PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
2, San Ramon Valley
3, Monte Vista
6, Amador Valley
In the Year of the Lineman in the East Bay Athletic League, it figures that a smash-mouth team, California High, would be tabbed as the slight favorite.
The Grizzlies shared the title with San Ramon Valley last year, and EBAL coaches expect another dogfight for the top spots.
The Wolves, Grizzlies and Monte Vista are all huge on the lines. Last season Monte Vista routed California 44-26 but succumbed to injuries late in the season, falling to Amador Valley by three and San Ramon Valley by four.
The Wolves again have one of the state's toughest schedules, their first four games coming against Buhach Colony-Atwater (10-3, 2012), James Logan (12-2), Folsom (14-1) and De La Salle (15-0).
The EBAL has another strong cast of returning quarterbacks: Nikita Zamora (Monte Vista), Kyle Kearns (Foothill), Cameron Owen (California), and Tyler Offill (Granada). The Wolves' fleet signal-caller Matt Winaker, who replaces standout Cameron Birse, has won the confidence of his teammates.
Foothill has an intriguing mix of explosive skill and senior leadership. If the heavily recruited quarterback Kearns has a big year as expected, and the line holds up, look out. The Falcons split playoff games last year and toppled Monte Vista in league.
Granada figures to be improved after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.
Amador Valley, which surged to third place last season with some dramatic comebacks, has questions at the skill positions but is solid up front.
Run-oriented Livermore has a strong nucleus on the lines and some athletic newcomers.
COACH: Rick Sira, 28th season
2012 RECORD: 8-5, 4-2 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: DB Kevan Knaggs, Sr.; RB/LB Michael White, Sr.; WR/S Collin Miller, Jr.; OLB/TE Connor Scanlin, Sr.; WR/DB Parker Newman, Sr.; OL/DL James Moore, Jr.; OL/DL Jordan Mast, Sr.; OL/DL Alex Jader, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/S Adam Schmit, Jr.; QB Zeke Burgermeister, Jr.; WR/S Nick Pappis, Jr.; QB Ronnie Jones, So.; RB/LB Patrick Loughnane, So.; RB/LB Patrick Pipitone, Jr.
KEY LOSSES: QB Kyle Moreno, WR Kyle Greenan, OL/DL Nate Vickers, OL/DL Jesse Cerdas, WR/DB Justin Cruz, RB/LB Sam Peters.
OUTLOOK: The Dons, who surged to a third-place finish in the EBAL and advanced to the NCS Division I semifinals, will need new standouts to emerge after losing a talented class to graduation, among them all-East Bay Area first-team quarterback Kyle Moreno.
COACH: Eric Billeci, fifth season
2012 RECORD: 10-3, 5-1 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: RB/DB CJ Cornwell, QB Cameron Owen, RB Blake Bierwith, DL Mahe Fifta, OL/DL Dean Heinz, OL/DL Tyler Whisenhunt, D/DE Jeffrey Huettenhain.
TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/LB Justin Locklear, TE/DE Matt Snyder, FB/LB Simi Hingano.
KEY LOSSES: RB Karris Johnson, OL/DL Kevin Leathley
OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies should contend again with a typically powerful running game and dominating defensive and offensive line. Returning quarterback Cameron Owen, a strong runner, has a good handle on the offense and has shown more accuracy. Returning all-league utility CJ Cornwell is a top target, but the Grizzlies always boast an array of quality ballcarriers.
COACH: Matt Sweeney, 27th season
2011 RECORD: 6-6, 3-3 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: RB/DB Jamirr Holland, Sr; RB Matt Luey, Jr; LT/LB Perry Cheney, Sr.; WR/DB Isaiah Langley, Jr.; QB Kyle Kearns, Jr..; G/LB Johann Bolt, Sr.; WR/DB Ryan Anderson, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: RB Isaiah Floyd, So; RB Matt Gates, So.; RB Cash Connolly, So.; WR/DB Ruben Mercado, So.; OL/DT Dustin Dukleth, So.; OL/DL Mike Parisi, So.
KEY LOSSES: WR Ray Hudson, RB/DL Griffith Gates, RB/LB Cody Shields; LB Jack Finney.
OUTLOOK: The Falcons, who returned to the playoffs last season after a one-year absence, should have a dynamic passing game featuring a trio of juniors: QB Kyle Kearns, WR Isaiah Langley and TE Darrell Adams, along with senior Ryan Anderson, who is headed to Oregon for baseball. RB/WR/DB Jamirr Holland, who battled shoulder and foot injuries during his junior school year, will provide leadership and versatility. Three-year starter Perry Cheney and Johann Bolt are key leaders on the line.
COACH: Tim Silva, 7th season
2012 RECORD: 4-6, 1-5 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: RB/WR/QB Casey Soltis, Sr.; OL/DL Reece Backman, Sr.; QB/DB Tyler Offill, Sr.; OL/DL Kaiponui Bradanini, Sr.; WR/DB Javonn Williams, Sr.; OL/LB Dominex Kovacs, Sr.; OL/DL, Nathan Burke, Sr.; RB/LB Riley Draa, Sr.; WR/DB Jon Poppe, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: RB/DB Jacob Shinnick, Sr.; RB/DB Jason Silva, Sr; RB/DB Nick Campiotti, Sr.; WR/DB Josh Revay, Sr.; OL/DL Nathan Burke, Sr.; OL/DL Artemio Fennoy, Sr.; TE/DL Colton Paynter, Sr.; OL/DL Patrick Resler-Miller, Sr.; QB/DB Brian Barnett, Jr.
KEY LOSSES: RB/DB Kyle Campiotti; OL/DL Zac Sturgill, OL/DL Julian Buenrostro, OL/DL Nich Pletschette, OL/DL Jesse Martinez.
OUTLOOK: The Matadors, led by versatile Casey Soltis and QB Tyler Offill, should be improved after a tough 2012 EBAL season, in which they lost by only a touchdown against Amador Valley and Foothill. They stand a reasonable chance to advance to the NCS Division I playoffs after a two-year absence. Granada isn't overly big or athletic, but Silva's squad has experience in the system and has good character traits.
COACH: Greg Haubner, fourth season
2012 RECORD: 2-9, 0-6 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Sam Ogee, Sr.; OL/DL Everett Powell, Sr.; OL/LB Kevin Amaral, Sr.; RB/LB Jacob House, Sr.; RB/DB James Silva, Jr.; RB/DB Taylor Disbrow, Sr.; TE/DL Matt Neale, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/DB Andrei Kasten, Sr.; QB Travis Adams, Sr.
KEY LOSSES: QB Zach McPherson, QB/LB/DB Max Kreger, RB/LB Gage Loge, RB/LB Lou Hernandez
OUTLOOK: With a strong offensive line, the run-oriented Cowboys are aiming for at least a .500 record and a return to the NCS Division 2 playoffs. Andrei Kasten, a blazer off the track team, is an intriguing newcomer. Haubner, a strong motivator, is trying to instill a winning mindset from top to bottom in the program.
COACH: Craig Bergman, 17th season
2012 RECORD: 6-5, 3-3 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: QB Nikita Zamora, Sr.; DL/OL Brendan Landman, Sr.; O Caleb Thomas, Sr.; C Jason Washington, Sr.; OL/DL Julian Goldman, Sr.; WR/DB Marco Zamora, Sr.; S/WR Ben Wensley, Sr.; LB Scott Sherriffs, Jr.; OL/DL Cody Dalton, Sr.; LB Dylan Merrell; DL Richard Martinez, Sr.; TE/DL Erik Mensendiek, Sr.; RB/DE Matt Rood, Sr.; P Jake de Maio, Sr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: QB/FS Noa Sol, LB Russ Milin; WR/DB John Kaiser; LB Silvano Barocio, RB Zach Cribb, DB/WR Peter Stanton
KEY LOSSES: RB Zack Chang, TE/LB Mason Melin, WR/DB Jalen Avery.
OUTLOOK: The Mustangs have a big, athletic offensive front line and a standout quarterback, Nikita Zamora. A mostly new receiving corps boasts three-year starter Marco Zamora and 6-foot-6 tight end Erik Mensendiek. The Mustangs will move the ball as usual. Depth could be an issue in the second half of the season. Zach Cribb is looking good at running back.
San Ramon Valley
COACH: Mark Kessler
2012 RECORD: 6-6, 5-1 EBAL
TOP RETURNEES: OL/DL Dru Samia, Jr.; OL/DL Dom Arotzarena, Sr.; OL Brandon Lim, Sr.; OL/DL Devon McPherson. Sr.; OL Kevin Muller, Sr.; TE Aran Roberts, Sr.; WR J.J. Koski, Jr. ; RB/DB Marcus de la Pena, Sr.; LB/RB Peter Tagliaferri, Sr.; QB Matt Winaker, Sr.; QB Matt Baker, Jr.
TOP NEWCOMERS: TB/TE Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB/WR Carter Nichols, Jr.; DB/RB Kevin Elliott, Sr.
KEY LOSSES: LB Ryan Dunn, QB Cameron Birse
OUTLOOK: The Wolves, who surged to an EBAL co-championship last season, boast one of the area's top running backs in Marcus de la Pena (1,209 yards rushing) and imposing offensive and defensive lines. QB Matt Winaker, who has orally committed to Stanford for baseball, runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. The Wolves appear capable of a deep run in the playoffs. They have another tough non-league schedule, against Buhach Colony-Atwater, James Logan, and Folsom.