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Foothill High School football player Rob Andrews practices with the team in Pleasanton on August 29. (Doug Duran/Staff)
Monte Vista High School quarterback Drew McAllister's favorite target is busy working his way up the depth chart across the Bay at Stanford.

But if East Bay Athletic League coaches think Ryan Whalen's absence will make the Mustangs' offense easier to stop, they might be in for a surprise.

"It obviously hurts whenever you lose a guy like Whalen, but it also forces Drew to spread the ball around," Monte Vista coach Craig Bergman said. "It was so easy to just rely on Ryan and lock in on one guy. This year we're very deep at the wide receiver position, and that'll make it more difficult to defend us."

It's hard to imagine McAllister being more difficult to defend. The USC-bound quarterback (who'll play safety for the Trojans), led the area with 2,119 passing yards and threw 21 touchdowns. And he made almost as many plays with his feet as he did with his arm.

The Mustangs might be the favorite in the EBAL, but not by much. The league figures to come down to the wire again, with no fewer than five teams holding legitimate hopes of a championship.

"Our schedule is brutally difficult," said first-year Foothill coach John Mannion, who's following legendary coach Matt Sweeney and his 2006 league championship team. "The EBAL is extremely competitive."

Amador Valley

  • COACH: Rick Sira, 22nd season

  • 2006 RECORD: 7-4, 3-3

  • TOP RETURNEES: RB Casey Guillory, Sr.; RB/LB J.R. Souza, Sr.; RB/DE Chip Becker, Sr.; TE/LB Jordan Buckley, Sr.; TE Chris DeRenzi, Sr.; WR/DB Nick Vuoto, Sr.; WR/DB James Peters, Sr.

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    ; QB Pat Espiritu, Sr.; WR/DB Pat Gondkoff, Sr.; WR/DB Joe Young, Sr.; OL/LB Brent Starkey, Sr.; OL/LB Matt Moody, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: TE/LB Justin Avriett, Jr.; WR/S Ryan Glenn, Jr.; OL Mike Aronoff, Sr.; OL/LB Nacho Montez, Jr.; RB/LB Dalton Turay, So.; WR/DB Kean Stancil, So.

  • KEY LOSSES: QB Wes Garwood; OL Donald Romero; RB/LB Ricky Isabel; WR/DB Brett Lewis; WR/DB Adam Howe, Sr.; OL Clay St. Dennis

  • OUTLOOK: The Dons return a strong senior class on both sides of the ball.
    Foothill High School football player Rob Andrews practices with the team in Pleasanton on August 29. (Doug Duran/Staff)
    Foothill High School football player Rob Andrews practices with the team in Pleasanton on August 29. (Doug Duran/Staff)
    Sira is counting on Espiritu to replace Garwood and run his fly offense, and he says the senior quarterback has improved greatly over the summer. Guillory will lead the rushing attack, while Souza and Starkey provide leadership on both sides of the ball. This is a team without many holes and one that should hold its own against anyone in the league.

    California

  • COACH: Tony Sanchez, fourth season

  • 2006 RECORD: 5-5, 2-4

  • TOP RETURNEES: LB/TE Nick Rosato, Sr.; DL/OL Schuyler Meeks, Sr.; TE/DT David Gory, Sr.; QB Nick Spalliero, Sr.; S/WR Alex Spalliero, Sr.; DE/FB Osayaba Ona-Enagbare, Sr.; LB Derrick Goetting, Sr.; OL David Birnbaum, Sr.; OL Cameron Turner, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/LB LeRoy Green, Jr.; DE Andres Mendieta, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: RB/CB Brandon Thompson; DB/WR Scott Miller; OL/DL Jeff Meads; K Dan Seltzer; C Scott Miller.

  • OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies lost six starters to injuries last season but were loaded with talented juniors. Those juniors now comprise one of the league's best senior classes, led by Rosato, and have turned California into a team to be reckoned with. The injuries haven't stopped, though. Senior receiver David Gory, recruited by the likes of Washington and Air Force, will miss the season after injuring his knee during the summer.

    Foothill

  • COACH: John Mannion, first season

  • 2006 RECORD: 12-1, 6-0

  • TOP RETURNEES: FB/LB Rob Andrews, Sr.; RB/S Austin Day, Sr.; C/DL William O'Brien, Sr.; OL/DE Andrew Hinkle-Lipsker, Sr.; LB/TE Matt Faubion, Sr.; OL/DL Tyer Lebert, Sr.; LB/OL Brian Babb, Jr.; DB/WR Ryan Walsworth, Jr.; QB/DB Bryan Kruger, Sr.; DB John Lynn, Sr.; WR Luke Greenaway, Sr.; LB Luke Donovan, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/DB Nathan Hinke, Jr.; RB/LB Michael Young, Jr.; OL/LB Chris Cruz, Jr.; RB/DB Patrick Lynch, Jr.; QB Cameron Coon, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: RB/DB Ryan Thiege; WR/DB Jordan Johnson; TE/LB Tony Barnett; OL/DL Mitch Dal Porto; NT Stash McGuinness; OL/DL Justin Sniffen; LB/FB Steven Yoshida; LB Eric Gabbani; QB Josh Mendonca; DL Sean Hurley.

  • OUTLOOK: Mannion has plenty of holes to fill from Sweeney's final team, which went unbeaten in the regular season. Kruger and Coon will battle for the starting quarterback job filled so ably by Mendonca. Greenaway, Walsworth and Hinke hope to collectively fill the shoes of league MVP Johnson at receiver. Returning two of the league's best players in Andrews and Day won't hurt.

    Granada

  • COACH: Tim Silva, first season

  • 2006 RECORD: 2-8, 0-6

  • TOP RETURNEES: RB/LB Chris Ortuno, Sr.; QB Scott Bueno, Sr.; K Aldolfo Juaregi, Sr.; OL/DL Curt Campbell, Sr.; OL/DL Nate Thompson, Sr.; RB/DB Eric Gaskill, Sr.; LB/RB Ian Mariott, Jr.; WR/DB Steve Bueno, Sr.; LB/WR Steve Shelnut, Sr.; DB/WR Alex McDiarmid, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/DB Elias Pico, Jr.; OL/DL Joe Eiras, Jr.; P Nico Victoria, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: OL/DL Mike Marcisz; WR Mike Lonsinger; WR/P Jon Bowe; FB/LB Garrett Mantach

  • OUTLOOK: Silva, who led Dublin to three NCS semifinal appearances in 11 seasons, has his work cut out for him in his first year at Granada. The Matadors return a ton of starters, but they went winless and scored just 27 points in six EBAL games last season and will be learning an entirely new offensive system. Still, Silva feels confident putting the ball in the hands of 6-foot-5 Scott Bueno at quarterback and 5-foot-7 Ortuno at running back.

    Livermore

  • COACH: Rex Anderson, fifth season

  • 2006 RECORD: 2-8, 1-5

  • TOP RETURNEES: RB/DB Brandon Williams, Sr.; WR/DB Chris Amick, Sr.; WR/LB Roy Fowler, Sr.; QB Jake Halliwell, Sr.; OL/DL Joe Dickinson, Sr.; OL/DL Pete Brook, Sr.; LB/RB John Nagle, Sr.; FB/LB Rodney Neale, Sr.; WR/DB Tanner Laran, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Justin McPhearson, Jr.; RB/DB Chance Tarver, Jr.; OL/DL Tyler Sharp, So.; OL/DL Andrew Wells, So.; WR/DB Robert James, Jr.; OL/DL Shawn Hoehne, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: OL/DL Jeff Finch; LB Aaron Kiefer; OL/DL Marcus Lillard; WR/DB Chad Hanley; LB Albert Carter; RB/LB Jason Bernacil; DL Blake McDonald; QB Rich Amato

  • OUTLOOK: The Cowboys have some real talent at the skill positions, led by Williams, but they're young up front. The strength of the team is its defense, which allowed fewer than 20 points to each of its last three opponents (including Monte Vista) and returns all but two starters. If Livermore can continue that momentum on defense, it might be able to stay close against some of its more challenging EBAL foes.

    Monte Vista

  • COACH: Craig Bergman, 11th season

  • 2006 RECORD: 7-4, 4-2

  • TOP RETURNEES: QB/S Drew McAllister, Sr.; RB Ritchie Storelee, Sr.; TE Zack Ertz, Jr.; WR Dustin Coldren, Sr.; C Sam Mosle, Jr.; DL/OL Rob Tomasello, Sr.; CB Joe Spillner, Sr.; CB Tyler Nunes, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: OL/DL Alejandro Pineda, Jr.; OL/DL Aziz Ikharo, Jr.; LB Dave Wilkerson, So.; LB Sam Sherwood, So.; CB/WR Taylor Brewster, Jr.; WR Tom Hemmingsen, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: WR/CB Ryan Whalen; OL/DL Fred Walker; OL/DL Chris Krychev; K Brook Van Muijen; TE/LB Brandon Sweeney; S Chip Tengler; LB Matt Silva; LB Jeff Ornellas.

  • OUTLOOK: It's not hard to figure out the key to the Mustangs' defense. Bergman says their line should be better, their cornerbacks should improve slightly, and they've got some kid named McAllister starting at safety. At linebacker, though, the Mustangs will start Wilkerson and Sherwood, a pair of sophomores who Bergman says are physically ready to contribute. With its combination of senior leadership and young talent, and with McAllister playing both ways, Monte Vista looks like the team to beat in the EBAL.

    San Ramon Valley

  • COACH: Dave Kravitz, 16th season

  • 2006 RECORD: 10-2, 5-1

  • TOP RETURNEES: LB Kai Cummings, Sr.; LB Harmon Bruno, Sr.; LB Steve Callaway, Sr.; G/DT Kevin Grant, Sr.; C Tyler Portman, Sr.; RB Mike Mellinger, Sr.; S/QB Dan Smithwick, Sr.; OL/DL Nick Faber, Sr.; WR Zach Peterson, Sr.; WR Ryan Fitzgerald, Sr.; WR Joey Tidwell, Sr.; WR Greg Wilson, Sr.; K Steve Roberts, Sr.; CB Tyler Seller, Sr.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: RB Brett Trimble, Jr.; QB Joe Southwick, Jr.

  • KEY LOSSES: QB Corbin Louks; RB Roy Helu; DL Zack Madonick; LB/WR Ryan Vandersloot;. WR Geoff Michalcyzk; WR Clark Peterson; CB Ryan Lucas; DL Kamyar Shabanian.

  • OUTLOOK: The Wolves lost some major players and nearly their coach -- Kravitz verbally resigned July 2 before changing his mind and coming back -- but their current seniors and juniors have had a lot of success at the lower levels. The heart of this team are linebackers Cummings, Bruno and Callaway. The Wolves have some questions on the defensive line and at quarterback, where Southwick and Smithwick are competing to replace Louks, who's now at Utah.

    Predicted finish

  • 1. Monte Vista

  • 2. Foothill

  • 3. California

  • 4. Amador Valley

  • 5. San Ramon Valley

  • 6. Livermore

  • 7. Granada

  • Watch a video preview of the EBAL at ContraCostaTimes.com and InsideBayArea.com