OAKLAND TECH: ‘SHE’S GOT HER DAD’S ARM’
Menlo School’s Summer and Laila Young aren’t the only Bay Area flag football players to have a former 49ers quarterback as a father.
At Oakland Tech, sophomore Jhai Johnson is following in her father Josh Johnson’s footsteps as a signal-caller in this first high school season of the girls sport, albeit somewhat by accident.
“Actually, I wanted to be a receiver,” said Johnson, who is also a standout basketball player for the Bulldogs. “But nobody was trying out for quarterback so I was like ‘Why not?’”
Her quick release, poise in the face of a pass rush and willingness to throw the ball across the middle helped Johnson pass for four touchdowns in Tech’s recent 28-6 victory over Benicia.
“She’s got her dad’s arm,” a teammate yelled after the game.
Johnson’s team, coached by athletic director Alexis Grey-Lawson, got its season started early. The Bulldogs had already played a couple of games before some of the other Oakland schools had even held tryouts.
Each of the seven Oakland Section schools will play 12 regular season games.
Though the games don’t count in the league standings, it should give Tech an advantage over other schools during section play.
Don’t be surprised if Oakland Tech is one of the teams competing in the flag football Silver Bowl on Nov. 25.
Whereas the neighboring sections — North Coast and Central Coast — will not hold playoffs this season, Oakland will crown a champion on a day that section commissioner Franky Navarro said will be “a community event.”
“Why not showcase the girls on that day,” Navarro said. “We want them to play in front of a crowd.”
– Joseph Dycus
LEGENDARY BELLARMINE COACH RETURNS TO SIDELINE
When Mike Janda retired from Bellarmine football after the 2019 season, he had accumulated a Central Coast Section-record 286 wins in 36 years.
Now, like several other ex-head coaches across the Bay Area, Janda has returned to the sport to help with the first season of girls flag football.
Unlike the others, though, Janda is helping out as an assistant, working under his longtime assistant, John Amarillas, at Notre Dame-San Jose. Amarillas has been a strength coach at the all-girls school for several decades.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Janda said. “The girls are fantastic. It’s very different, coaching girls and coaching boys. But they’re easy to work with, they listen well and they try so hard all the time.”
Amarillas and Janda worked together for 35 years at Bellarmine, an all-boys school. When Notre Dame-San Jose asked Amarillas to help start its program and he said yes, Amarillas gave Janda a call.
“Once it’s kind of in your blood and you love the game but you’ve stepped away from it, when the opportunity arrives … gosh, it’s hard to say no,” Janda said. “You get yourself back in the game and you get to do something that’s on the ground floor, something that’s just beginning.
“It’s really exciting, and it takes all of us who coached before back to our early days when we first started because this is all brand new.”
The duo still splits the playcalling, with Janda handling the offense and Amarillas calling defense. But Janda said he’s “done my thing” as a head coach and is “pleased” to just coach as an assistant — and be back teaching football to eager learners.
“It’s been a great thing,” Janda said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
– Alex Simon
DUBLIN HAS ALL-FEMALE COACHING STAFF
Dublin’s Kisha Harris is the only female flag football head coach in the East Bay Athletic League. Her staff, in fact, is all women.
Harris, who played semi-pro football in Sacramento and also coaches softball at Dublin, believes it is important that her team’s players are coached by females.
“They need to see people like themselves in these positions in order to feel like, ‘That’s something I can do,’” Harris said, adding that when she played, “I didn’t have a lot of female coaches, but the female coaches I did have had a better understanding of team dynamics.”
Her players agree.
“I feel like she just understands us and our mindset better than a male coach would,” wide receiver Adrianna Avelar said.
— Joseph Dycus
MENLO VS. SHP: GIRLS VERSION OF ‘VALPO BOWL’
Many schools on the Peninsula will play their flag football games on secondary fields. But when Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School, neighbors on Valparaiso Avenue in Atherton, scheduled each other for their first game of the new sport’s first season, the flag football version of the “Valpo Bowl” needed a bigger stage.
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More than 500 fans showed up this month at SHP and saw the home team beat Menlo 2-0 on Palatella Field, the school’s main stadium.
SHP’s band and dance team both performed at the game that kicked off at 3:30 p.m., and the Gators’ tackle football team watched every snap before its practice later in the day. Among the notable attendees included a film crew from CBS’s “We Need To Talk” national women’s sports show and Central Coast Section commissioner Dave Grissom.
“For the girls to see their school was completely behind them was amazing,” SHP coach Dennis O’Malley said. “They really like everyone’s taking it seriously, and I think it’s really going to inspire girls in eighth grade and beyond to be able to treat this as a real varsity sport.”
The game itself was frenetic and erratic, as both teams threw multiple interceptions and several rules were still being worked out on the fly. The only points came via a safety, when senior Tessa Espinosa charged up the field and pulled the Menlo ball carrier’s flag in the end zone.
“I kind of blacked out a little bit,” Espinosa said. “It was good to feel that all of our practice this week has really been paying off. There’s a lot more that we need to work on, but it looks like a good season ahead.”
– Alex Simon