Today we continue our look at the East Bay high school football scene as the season inches closer. Here’s the fourth of 10 daily posts.
For this one, we head to West Contra Costa/Northern Alameda counties to check in with what may be the best small school league in Northern California.
Q: Will the TCAL-Rock Division have multiple section champions once again in 2014?
Few leagues around Northern California could claim the type of postseason success the Tri-County Athletic League-Rock Division enjoyed in football last season.
For the first time in each school’s history, El Cerrito won the Division III title and St. Mary’s won the Division IV crown. In the Division V championship game, Salesian beat Valley Christian-Dublin for its fourth section title since 2005.
“It was like a perfect storm,” Salesian coach Chad Nightingale said after last season. “To get all the teams into the playoffs that we did, and then to perform as well as we did, well that’s pretty exciting for our league.”
Could the league have multiple section champions again? Definitely.
St. Mary’s lost six players to graduation, notably running back Lorenzo Logwood, quarterback Ian Bonde and receiver Liam Godfrey. But several key players return, including tight end and defensive lineman Ben Schrider, offensive and defensive lineman Peter Sekota and defensive back and wide receiver Ron Smith. Defense should be a strength for the Panthers this season.
Of St. Mary’s’ four losses last season, three came to section champions in El Cerrito, Salesian and Miramonte. The fourth came to Valley Christian. But the Panthers hit their stride when it mattered, beating Pinole Valley in the regular season finale, then topping Fort Bragg, St. Helena, San Marin and Fortuna in the playoffs. In those four postseason games, St. Mary’s averaged over 37 points.
“It sets a standard for the program,” Panthers coach Keith Minor said of winning the Division IV title. “We got hot and went on a run. But you get what you work for, and we worked hard. It validated the sacrifices that everyone made.”
To no one’s surprise, Salesian and Valley Christian appear to be among the teams to beat in Division V again this season.
The Pride had a young team overall last season and should be in good shape in 2014. The Vikings were hit hard by graduation, with quarterback Theman Taylor, linemen Logan McHone and Sean Flynn, and running back Vince Volpatti all out of high school. But in a short time, Valley Christian has established itself as one of the better small school programs in the Bay Area, making the NCS playoffs each of the past five years.
Considering the amount of talent it lost from last season’s epic squad, El Cerrito will be hard-pressed to repeat as Division III champs, but should still a contender for the TCAL-Rock Division title.
Division III looks stacked, though. Campolindo, Cardinal Newman and Marin Catholic remain among the best, and other schools like Bishop O’Dowd, Acalanes and Las Lomas might figure into the mix as well.