like I know what I’m talking about!
14. Pop quiz – Y’know what might be the most interesting story line? If any of you were able to name all 12 new district coaches without looking.
Enjoy the season.