I’ve been enjoying the reader submitted questions, so today I’ll take on another.
What should we expect from Division II?
First, a quick refresher on how last year ended. Windsor walked off the field at Santa Rosa High as the champion, a 28-20 winner over Concord. It was Concord’s second straight appearance in the title game. In addition to the score, those of us lucky enough to be attendance saw perhaps one of the most superhuman efforts ever, as Olito Thompson carried the ball 54 times for 285 yards, setting the Northern California record for carries in a single game (props to North Bay guru Harold Abend for the stat help that night).
So, that’s how we left things last season. What can we expect this time around?
Windsor is the champ til someone knocks it off, but it’s going to be a challenge to get back to the same level the Jaguars hit last year. Start with the loss of head coach Rob Gatrell, who left to take a teaching job at Moreau Catholic. That’s a big one. They also lose a ton of playmakers, with the graduation of stars like Darrian Roman and Christian McIlvain.
It’s easy to put Concord in the catbird’s seat to begin the season. I mean, why not? Thompson returns after his herculean season, armed with a scholarship to Washington State. But this team is far more than just one guy. Uaisele Manoa often got overlooked last year, but his two-way skills in the backfield and at the linebacker position are going to be huge this year. Both quarterbacks — Jacob Daynes and Wyatt Morrow — return, and there could be some youth vying for time at that position as well. The big question for me revolves around the offensive line. To me, last year’s team MVPs should’ve been Armando Montalvo, James Morales and Trent Mahler – the bruisers who paved the way for Thompson. They’re all gone now, so a new unit will have to come together quickly if Concord wants to get to the final for a third year in a row.
The other Division II semifinalists last year were Dublin and Rancho Cotate. We’ve become used to seeing Rancho late in the playoffs, and I would expect it again this year. Quarterback Michael Courchaine, who played in a QB rotation last year, returns, and while there are holes to fill, I think this program has established itself as a perennial playoff contender.
As for Dublin, well, I expect the Gaels to take another step forward this year. Coach John Wade’s track record speaks for itself. He’s got some definite talent back this year too, with RB Ondre Rudolph returning in the backfield and big guys Spencer Hollie and Alex Cappa up front. I would expect Dublin to be a factor late in the season again this year.
So, what teams will crash the party? As usual, I start with Las Lomas. The Knights return one of the area’s top two-way linemen in Derrick Stom, quarterbacks Jackson Miller and Adam Wood, and a definite weapon in kicker Mitchell Howard. I think the nonleague schedule will tell the tale, with tough games against Bishop O’Dowd and Foothill added into a mix that includes a rivalry contest against Northgate.
I’m also intrigued by a pair of DVAL schools. Clayton Valley and College Park have a bunch of questions to answer, but traditionally are always in the mix. The biggest question at Clayton is who’s left? Tim Murphy takes over as coach, and although I have little doubt he’s going to keep the Uglies a perennial contender, I wonder what kind of toll the one-time transfers (CV switched to a charter school and the district let kids leave with no sit-out penalty) took on the team. As for College Park, the Falcons lose playmaker Daivon Ballard, and also have a hole at quarterback after presumptive returner Dimitri Salido broke his arm at a camp this summer. Questions aside though, those two coaches always put out hard-nosed, competitive teams. I think they’ll both be in the mix.
Finally, I figure Casa Grande to again be a major title contender. Do-everything talent Elijah Qualls is back to lead the Gauchos, who finished 8-4 last year and lost to Rancho in the quarters. I would expect CG to make another lengthy postseason run.
Altogether, I think you can expect another fun year from Division II. If I had to pick a favorite right now, it’s Concord based on the success the Minutemen have established. If I’m picking another team to get to that title game, I’ll go with Casa Grande.