Welcome to what is (at least for us) an entirely new realm of the prep sports world: the Times’ East Bay Prep Sports blog.

To be honest, it’s not much of a departure for our staff. When covering events, we talk to athletes, coaches and fans about prep sports. We chat about it with coaches and team publicists when they call us to report results. And we talk about prep issues among ourselves in the office.

This opens it up for a more modern and timely discussion forum with the legions of prep sports fans. It allows our writers to "stretch out" a bit, away from space limitations, writing structures and those awful deadlines.

This gives readers an opportunity to see how and why we make decisions, from top 10 polls to All-Times teams. We are thrilled to have a method to read your opinions and have a give-and-take. It opens up an entirely new world of ideas.

Now, to get the conversation started, what will be the biggest surprise in prep sports this year? The last prep season began with De La Salle’s football team seeing its win streak end, which was just the start of a series of surprises. Tell us what you think will make us do double-takes in the 2005-06 season.


FRIDAY FORECAST: Turn on the Lights!

Having grown up the son of a high school football coach, there are few places I would rather be than on the sidelines of a high school football game as the sun sets on a balmy fall evening.

In the excitement of another season under the ‘Friday night lights’, I’m beginning what I hope will be a weekly feature on our blog — the Friday Forecast.

The Forecast will feature predictions on a handful of games and various thoughts on the upcoming weekend of football. It will conveniently run on Thursdays, so you, the reader, can weigh in and inevitably tell us how off-base we are.

Slightly handicapped by having the opening week of the Forecast, this will probably be more guesswork than those that follow. So bear with me.

Here’s who I’ll be going with this week…

Clayton Valley over College Park

Falcons running back Brandon Fragger will undoubtedly test the Eagles run defense. However, as a whole, I’m not sure College Park can match Clayton Valley’s overall speed.

Liberty over Newark Memorial

I admit, I know about as much about molecular chemistry as I do about Newark Memorial. However, I do know something about Lions’ quarterback Jason Smith — and if the three-year starter gets any help, the Cougars will be searching for answers .

Campolindo over San Ramon Valley

The teams’ combined record in 2004 was 21-4. However, both teams have had to reload this year. Which makes this game a real toss-up. My gut says go with the Wolves (but as many of you will learn in future weeks, my gut is often wrong). So I’m going against it this week and giving the nod to the home team.

…In other games…Keep an eye on Antioch sophomore tailback DeLeon Eskridge. First-year Panthers coach Frank Beede is excited about the young running back, and Eskridge will certainly be tested by the Monte Vista defense…California not only faces Vanden-Travis AFB (which it lost to 35-27 in last season’s opener), but will also take on some of the highest expectations ever bestowed upon a Grizzlies team. How will they handle the pressure?

Enjoy the first week under the lights, and we’ll see you at next week’s Friday Forecast.


Preseason poll

Every year around this time, we at the Times are tasked with trying to distill the massive amount of high school football preview information we collect from coaches and players into a digestible form, then use that info to arrive upon a reasonable list of the top teams in the region. We like to call it The preseason top 10.

It’s no easy trick to turn, trying to figure out who is going to stay good, who is going to fall off the pace, and who is going to come out of nowhere to shock us all. Especially considering the fact that none of us has seen a game yet. But we do the best we can based on the information we have.

Last year, nine of the 13 teams we ranked in the preseason poll (including three teams who were among "Others receiving votes") appeared in our final poll of the year, either as ranked teams or receiving votes.

The two teams that knocked our socks off — blew our predictions to smithereens, thank you very much — were Campolindo and San Ramon Valley. Who were those guys?

But, in addition to the obvious (De La Salle), we were pretty close to right on about Pittsburg, Amador Valley, Monte Vista, Las Lomas, Skyline, Foothill and Bishop O’Dowd.

But as they say in the stock market, evidence of past performance is not a guarantee of future gains.

So take it all with a grain of salt.

Feel free to let us know what you think by posting a comment.


My day in the trenches

I’m hoping, at this point, that you’ve already run out and purchased a copy of Thursday’s paper, if only for the sheer pleasure of poring over every minute detail of the 2005 Prep Football special preview section.
If not, please log off and do so immediately.
Good, you’re back.
Now, having read my first-person account of what I’ve been calling “My Day In Hell,” I’m sure you have questions.
1. What in the world possessed a 30-something chubby guy to try something like that?
2. How did the coaches react when you pitched them the idea?
3. How bad was it, really?
4. What was the best part of the day?
It just so happens that I have answers to all of those questions and more.
Here goes:
1. I have a big mouth. Sometimes it takes a while, when I’m talking, before my brain engages. Often, by then, it’s too late. We were sitting around the table at our annual, what are we gonna do with the prep football section meeting when somebody settled on “Hell Week.”
I immediately said, “Hey, I could do a first-person.”
This momentary lapse haunted me for three weeks leading up to Aug. 22.
2. When I called Ygnacio Valley’s coach, Mike Ivankovich, on his cell phone to discuss the story, he did, in fact, laugh at me. Later, he said, “You’re gonna be doooooooooooooooooooone.”
He seemed to take a certain sinister pleasure in that notion. He was nice enough, though, to suggest that I begin stretching for several minutes a day in the five days leading up to my grand day out. I did — 20 to 30 minutes a day — and it helped a lot. Also, I laid off beer and coffee for that span, drinking glass after glass of water instead in an effort to pre-hydrate.
3. It was rough. Fun, but rough.
4. Every time we broke for water, lunch, and right when the second practice ended. Those guys worked me over pretty good.

There was a lot of stuff that I couldn’t get into the special section for space reasons. This seems the perfect venue for sharing it.


  • I went to the school on the Friday before my day of practice to get suited up, and Coach I, as the kids call Ivankovich, was on the yard passing out pads and helmets to the freshmen.
    This scene gave me a false sense of hope.
    These guys were TINY — 5-foot-nuthin, 98 pounds. At 6-feet, 200-something pounds, I felt like a giant. That was before they told me they were just freshmen, or, as Coach I called them, “squirrels.”
  • Assistant coach Darin Michels smirked when he saw me — Ivankovich had told him and the rest of the team what was going on.
    Michels said, “Just stay away from the right side of our line. Gary (Graffort) and Al (Becerra) are beasts.”
    Then he went into the weight room where all the varsity players were lifting and sent Graffort and Becerra out to size me up.
    They looked at me like I was a T-bone and they were a pack of hungry wolves.
    This did not inspire confidence.


  • Practice was scheduled for 9 a.m. sharp. I was there at 8. What, me, nervous?
  • I got dressed at 8:30 in the locker room with the guys, who clearly didn’t know what to make of me.
    Graffort and Becerra, though, welcomed me like I was going to be their favorite toy for the day. Which, apparently, I was.
  • When I had popped a sweat after warmups and stretching, I knew I was in for a loooooooong day.
  • I worked with the linemen and we hit the sled. I never got the footwork right. Coach I laughed at me a couple of times, but never really called me out.
    After the day was over, he said, “Yeah. You were pretty bad on the sled.”
    Fortunately, Gene Duncan, Graffort, Becerra and center Dean Bettencourt were really helpful. They kept giving me pointers and encouragement throughout the day.
    Actually, after some of the novelty wore off, all the linemen started to treat me like part of the team, which was really cool.
    On the rare occasion when I actually did something right, they’d give me high fives and attaboys. That’s one of those great things about being a part of a team that you forget when you’re not on one anymore: The cameraderie. These guys depend on each other so much, they genuinely care when their teammates are struggling and are genuinely happy when they’re successful.
  • The guys — Graffort, Becerra, Duncan, Bettencourt, linemen Chris Pettit and Scott Langevin and all the other linemen, as well as QB Kyle Havens and every body else I came into contact with that day — really made the whole thing work. They embraced the concept, didn’t take it easy on me, and had some fun with the whole thing. I can’t thank them enough.
  • I finally believe what a former lineman/coach friend of mine has been telling me for 10 years: Those offensive linemen really do have to be the most prepared guys on the field.
    They have to know what’s going on every single play, read what the defense is trying to do to them and adjust accordingly. It’s not as simple as just being big and bumping bellies with other big guys.
    The technique, hand and body positioning and footwork that goes into the line — both offensive and defensive — is impressive.


  • I drank 2½ gallons of water during and after practice. I ate a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast, a turkey sandwich, a banana and some chips for lunch, two bananas and some more chips as an after-practice snack, a home-made soft-taco, rice and salad for dinner, and went out for Coldstone for desert.
  • I lost four pounds.
  • By Wednesday, I had (sadly) regained half of that.
  • Also, it was only 73 degrees out there at noon (the first practice ended at 11:35 a.m. By 3 p.m., it was 88 degrees, and when we were doing the very worst of our conditioning — gassers — it was 90.
  • Perhaps the funniest moment of the day was when we got into three lines to work on form-tackling. I got near the back of my line, which I had been doing all day so I could figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. A smallish defensive back was in front of me, another behind me. I was in good shape. I was going to hit and be hit by a couple of guys significantly smaller than me.
    I hit the first guy, picked him up and carried him forward, then turned around to have the same thing done to me.
    Graffort, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end who had been in the line next to me, was standing there, grinning at me. He had switched lines, just so I could have the “full experience.” Nice kid.

I had forgotten how badly your forehead hurts after wearing a football helmet. I was in AGONY by the time we were done.
This wasn’t really from hitting. It was from the constant pressure of the helmet pad on my forehead. I’m pretty sure I went home with just about the worst headache I’ve ever experienced.
Also, I had bruises in both armpits. Seriously. The straps from the shoulder pads ran right under my pits, and chafed and bruised the living bejeebers out of me.
I didn’t discover this until after my shower when I was applying my deodorant. Yeeeeouch.

We were supposed to do 4 sets of three with brief breaks between them after the third.
I got through the first two sets pretty well — always finishing ahead of a handful of guys.
The first gasser of the third set was OK, too. The second one was brutal — I only beat one guy.
When I hit the 45-yard mark on the ninth gasser, I nearly didn’t make it up after reaching down to touch the line.
You know that Gatorade commercial with the triathlete whose body just “shuts down” 50 meters from the end of the Iron Man race? That was how I felt coming off the line. I staggered, nearly fell, staggered some more.
The coaches — Ivankovich, Michels and assistant Matt Wade — who were standing at the line watching, later told me that they thought I wasn’t going to make it all the way back. I had some doubts myself.
They said I looked like I was drunk.
I felt like I was dying.
I staggered across the line and cried No Mas.
Fortunately for me, YV is putting in a new track and field, so they had some new fence posts up next to the practice field. I hung on to one of these for dear life while the rest of the guys ran the final three gassers.
For a while, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to walk back to my car, much less drive it home.
But I didn’t pass out and I didn’t throw up — two things I was really worried about.
Michels told me to eat bananas and pickles Monday night and drink tons of water. I followed his sage advice, and proudly, I never cramped up, and didn’t suffer from any dehydration.
I did, however, get a nice German-Irish lineman tan — which is to say I got a bright red sunburn on my upper arms and the part of my face exposed by the helmet.

My wife, Cindy, likely saved my life after the practice. Genius that she is, she told me to swim on Tuesday morning.
After some creaking and crackling (I sounded like a big bowl of Rice Krispies when I got out of bed on Tuesday), I did exactly that. Felt great. Lengthened out all those muscles I had overworked the day before.
I swam Wednesday and Thursday, too, just to stay limber. I never would have thought of that, had she not mentioned it.
As a result, there was very little soreness or discomfort in the days after the practice.

Well, except for all those bruises.


BSAL football

The Bay Shore Athletic League looks wide open in football this season.

Returning champ St. Patrick-St. Vincent lost some important skill position players, including leading rusher Ed Blakeley. However, the Bruins return much of their offensive and defensive lines. The Bruins appear to be building a power in the BSAL, boasting a larger roster than any other team in the league.

John Swett has also been a title contender the past couple of years, but took some major hits because of graduation. Coach John Angell has also been building a strong football program in Crockett. So are the Indians rebuilding this year or simply reloading?

St. Mary’s is always in the hunt in the BSAL. However, the Panthers have a new coach in Bert Bertero and highly-touted linebacker Josh Tatum transferred to McClymonds. St. Mary’s still has several key returners.

Kennedy, which has the smallest roster in the league with just 19 players, was similarly short on players last year but still went 2-3 in the BSAL and reached the North Coast Section’s 2A East Bay playoffs. The Eagles also lost a strong core of players, but second-year coach Barron Edwards has been getting respect around the league for his stategic approach.

Albany has been at or near the bottom of the BSAL pile since the league formed in 2000. However, longtime successful coach Dan Shaughnessy took the reigns of the Cougars program last year and could build them into a winner, like he has in the past with Salesian and St. Mary’s.

Piedmont is coming off an 0-5 campaign in the BSAL. Was last year just an off year for the otherwise perennial BSAL contenders? Coaches around the league say the Highlanders have a lot of talent this year. Will a new coach (Doug Mandigo) and a healthier roster mean Piedmont is back?

So many questions. So, who do you think will win the league title and why? Who else may contend and why?