DANVILLE -- The San Ramon Valley High football team is big, athletic, and aiming high.
With a robust front line, top running back Marcus de la Pena and explosive wideout J.J. Koski, the Wolves appear well-stocked for a deep run in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs.
"I think our kids have a great shot of doing something special," Wolves coach Mark Kessler says.
What is the team's best strength?
"I would definitely say the line because of our size," three-year center Dom Arotzarena says. "We're all extremely big, big all the way around, both offensively and defensively. Big and quick."
Junior two-way lineman Dru Samia, who has yet to celebrate his 16th birthday, is 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, Arotzarena is 270, Brandon Lim 300, Devon McPherson 240, Kevin Muller 305, and tight end Aran Roberts checks in at 6-foot-4, 230.
Arotzarena sees big improvement from Samia, a Division I-caliber force of nature who is finishing blocks better and moving people around.
Players say they're more unified than last year's team which surged to an East Bay Athletic League co-championship after an 0-3 nonleague mark against stout competition.
"The kids care for one another and they're playing better for each other, and we're big up front," Kessler says. "We're better up front, and we got a great running back and two good quarterbacks that are competing for the job."
De la Pena, who has an offer from Wyoming, had 1,209 yards rushing and 367 receiving last season. He'll be asked to shoulder more of the load, also playing safety.
"I think we'll be better than last year," de la Pena says. "We have a real good group, a lot of team chemistry, a really tight-knit group. So I think it should be real good."
De La Pena, an arm-tackle-breaking machine last year, looks like he packed some muscle in the offseason. Told he had a big year last year, and he grinned: "Even bigger this year, hopefully."
Versatile senior Matt Winaker, who has orally committed to Stanford for baseball, competed with capable junior Zach Baker for the starting quarterback spot. Last year's standout Cameron Birse is at Arkansas State. Winaker runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and can make the throws.
"Yeah, I like him," Koski says of Winaker. "It's a little bit different from last year. He has a good arm, a good mobile quarterback, so he'll be able to make some plays and really open up the pass game with his feet too. Last year Birse didn't have much of a run game; now they have to account for Winaker's feet. He can take off and he can throw too, so I like it."
Koski, coming off an impressive sophomore year, will also play defensive back and free safety. He was ranked No. 2 on the team in receiving yards (705) and receptions (41), and tied for the lead in touchdown grabs with eight.
"He's the best wide receiver in Northern California," Kessler said. "J.J.'s feet just explode off the ground."
Peter Tagliaferri, a running back/linebacker, is back after being out with a stress fracture in his back. Tagliaferri's older brother, Michael, starred in football and lacrosse for the Wolves and is at North Carolina for lacrosse.
Aug. 30 at Buhach Colony 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at James Logan 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 FOLSOM 7:15 p.m.
Sept. 27 at De La Salle 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 LIVERMORE* 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 AMADOR VALLEY* 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Granada* 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at California* 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 FOOTHILL* 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 MONTE VISTA* 7 p.m.
* EBAL game