30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 27): Will the Jets soar again?

Encinal was one of the best stories of the 2008 football season. Coming off a strong 2007 season, the Jets rolled through the competition in their first year in the Bay Shore Athletic League and then showed they were legit by finishing off a 13-0 season with a 35-28 win over Novato in the North Coast Section Division III championship game, which Jonathan Brown turned into an instant classic.

The question is, what can Encinal do for an encore?

Few teams lost as many impact players as Encinal did with the graduations of QB/LB Jonathan Brown, RB/DB Dominigue Sashington and WR/DB Xavier Milton. Not only were all three All-East Bay selections, with Brown being the East Bay Player of the Year, but the trio was the core of a group that had spent three years on varsity building the Jets program. Head coach Joe Tenorio hasn’t never coached a varsity game without them. So it’s safe to say there will be a bit of a rebuilding phase this year.

Having said that, don’t expect to see the Jets hovering around the .500 mark. I can still easily see them making a run at a 9-1 or 8-2 regular season. Encinal still figures to be the favorites in the┬áBSAL and given the way they ran through the league last year, an undefeated mark in the BSAL should be within reach.

Tyrone Duckett, last year’s complimentary back to Sashington, moves from running back to take over for Brown as the starting QB. He’ll run the option similarly to Brown and Tenorio says that while Duckett doesn’t have quite the same arm as Brown, he can throw it well enough to keep defenses honest and has the skill set to give the Jets what they need from the QB position.

Last year’s top two leading tacklers, LB Abraham Amiri (127 tackles) and LB Kimani Washington (117) are also back, although Amiri may miss the opener with an injury. Jonathan Murphy, Jesse Mercado and Mustafa Whiteside return to anchor the lines. The biggest bonus is the added confidence and swagger Encinal owns thanks to last year’s championship run. The team was never intimidated last year when facing squads that many thought they’d have no chance to beat (.ie Marin Catholic, Novato) and that should be even more of the case this year.

The Jets’ opener, Sept. 11 against El Cerrito, should be more of a challenge that it was when Encinal played the Gauchos last year (a 35-6 victory) and the Sept. 18 home date with Serra will dictate how good the Jets will be. Encinal will definitely be a playoff team and how Duckett performs at QB and how Encinal replaces Sashington and Milton at their positions will determine how deep the Jets go into the playoffs.

Jimmy Durkin

Jimmy Durkin is a sports writer for the Bay Area News Group.