All the weightlifting in the spring, the sweating during seven-on-seven drills in the summer and the drills of the past three weeks consummate tonight with the kickoff of the 2016 high school football season.
Just about every Elk Grove-area team is in action this Friday. Pleasant Grove will travel to Ventura College for a game against Bakersfield High School on Saturday and Florin and Valley will start their seasons next Friday.
But, for the other six local teams the butterflies are already fluttering in the gut of players and coaches.
The marching bands and cheerleaders have been rehearsing, too, because the football season offers them a chance to shine. Every one of those squads does things a little different, but overall the first football game in high school generally is the mark that the school year is underway.
Elk Grove vs. Inderkum
Arguably the most successful local football team of the last five seasons, the Thundering Herd still stings from disappointing Sac-Joaquin Section championship game losses three out of the last four years, including a loss last season to Folsom, a team they scrimmaged last Saturday to inflict, perhaps, some revenge.
|EGHS Coach Chris Nixon|
“The past five or six years we’ve had a summer contact camp for a week where we’ve been able to flush some of that out,” Nixon said. “We did not get that opportunity this year and this year more than other years we’ve got some young guys in key positions.”
Elk Grove has a record of 59-9 over that five year span of time. Three offensive linemen from last season’s 13-1 team will probably start Sept. 2 when American River College opens its season. Diego Cervantes, Ben Davis and Trevor Reinwald have made a positive impression for Beavers’ coach Jon Osterhout. Nixon thinks there might be more good linemen ready to take those guys’ places.
“We’ve got guys coming up in key positions,” Nixon said. “Jake Bellecci has been our tight end for three years. Solid there. Jon Pochop is right there in line as far as senior linemen who control the line of scrimmage as guys in the past have done. He’s another three-year starter at tackle for us. Ryan Vierra hasn’t had as many reps at center, but came in and bailed us out at center in the St. Mary’s game (in 2014). We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Of course, Nixon is looking to replace a 2,800-yard plus back in Ryan Robards who is now preparing to play baseball at the University of Pacific.
“We’ve got bodies there to fill in,” he said. “Our fullback who will be there will be as dominant as anyone we’ve had there in George Spithorst. He’s definitely someone to reckon with at fullback.”
And, expect the Herd to be throwing the ball a little more than they normally do with returning quarterback Jayden Machado and wide receiver Gavin Reinwald leading the way.
“We will be throwing the ball a little more because we have that experienced bunch to rely on,” Nixon said. “In the Folsom game they showed they can move the ball down the field efficiently throwing it. I think we can do that and it will keep defenses off balance.”
This opening game at Inderkum will be a great litmus test for how good Elk Grove will be. The Tigers are expected to be a contender for the Section’s Division III championship.
Bradshaw Christian vs. Kennedy
The other local football team with a high success record is Bradshaw Christian. The Pride has won Division VI Section titles in all odd-number years since 2009, but this is an even-numbered year. Head coach Drew Rickert wants to change that pattern and has quite a number of key contributors to last year’s squad back again. Guys like Mateo Bromstead and Britton Wheatley will lead a talented backfield on both sides of the ball for the Pride.
|BCHS coach Drew Rickert|
Even though they take on Kennedy, a Division I school from the Metro Conference, don’t be surprised the Pride wins this game. The Cougars have improved greatly the past three seasons or so, but they’ll have to stop a very good running attack that Bradshaw possesses.
Sheldon vs. Woodcreek
Most Sacramento-area football fans will be watching with interest as the Joe Cattolico era starts at Sheldon. After nine years of success including one Section championship and two runner-up finishes at Pleasant Grove, Cattolico brings some stability and an excellent methodology to the Huskies.
The move of schools has actually gone well for Cattolico.
“It’s a change,” he admitted. “The biggest thing for me is just to try to learn. Every campus is different on how they do things. That’s still a work in progress at least for me, but I’ve tried to be adaptable.”
But, on the practice field earlier this week, the players seem to have responded well to Cattolico and his coaches, most of them also new to Sheldon.
“This is the fourth varsity program I’ve coached at and either everywhere has had good kids or I’ve been fortunate to hit four places in a row that have had good kids,” he said. “They are responding and really listening and do what we ask them to do and given maximum effort to do it.”
Cattolico will coach the defensive side of the ball while his father, Butch, heads up the offense.
“I’m coaching with guys I’ve coached with before,” Joe said. “That part is good because we’ve been together and we’re on the same page as coaches. We’ve got some pretty good talent in conjunction with being good students and good character kids.”
|Joe Cattolico, now at Sheldon H.S.|
Sheldon has plenty of athletes in the school and if they listen to their new coaches this could be the surprise team of 2016. Cattolico knows this but says with a bit of caution:
“We aim for daily improvement. We are going to try to get better as individuals and collectively every single day we come out to practice in pursuit of trying to be successful on the football field.”
The Huskies were 2-8 last year, 0-7 in the Delta League. That won’t happen this fall.
Mike Johnson bought some new uniforms over the summer, did something unique with the helmet décor by placing the school’s Wildcat image in silver on the right side and the player’s uniform number on the left side. Now it all will get dirty and scuffed up for the first time tonight in Stockton as the Wildcats play McNair.
“We have great kids and we’re young,” Johnson said last Friday during a break in his team’s practice on the worn turf of Bartholomew Park. “Every one says that, but it’s true. We have 33 juniors on our roster of 50. We’ll be starting lots of young kids and I’m okay with it, because this is the group of kids I coached in Pop Warner for three years. So, they’ve been running this system for years.”
Johnson’s son Brady is on this club with several good-looking athletes, however, not too many of them have size. That could be the Wildcats’ Achilles heel this year.
“It always come down to line play in our league,” he said. “And, we’re not big and if we’re not big then we’ll have to be really tough and schematically very sound.”
|Franklin practicing field goals|
The march to the post-season starts Friday with McNair, a playoff team a year ago. Johnson says this being the first summer he and other high school programs didn’t have a summer football camp in pads because of new CIF rules prohibiting such off-season contact, he, like other head coaches, may not know how good a defense he has.
“Who is physical and who is not?” he questioned. “(The CIF) has taken that out of summertime. We have a lot kids to be excited about and I hope they back that up when the pads get put on.”
Wilcox (Santa Clara) vs. Monterey Trail
No one is more optimistic about his team this year than TJ Ewing. He starts his 13th season at Monterey Trail tonight by taking on a squad from Santa Clara, Wilcox High School.
“They are big, physical and anytime someone calls and wants to play you, then you worry about them,” Ewing laughed. “They are a good program.”
Ewing has plenty of reasons for being so upbeat thanks to a solid offensive line and a quality athlete in quarterback Robert Holt, who will double as an outside linebacker. He’s one of many young men who have finally reached the varsity level after coming up through the Jr. Mustang football program.
“I have some kids I’ve known for a while,” Ewing said. “You know, I’m excited because of the relationships I’ve had with people I’ve known for a while. It’s cool because we didn’t have that before.”
|Monterey Trail's TJ Ewing|
He’s proud he has also sent off many players who have gone on to play at the collegiate level, many at local community colleges.
“We’ve never been in this for personal glory,” Ewing acknowledged. “I’ve never understood this for high school. It’s all about the kids. I’m in it for a good time. It’s fun coaching them.”
Ewing doesn’t have the one standout running back like a Trey Nahhas, who was an all-state selection a couple seasons back.
“It will be running back by committee,” he said of his ball carriers in his patented veer offense. “I think there are so many guys who can help us, so it will be fun to watch that process.”
The Mustangs are a team to watch this year and should sneak up on a few opponents, especially the ones who struggle on defense trying to read the quickness of the veer.
Laguna Creek vs. West Campus
Dan Davis, a longtime assistant coach throughout the school district, walks out on the turf at Burbank’s Titan Stadium Friday as the head coach of the Laguna Creek Cardinals. It’s been six years since they’ve been in the playoffs but Davis has some speed and size this year and should finish in the upper echelon of the Metro Conference this season. West Campus has had a couple down years, so the Cardinals should take this game going away.
River Valley vs. Cosumnes Oaks
The Wolfpack kick things off tonight in one of two home games in Elk Grove as they face River Valley. The other local home contest is Monterey Trail’s game with Wilcox.
Derick Milgrim starts his third season as head coach with several quality athletes on a squad primed to win the Capital Valley Conference. Of course, Antelope and Del Campo may have something to say about that before the season is over.
Pleasant Grove vs. Bakersfield
In a game that will be played at Ventura College Saturday, the Eagles take on Bakersfield in week zero. A year ago Jason Rossow came off a medical leave of absence to lead the Eagles into the playoffs thanks to some inspiring play. In his third season as head coach Rossow has a team that could do even better this fall.