The first week of the 2021 prep football season has arrived. Players and coaches are thrilled to be playing once again in the fall, the way a "normal" football season was always meant to be played. Now everyone is keeping their collective fingers crossed that a full season can be completed with no more than minimal disruptions from covid and wildfires.
Here's a look at this week's matchups:
Menlo-Atherton vs. Bellarmine at San Jose City College, Friday, 7 p.m.
The West Catholic Athletic League used to be known for conservative run-heavy offenses. A decade or so ago the double-wing, rugby scrum formation was being utilized throughout the league. Not anymore. With Bellarmine, long associated with an old-school approach under Mike Janda, having gone to the spread under second-year coach Jalal Beauchman, it's pretty much a done deal. The WCAL from top to bottom seems to have joined the spread formation revolution.
Which of course doesn't mean WCAL teams won't still smash you in the mouth with the superior line play at their disposal.
Menlo-Atherton coach Chris Saunders has seen that transformation from an up-close vantage point. He played at Sacred Heart Cathedral and coached at St. Ignatius and Riordan before getting the M-A job.
"It's a little disconcerting to see Bellarmine go to the spread," Saunders said with a laugh. "They have a new age, more modern approach to the game. But they'll probably run more out of the spread than pass."
Most teams readied themselves for the season with a scrimmage last Friday. M-A's was against St. Ignatius. Saunders said he was most pleased with the showing of his offensive line, a group that included four juniors.
"(Quarterback) Matt MacLeod felt no pressure." Saunders said. "A perfect pocket."
Jae'von Reels (6-1, 260) is a standout on the Bellarmine line..
"I expect a battle in the trenches,'' Saunders said.
St. Ignatius at Palo Alto, Friday at 7 p.m.
The last time Palo Alto hosted St. Ignatius, it was the 2018 season opener and Nelson Gifford's first game as head coach. The Vikings pulled out a 21-14 upset victory, a win that set the tone for a 10-2 season.
In 2019 Paly played at S.I. in the season opener, lost 23-7, and went on to finish 7-5.
"It helped us out tremendously," Gifford said of playing a tough WCAL team right off the bat. That's why we re-upped. That game made us better. At the end of the day, if we're fortunate enough to make the playoffs we're going to play a team like St. Ignatius."
The Wildcats went on to go 9-3 in 2019 and had a 3-1 record in the spring.
"They're big up front and have a real good quarterback," Gifford said. "They're a spread team, run a lot of empty sets, distribute the ball all over. They challenge you on every part of the field and are very sound defensively."
Paly scrimmaged Mitty, another WCAL team. Gifford said that quarterback Danny Peters and wide receiver Blake Chase looked good, running back Josh Butler broke off a long run and another running back, Jack Newman, staked a claim to get some carries. Newman will also see time at inside linebacker. Orasio Becerra and Sawyer McFarland (a lacrosse player in his first year of football) impressed on the defensive line.
"Tempo will be key," Gifford said. "Getting aligned quickly, we like to play fast. I want the guys to play confident and believe in what they do."
Gunn at Monterey, Saturday, 3 p.m.
While spread formations have become more and more prevalent in high school football, that is certainly not the case at Gunn, where Jason Miller's installation of a compressed, double-wing offense is the polar opposite of the spread. In doing so Miller has lifted a program that had struggled for years to a 5-0 record last spring.
But those wins were all against lower-level teams from the SCVAL's El Camino Division. And Miller is plenty concerned about the speed and athleticism Monterey possesses.
"They have guys with the kind of quickness we haven't seen before," Miller said. "We've got our work cut out for us. We'll need to step our game up to play that athletic form of football, basketball on grass. It's something we're not particularly used to."
Sequoia at Menlo, Saturday 3 p.m.
Sequoia has gone from the Peninsula Athletic League's Lake Division to the Ocean Division to the Bay Division and then back down to the Ocean and Lake during the tenure of head coach Rob Poulos, who has been at the school since 2009. The Ravens are currently in the bottom-tier Lake, but Poulos has scheduled three Ocean teams in non-league play, starting with Menlo, which went undefeated in Ocean play in the spring.
"Hopefully we can win some games and move back up," Poulos said.
Sequoia went 3-1 in the spring and returns a number of key performers, including leading rusher Jaymason Howard and leading receiver Jack Kern. John Larios, grandson of longtime Peninsula coach Ed Larios, will start at quarterback. Linebackers Wilson Crum and Puamau Tuiaki are leaders on defense.
St. Francis at Central Catholic-Modesto, Friday 7 p.m.
The Lancers begin their season with a trip to Modesto to play a Central Catholic team that has already played a game, a 31-28 win over Merced. The Raiders are a traditional power in the Sac-Joaquin Section, from 2011 through 2016 going a combined 67-9 and winning a state championship. They are a running team.
St. Francis plays at Oak Grove and home against De La Salle before opening WCAL play Oct. 1 vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Lancers went 62-20 over Greg Calcagno's first six years as head coach before a 4-7 season in 2019. They went 3-2 last spring and look ready to contend this fall in the always tough WCAL, with a deep and talented roster. QB Josh Perry, RB Camilo Arquette, TE Dillon Golden and DE/OLB Clayton Lynam are some of the top returning players.
Sacred Heart Cathedral at Sacred Heart Prep, Saturday 3 p.m.
The two Sacred Hearts have a history against each other going back to 2008, when Sacred Heart Prep, less than 10 years after beginning a football program and shortly after joining the Central Coast Section, played in its first section championship game. Sacred Heart Cathedral, a program nearly 100 years older than SHP, won that game for the CCS Small Schools title, 38-21.
The namesake schools also met in the 2018 CCS Open Division III semifinals with Sacred Heart Prep winning 19-7.
Silver Creek at Woodside, Friday 7 p.m.
Woodside, a PAL Lake team, ought to be in for a tough test against Silver Creek, an 'A' division team from the BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division.
"We knew they'd be a tough test when we scheduled them," Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. "We're just excited to get going."
Woodside scrimmaged Hillsdale on Friday. Silver Creek did not take part in a scrimmage.
"We will go in mostly blind," Andrews said.
Los Altos at Independence, Friday 7 p.m.
Top players at Los Altos for third-year head coach Dave DeGeronimo include linemen John O'Sullivan (6-3, 240) and Fady Youssef (6-2, 215), wide receivers Zach Fagin and Cole Rafferty, RB Greg Schumann and sophomore QB Jimmy Flynn.
Independence went 3-2 last spring under Steve Papin, who has moved on to Santa Teresa. Ali Bhatti, Papin's defensive coordinator, has taken over as head coach.
The King's Academy at Mountain View 7 p.m.
The Mountain View program has bounced back and forth between the De Anza and El Camino divisions during the tenure of Shelley Smith, a former assistant to highly successful Benny Pierce at Saratoga.
The Spartans made a solid step forward last spring, going 3-2 to finish in third place in the De Anza and beating Palo Alto for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The King's Academy is coached by Pete Lavorato, who guided Sacred Heart Prep to four consecutive CCS championships between 2012 and 2015.