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30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 19): Heading East

Today, we continue a look at the local leagues by heading over Kirker Pass and dropping into East Contra Costa.

Last year, Deer Valley went undefeated to claim the Bay Valley Athletic League title. Then, in the playoffs, Pittsburg made a run to the North Coast Section Division I  title game, a run that included a win over Deer Valley. Will it again be those two teams at the top, or will another squad step up and challenge in 2010?

This week, I had the opportunity to talk to each and every coach in the BVAL. At this point in the year, everyone’s optimistic but you can definitely tell that each coach expects that there won’t be any “off” weeks in league play this year.

Let’s start with the defending champion Wolverines. As coach Rich Woods described it to me, it’s less a case of rebuilding and more a case of reloading this year. And, it will help that QB Mike Behr is back. Down the stretch last year, with Kristoff Williams banged up a little, I thought DV was very effective when they put the big-armed Behr under center and let him wing it down field for Kristoff. So, I don’t think they’ll suffer much at QB. The Wolverines will need to find a good replacement for RB Brandon Williams, so that could be an issue. Defensively, L B Lamonte Marshall and DL Tavita Taito might be two of the best at their position in the entire area, and usually the Wolverines are a physical force on that side of the ball. I think we’ve definitely reached the point that you can expect to see DV near the top of the standings every year.

Over at Pittsburg, the Pirates are in an enviable position in terms of leadership. QB Julius Mozee has seized the leader’s role, and after the growth he showed last year, I think we can expect huge things from him this year. RB Deon Turner has joined the Pirates, and he’ll be another weapon on offense. Also, don’t ignore OL Ramon Hurtado and TE Richard Renteria, two guys who I thought played really well down the stretch last year. Defensively, this should be the year where Javen Butler steps up and takes the reins for the Pirates. I commented a couple times last year that he showed flashes of being their best defender and that should carry over to this year. It’s going to be tough to beat Pitt this year, as usual.

So, with those two really entrenched at the top, the question becomes what team will make the jump to challenge them. One team I think we can expect to bounce back is Freedom. After going through some growing pains with a young squad last year, the Falcons are never down for very long. They have good building blocks up front in returning OL Matt McKeen and Darrell Greene, good running backs in D’Amora Cooper and Timazray Shepherd, good receivers in Stephen Rodriguez and Darrell Daniels and new blood with sophomore Dante Mayes at QB. I think the Falcons could be back in the mix this year.

Heritage should again be good, led by returning QB Brent Eikanas. The Patriots lose a lot up front, so I’d imagine training camp will be used to find a good base for the offense. Coach Jeff Haagenson told me that so far, the defense has dominated practices. They’ll have to figure out if that means the defense is great or if the offense is behind before they head into the season. I’d expect the Pats to be a team to be reckoned with too.

At Antioch, longtime assistant John Lucido takes over and he’s making some changes. The Panthers will run the same no-huddle spread that Concord runs, so it will be up to returning QB Billy Cloninger to take control on offense and keep the tempo at its optimal level. One thing I didn’t mention in Thursday’s DVAL preview is one of the reasons Concord succeeds is the fact that the offense it runs is so darn hard to scheme for. Antioch is hoping to duplicate that. They have a blue chip DB in Shamawn Wright, and Lucido is high on his new offensive line. One thing the Panthers will be is fast, so if they can match the physicality of the rest of the league, we could see marked improvement.

Liberty rounds out our look at the BVAL, and the Lions also return their starting QB in Devin Parsons. Coach Nate Smith also tells me that they have improved depth in the backfield, which is always a good thing and should help the offense gain consistency this year. RB Shawn Vasquez returns from injury, and Smith is hoping he’ll be a big play threat.

Overall, I expect the BVAL to be improved from last year. The top-tier teams are still there, and I think the rest of the league is better too. I’d expect the BVAL to factor heavily in the NCS Division I playoffs this year.

Ben Enos