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30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 20): Hot in the valley

Another day, another league. Today, the big one.

What’s new in the East Bay Athletic League?

Off the top, let’s address what isn’t new. De La Salle remains the prohibitive favorite to win the EBAL. After I get a chance to get over to Winton Dr., I’ll have a more in-depth preview of the Spartans. For now, you know the guys coming back. It should be extremely hard to score on DLS this year. Nothing new there.

Now that we’ve got that formality out of the way, what’s goin’ on in the rest of the league? Last year, San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista tied for second place, with the Wolves making it to the NCS Division I final.

And, I wouldn’t expect much of a drop off at SRV. There’s a ton of talent coming back, led by new quarterback Cameron Birse. He’ll have weapons, with Marcus De La Pena returning in the backfield and Matt Turner on the perimeter. Ryan Dunn returns at linebacker to lead the defense. Also, remember that the Wolves could have a game-changer at kicker, with Cal commit Matt Anderson back for another year. He’s ranked by Scout.com as the No. 2 kicker in the country.

Monte Vista has a few more question marks. The biggest is at quarterback, with Jeff Lockie now gone to Oregon. Having gotten to know Jeff a fair amount over the last year, you can’t underestimate the leadership intangibles MV loses with his departure. Of course, on the field the Mustangs have to replace a ton of production with him gone, and as I understand it, either returning safety Anders Turner or Nikita Zamora will be the man in coach Craig Bergman’s offense. I think with a new guy in Bergman’s spread offense, there could be some growing pains to work out.

One team I really expect to take a step forward is Foothill. What I like most about the Falcons is I think they have a group that can deliver on what Matt Sweeney wants his teams to lean on most: toughness. I think guys like Griffith Gates and Ray Hudson, who have been at the varsity level for a few years now, will be good leaders and I think with some room to move in that next tier down from De La Salle, I think Foothill could have a good season.

Another team I think will be in the hunt will be California. Now a junior, quarterback Cameron Owen saw a bit of time at the end of last season and I thought he looked quite good in the playoff loss to Freedom. Good mobility, good arm. He has Karris Johnson back at RB, Blake Guardino back at WR and, maybe most importantly, Shane Haley back at tight end. Haley is a matchup nightmare. They also have a good number of offensive linemen coming back, which could set Cal up well on offense.

At Amador Valley, the Dons finished 4-6 last season and are looking for improvement this time around. The biggest thing that I think will help them is a healthy Kyle Moreno, because I’ve seen Moreno put together a few really good games in his career. A full season of Moreno under center (or in the gun, as it were) could mean a return to the playoffs for Amador.

Moving to Livermore, the Cowboys took a significant step forward last season by getting an EBAL win over rival Granada. Looking at the roster, there were a bunch of juniors on last year’s squad, so I would think the momentum that coach Greg Haubner has established might definitely stand a shot of continuing. My main question, of course, comes from the loss of do-everything talent Damariay Drew. Tough to replace a guy like that, so we’ll see what Livermore has up its sleeve.

Across town on Wall Street, Granada is looking to move forward after a 3-7 overall record and last-place finish in league play. A couple guys I expect the Mats to lean on are the running backs – Casey Soltis, Matt Richards and Kyle Campiotti. Two of those guys I’ve seen on the baseball field and know they’re pretty dang good athletes. Quarterback Jeremy Mata graduated, so there’ll be a hole to fill there. As usual, I would not be surprised if Granada takes a turn upward, but I would think there’s some work to do.

Ben Enos