High School Football

Predictions ... Who will win the CCAL? Will Central Catholic reign in the VOL again?

After dozens of hours spent drinking Gatorade and watching each Stanislaus District team practice, it is time for me to make my league predictions.

My track record isn’t the prettiest as last year, after five weeks of action, I made my predictions and ended up going 2-3. However, one of my teams I picked (Hilmar), didn’t win the Trans-Valley League title but did win a Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF state title.

Still, no excuses.

I’ve given myself a bigger challenge and instead of waiting for the first month of football, I am ready now. (Note: The order of the leagues are by division)

Division II Central California Athletic League: Turlock

In the first year of the CCAL, the Turlock schools (Pitman and Turlock) combined to go 8-0 against the Modesto schools with Turlock beating Pitman in the Harvest Bowl to win the inaugural CCAL title. For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs will win the league title. They have the deepest team with athletes on both sides of the ball, a Division I offensive lineman (Everett Johnson, who is committed to Cal), a good backfield led by senior Anthony Frias, and a physical defense led by senior linebacker Jayden Jackson, who is one of the best tacklers in the area.

I think the “league championship game” will be on Oct. 4 at Downey when the Knights host the Bulldogs. While the Knights have a more lethal offense, they have question marks in their secondary. A team that will surprise is Gregori. Senior running back Titus Rhiney and junior running back Isaac Herman are an under-the-radar duo.

Division III Central California Conference: Patterson

Just two years ago, Patterson went 11-2 and advanced to the D-III semifinals. The Tigers went 7-5 and 3-2 in the CCC last year with a young roster. Both their quarterback (Logan McCleery) and running back (Jordan Imada) were sophomores and playing varsity for the first time. Imada had over 1,000 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns while McCleery threw for close to 2,000 yards. With a full year of experience, the duo will take the next step and lead the Tigers to a CCC title. McCleery needs to improve his decision-making (26 interceptions in 2018) and Imada is faster and stronger than last year.

Also the Foumai brothers are back. Junior Boss Foumani was named the CCC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year last year and his brother Logan, a senior, had a strong season playing both offensive and defensive line. One of the biggest advantages for the Tigers is they have the best kicker in the area in Adrian Melesio, who made a 54-yard field goal last year, a school record. Patterson’s toughest games against Buhach Colony (Sept. 20) and Merced (Oct. 18) are both at home.

Division III Valley Oak League: Central Catholic

In the last four years in the VOL, Central Catholic has lost two games while clinching at least a share of the league title in three of the four. This season will be no different. Manteca is going to be better with its starting quarterback, running back, and top receiver all returning. Oakdale lost some talent to graduation but coach Trent Merzon always re-loads and junior running back Zeke Saffar returns.

Still, despite having a smaller roster than both teams and with a lot of two-way players, Central Catholic is the most talented team in the league. Senior quarterback Dalton Durossette returns as does 4.4 40-yard dash speedster senior running back Minaya Olivo. Durossette has big-play threat senior wide receiver Sithri Price and senior tight end Nic Sani (6 feet, 6 inches) to throw to. While there are question marks about both the offensive and defensive lines, the Raiders are always physical and tough to stop.

The big question for Central Catholic is can they survive the first five weeks? With games against De La Salle (Aug. 30), St. Mary’s (Sept. 6), Upland (Sept. 13), and Manteca (Sept. 20), the Raiders have little room for error and can’t afford any injuries.

Division VI Western Athletic Conference: Los Banos

Los Banos has lost one game in each of the last three seasons but earned only one share of a WAC title, which came in 2018. With a tough league that saw three teams tie at 6-1 last year, 2019 is finally the year the Tigers win the league outright. Los Banos returns senior running back Justin Incaprera (1,242 rushing yards), senior wide receiver Landon Ramos (32 receptions, 545 yards), and senior linebacker/safety Jacob Johnson (82 tackles, two interceptions).

After combining to go for 7-16, the three Modesto schools (Beyer, Davis, and Johansen) will be much better this year. Beyer has talent coming from an undefeated JV team, Davis returns its top three receivers, and Johansen has a defensive line that coach Scott Sacuskie raved about at the Modesto Quarterback Club meeting on Monday.

Division V Mother Lode League: Sonora

I guess my prediction isn’t that shocking considering the Wildcats have won all 29 MLL games since joining the league in 2014. While this is the youngest team coach Bryan Craig has had in his 11 years, Sonora still has talent with senior quarterback Nick Crockett, junior wide receiver Justin Morgan, and junior wide receiver Gabe Milbourn. Their tough non-conference schedule — with games against Oakdale (Aug. 23), Ripon (Aug. 30), Escalon (Sept. 6), and Hilmar (Sept. 13) — is one of the strongest in the area.

The one team that will provided the biggest challenge is Calaveras (Oct. 18). Calaveras returns junior running back Clayton Moore (554 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and competed well against big schools Buhach Colony, Central Catholic, and Turlock at a scrimmage on Aug. 17.

Division V Trans-Valley League: Escalon

The Cougars return three 700-yard running backs, two star lineman, and are ranked in the top 100 in the state by MaxPreps and top 10 in the section. Expectations are high for the Cougars but the team and coaching staff didn’t let outside noise affect them as they competed well at passing tournaments at Downey and Fresno State during the summer.

Of course, for Escalon, it comes down to beating Hilmar. The Yellowjackets have knocked the Cougars out of the playoffs in each of the last two years. The good news for Cougars fans however is if they win the TVL (Div. V), Hilmar (Div. VI enrollment) will drop down a division for playoffs so the only time the teams might meet is on Sept. 27.

If we are staying with big predictions, Escalon will do what Hilmar did last year: a section and state title.

Division VI Southern Athletic League: Ripon Christian

After snapping Orestimba’s 23-game league winning streak on Sept. 28, 2018, the Knights dominated the SAL, outscoring opponents 293-37. A week prior to beating the Warriors, Ripon Christian beat Denair, 35-7, who later won a Div. VII section and 7-AA title. Even with the loss of Bee Small School Player of the Year (running back Michael Kamps), the Knights have the most talented team in the Southern League. Randy Fasani, who takes over for Trey Ozenbaugh (resigned in December), said the team “approaches every game expecting to win, not hoping to”.

With Denair returning only a couple of key players from last year’s championship run and Orestimba losing two record-breaking players (quarterback Jacob Bettencourt and wide receiver Tyler Vargas), the Knights will once again win the SAL.

Can they finally get that elusive blue banner after losing in section title games in each of the last two seasons? I think so.

Division VII Central California Athletic Alliance: Big Valley Christian

After winning the school’s first conference title since 2007 last year, the Lions will win the CCAA again. Entering his third season, coach Brian Berkefeld has built a strong program and after outscoring league opponents by 32.3 points per game, Big Valley has the best team in the CCAA. Senior running back Javyn Drobnick (2,211 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns) is back and with a couple of transfers from Modesto Christian and Oakdale, the Lions should play for a section title.

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Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.