30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 15): Will the Jets still fly?

After two seasons of competing in the Bay Shore Athletic League, Encinal has yet to lose a league contest. The Jets are 25-2 overall and 16-0 in league games while playing in the past two NCS Division III title games.

So, is this the year Encinal finally loses a BSAL game?

It’s possible the 16-game winning streak comes to an end, but I wouldn’t place large bets on it. St. Mary’s is a program that certainly appears on the upswing after a solid first year under coach Keith Minor and St. Patrick-St. Vincent is always competitive. I’m hearing good things about Kennedy with new coach Clyde Byrd and Moreau Catholic turned things around a bit last year. Piedmont lost quite a few key players to transfer and graduation but always finds a way to stay near the top of the standings. Albany has to replace a good quarterback and John Swett breaks in a new coach. But on paper, it’s hard to predict that any team will be better than Encinal. Two perfect seasons does that for a team.

The Jets again said good-bye to some talented seniors last year, including one of the top overall players in the East Bay in quarterback/safety Tyrone Duckett, now at Washington State. Duckett did about as good a job as anyone could have asked for in replacing Jonathan Brown, the 2008 East Bay Player of the Year who is now at Boise State after leading the Jets to a 13-0 NCS title winning season. Duckett took over as the option quarterback and threw 14 touchdowns and ran for 13 more while totaling better than 900 yards both throwing and rushing. He also produced 67 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions from his safety position, while fulfilling a similar leadership role on defense that Brown did from his linebacker spot. Just as there were questions last year as to how the Jets would replace Brown (as well as Dominique Sashington and Xavier Milton), this year’s team will have to find a way to replace Duckett and guys like RB/LB Abraham Amiri and C/NG Jesse Mercado.

While he won’t be the quarterback, the guy who Encinal coach Joe Tenorio expects to fill that Duckett/Brown role is senior RB/LB Jonathan Allen. Allen led the Jets with 951 rushing yards last year while also providing stability at linebacker. Expect him to see a heavy workload this year and get a lot of carries in the Jets’ option attack.

The always important quarterback position will fall into the hands of junior Andrew Ve’e. Ve’e took a few snaps late in games last year and also took some carries at running back and had 24 carries for 108 yards and four touchdowns. He completed just 1 of 4 passes for 0 yards, so time will tell how effect Ve’e can be throwing the ball. But the primary role he’ll likely play is perfectly executing that tricky option attack and my hunch is you’ll see the ball in Allen’s hands a bit more than Ve’e’s, at least at the start of the season.

The Jets also have several other players who will contribute quite nicely to the offense. Jon Trodder had 568 rushing yards as a sophomore last year and could play a big role. Paul Okamura and Matt Meno both have good speed and aren’t afraid to handle the ball and should be very nice options to keep everyone fresh, which is always a key at Encinal with its roster size.

Up front, the guy to watch will be big Joshua Morrow. He was listed at 6-foot-6, 345 pounds last year and will anchor the offensive line. The hope after last season was that he’d be able to play both ways, but at least for right now he’ll stick to the O-line. Mustafa Whitehead should play both offensive and defensive tackle and has a strong motor and can make plays.

A lot of credit also goes to the Encinal coaching staff, which is one of the most motivated and energetic staffs in the East Bay. When the Jets won the title two years ago, they went out to prove that the team was more than just a few star players. By now, most East Bay football fans can agree that Encinal is probably the top lower division program in the East Bay and the coaching staff is intent on keeping things that way. So I’d say to look for another strong season at the Nail House.

Jimmy Durkin

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