30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 24): Will the HAAL still be run by Pirates?

Let’s take a full look at the Hayward Area Athletic League.

Will three-time defending champion San Leandro win another league title?

The Pirates have owned the HAAL since the minute Dennis Dixon first stepped on the field in a varsity game in 2000. He promptly led them to three straight HAAL titles and trips to the NCS 4A East Bay tittle game. Since 2000, San Leandro has won seven league titles, including four of the past five. Since 2005, the Pirates are 35-2 in the HAAL with the only two losses coming in 2006 when Hayward won the title and Mt. Eden took second (those teams handed the Pirates their lone losses).

Will this trend continue? At this point, San Leandro has to be considered the favorite. The Pirates may have lost HAAL Offensive Player of the Year George Roberson, but they return the league’s top quarterback in Chris Musni, a guy who threw for over 1,500 yards last year with 23 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. That’s pretty solid efficiency. San Leandro has always been good about finding a new back to plug into place, so I wouldn’t doubt they’ll be able to get some strong RB play from either seniors Kyrian Obidiegwu or Ellis Cummings. The defense only returns four starters, but still with that coaching staff I’m sure they’ll find a way to thrive.

After the Pirates you probably have to look to last year’s second place team Hayward. The Farmers return John Hughes in the backfield and have seven returning starters on a defense that gave up 17.9 points per game in its eight wins (although they allowed 47 per game in the three losses).

Bishop O’Dowd is certainly a wild card in this race. The Dragons always have talent and it’ll be interesting to see how new coach Hardy Nickerson will get this team going. Hardy Nickerson Jr. is beginning to get rave reviews as a linebacker as he enters his junior season and the Dragons have some skill position players back in RBs Trenton Trammell and and Tyrone Ward and WR Terrance King Jr. There’s definitely no reason to forget about the Dragons.

San Lorenzo is coming off a strong season despite its playoff snub with a 6-4 record. DT William Fukofuka is a big loss and it’ll be intriguing to see if the Rebels can build off last year and make another run at a playoff spot. Arroyo could be a sleeper as well as new coach James Barnes will certainly bring some energy to the sidelines (For those that haven’t seen him coach, get ready. It can be a lot of fun to observe). Having defending HAAL Defensive Player of the Year Micah McMurray doesn’t hurt either and Barnes will do his best to utilize his team speed.

Mt. Eden is yet another sleeper in this league because of the infusion of experienced coaching in Bill Bishop and of course Paul Perenon. If nothing else, this team will likely give you a fight for four quarters. Castro Valley and Tennyson will both be trying to get back on track in a season where the league seems to be as deep as it has in years.

Jimmy Durkin

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