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High school football 2023 preview: EBAL Mountain Division

High school football 2023 preview: EBAL Mountain Division

EBAL MOUNTAIN DIVISION

(Predicted order of finish)

No. 1 DE LA SALLE

Coach: Justin Alumbaugh

Record in 2022: 10-4

What to expect: The Concord powerhouse graduated seven first-team all-league players from last season, including four on the offensive line. But plenty of talent returns. QB Toa Faavae, now a junior, is a big-play threat with his arm and legs, as he showed on a long TD run in last season’s Division I-AA state championship game. OL/DL Matthew Johnson, who has multiple Power 5 offers, will be a force in the trenches if healthy. DB/WR Jonathan Guerrero is a playmaker on both sides. He intercepted seven passes in 2022. Drew Cunningham, who lines up at TE/LB/DE, is another returning starter expected to have a significant impact. Sophomore WR/DB Jaden Jefferson is exceptionally quick (10.7 seconds in the 100 as a freshman). He started every game on defense last season. The schedule, as always, will be challenging. It includes three teams that beat DLS in the regular season last year: Serra, Folsom and St. Mary’s-Stockton.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Orange Lutheran, 7:30 p.m.

Editor’s note: According to the EBAL website, De La Salle is ineligible to win the Mountain but receives the league’s automatic bid to the NCS playoffs and first-place votes for all-league recognition. The team with the most league wins (excluding DLS) is the Mountain champion. If a Mountain team beats DLS, that team receives the automatic playoff spot.

No. 2 CLAYTON VALLEY

Coach: Nick Tisa

Record in 2022: 8-5

What to expect: Nick Tisa takes over as head coach from Tim Murphy, who in 11 seasons at the Concord school guided the Ugly Eagles to 10 league, four NCS and three regional titles, plus a state championship in 2019. The team this season — in its final year in the EBAL before moving back to the Diablo Athletic League — will be led by a powerful offensive line that includes three returning seniors. “We will still bring the legacy of smash-mouth football and rely on our offensive line to run the ball,” said Tisa, who had been on Clayton Valley’s staff for years. Manuel Serna, who measures 6-7, 290, leads that group. He has multiple college offers. WR Daven Amos is a returning first-team all-league player. He had 12 TD receptions in 2022. Mason Lovett is the team’s new starting QB after, as Tisa put it, patiently waiting his time behind seniors the past two seasons. Angel Gonzalez, who plays H-back/defensive end, returns after an early-season injury sidelined him for the year. Tisa said he’s a leader and the program’s hardest worker in the classroom and weight room. Junior TE/DE Logan Knapp is another player who won’t come off the field, according to Tisa. WR/TE/LB Tony Keck (6-4, 200), a transfer from College Park, is one addition who could help absorb the loss of RB Micah Avery, who transferred to El Cerrito. 

Season opener: Aug. 25 at Salinas, 7 p.m.

No. 3 SAN RAMON VALLEY

Coach: Aaron Becker

Record in 2022: 12-3

What to expect: The Wolves came oh-so-close to capturing a state championship last season, falling in overtime in the 2-A title game after narrowly winning the 2-A regional crown over Marin Catholic the previous week. Many of the players who led the Wolves on the postseason ride that included an NCS championship are back, including senior QB Luke Baker, last season’s Bay Area News Group player of the year. He threw for 3,733 yards and 46 touchdowns last fall. Standout LB/TE Marco Jones, who had 149 tackles as a sophomore last season, also returns. So does kicker Austin Shelton, who had clutch FGs in the regional and state games. Junior Julian Cambra, an OL/DL, was first-team all-league in 2022 and is expected to lead the way in the trenches this season. WR/TE Zack Dodson and RB/DB John Ben Pau Mendoza also are back.  The Wolves’ non-league schedule includes St. Ignatius, Acalanes, McClymonds and Liberty. They are also moving up to Division I this fall.

Season opener: Aug. 25 at St. Ignatius, 7 p.m.

No. 4 MONTE VISTA

Coach: Johnny Millard

Record in 2022: 2-8

What to expect: Under their second-year coach, Johnny Millard, the Mustangs could take a big step forward this fall after a rough season in 2022. They have talent at running back, tight end and wide receiver and are expected to be fast and physical on defense. Junior LB/RB Julian McMahan, a transfer from Moreau Catholic, brings a strong work ethic and game-changing skills to the field. WR/DB Brayden Breedlove is extremely explosive, Millard said, and WR Jacob Shehata is a smooth route runner with reliable hands. LB/DE Ewan Arechaederra and 6-5, 220-pound TE/DE Kellan Ford are two more players who will have big roles for the Danville school. Before moving on to league play, the Mustangs play Bellarmine in Week 2 and Campolindo in Week 4.

Season opener: Aug. 25 at Granada, 7 p.m.

No. 5 CALIFORNIA

Coach: Dan Calcagno

Record in 2022: 5-6

What to expect: The Grizzlies hit a rough patch to end last season as their 5-1 start turned into a 5-6 finish that included a loss to Clayton Valley in the opening round of the NCS D-I playoffs. Coach Dan Calcagno, in his fourth year at California and 30th overall, will have a senior-dominated team that includes returning quarterback Jayden Macedo. Senior RB/S Devan Love is a three-year starter, as is SS Cole Fokas. Another senior, Sayyidi Abdul-Kareem, plays OLB, slot receiver and RB. Junior C Zach Rosenberg makes all the calls at the line. The offensive and defensive lines are young, but the team has “a little more speed at skill positions than last year,” Calcagno said.

Season opener: Aug. 26 vs. San Juan Hills-San Juan Capistrano in Moorpark, 7 p.m.

No. 6 FOOTHILL

Coach: Greg Haubner

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Record in 2022: 7-5

What to expect: The Falcons have moved up to the Mountain Division after winning the Valley last season. But they won’t be bringing along the Valley’s MVP, junior WR Chris Lawson, or first-team RB/LB Samear Lattier, now a senior. Lawson has transferred to Riordan and Lattier left for Tracy. Foothill also graduated five seniors who received first-team all-league recognition in 2022. OL/DT Josh Taylor, a senior, is still on the roster after also being named first-team all-league last fall. Senior QB Erik Olsen and junior WR/DB Michael O’Donoghue – both second-team all-league players last season – also return. The non-league schedule includes visits to El Cerrito on Sept. 15 and crosstown rival Amador Valley on Sept. 22.

Season opener: Aug. 25 vs. Heritage, 7 p.m.

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