Today, we leave the East Bay and venture a bit further north.
Once the playoffs begin, teams from the Redwood Empire enter the fray in the hunt for North Coast Section titles. What teams from the north will be in the mix come season’s end?
When you’re talking Redwood Empire football, the conversation always begins with Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa. The Cardinals never seem to be rebuilding, do they? Coach Paul Cronin continues his recent trend of elevating a senior to starting QB with Jack James sliding from receiver to quarterback. He takes over for Randy Wright, who was a dangerous threat in both the pass game and the run game. I think the bigger loss is a standout pair of RB/LBs, Jeff Badger and Joe Ferguson. Those guys were game-breakers on both sides of the ball and need to be replaced. That said, expect Cardinal Newman to again be hunting for the Division II title come season’s end.
Next up is Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park, a team that lost its Division II quarterfinal game last year. If you follow Santa Rosa Press Democrat writer Rich Rupprecht’s blog, you know that speedy running back Brian Dworkin is back to lead the offense once again. The Cougars have a new quarterback though, which probably means you can take a wait-and-see approach with Rancho. An early-season game against Castlemont should be a good indicator of how this team will look come playoff time.
Staying in Division II, Casa Grande-Petaluma is a team I had a chance to see last year. The Gauchos have a new head coach in Trent Herzog. The guy to watch here though is RB Kahlil Keys, who was fantastic in a playoff win over Concord last season. Keys’ possesses a good blend of size and speed and I would wager he’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Gauchos. They’ll need to break in a new quarterback with the departure of Matt O’Brien, but having Keys certainly will make the transition a whole lot smoother.
Finally, we can’t forget perennial Division III power Novato. You’d be hard pressed to find a better defensive coach than Travis Brackett, but the questions surrounding the Hornets this year center mostly around the offense. Gone are starting QB Jeff Stephens, RB Kyle Campas and Logan Edwards, WR Jake Davis and Mike Polvere. That’s a lot of talent to lose, but there is some good talent returning in RB Ricardo Mendez, WR Jake Caliguire and RB Josh Delpino. Expectations are always high at Novato, and a tough early season schedule (Foothill-Palo Cedro, Foothill-Pleasanton and Oakdale are the Hornets’ first three opponents) will definitely show how good the team is.
So, you may not see a lot of these teams until playoff time, but there’s definitely a good deal of talent in the Redwood Empire this season if you choose to venture north to take in a game.