The California Mid-State Fair serves as the last cookie in the sleeve that is summer vacation for most athletes in the area. The conclusion of July means the beginning of August which means it’s time for two practices a day, ungodly amounts of pizza consumed and the deepest afternoon naps ever taken. In my column two weeks ago, I noted how the divisions will be divided up in the upcoming season (if you missed that one head to the Atascadero News or Paso Robles Press sports sections and read the article titled “Football realignment”) and this week I will cover the key contributors and returners that will look to return our teams to the prominence we have become accustomed to in the North County.
In this week’s column, I will talk mostly regarding the key departures and returners before heading out to all three training camps next week to get a deeper dive into each team and what they will look like come week 1 this season. I believe it was Maya Angelo who made famous the saying, “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going.” So let's first recap what happened with each team in their first season in the CIF Central Section.
The Hounds, Eagles and Bearcats combined for only six total wins last year with three each coming from Templeton and Paso Robles while the Hounds put up their first goose egg in school history going 0-10. 2018 is officially history at this point as all three schools have a shot at turning it around and I think one school has the chance to go deep into the playoffs and with us being in the Central Section now, it wouldn’t be crazy that one of our teams could be playing for a CIF Championship in just a few months time.
The Bearcats had the steepest dropoff from 2017 to 2018. In 2017, the Crimson ’Cats had a bizarre season that saw former head coach Larry Grant (former San Francisco 49ers linebacker) leave the program only a few months after arriving and former junior varsity head coach JR Reynolds step in. Following a ridiculously tough preseason schedule in which the Bearcats only won a single game (Clovis North 27-7) they went undefeated in league play in the final season of the PAC-5 to win the title outright. Following their 0-3 start, Reynolds called up sophomore quarterback Hunter Barnhart who led the team down the stretch with his legs and arm earning league MVP making it look as if the Bearcats would be set for the next two years. However, Barnhart’s first love is baseball which takes him away during the summer and almost took him away from football his junior year (last year, before transferring to St. Joseph) before he returned to the team late playing safety and spot duty at QB with Braden Waterman as the starter. In 2018 Paso Robles again struggled through their tough preseason schedule but could not turn it around in Mountain League play as they allowed 52, 35 and 46 points in consecutive weeks to Righetti, Arroyo Grande and St. Joseph.
The biggest question for Paso Robles coming into the season is obviously if the defence can improve from last year and that will be a difficult task as they also lost key defensive guys in Mark Martinez, Nathan Garcia and Corban Payne. This season, the linebacking responsibilities look to fall to Gerald Norte and Jeramy Kelly with Cris Magalona switching from running back and playing some defensive back this season. A big part of the Bearcats defensive struggles from a season ago should also fall on the offense’s shoulders. There were a handful of games last year that seemed as if the Paso Robles defenders were on the field for the entirety of play as the offense sputtered and was unable to string together first downs to give the boys on defense some rest. Now in his third season and second full year, Reynolds has his first offseason where he knows his quarterback and his players going in and will look to continue proving he is one of the better and more innovative play-callers in the Mountain League.
Paso Robles might open up the offense, even more, this year with the emergence of a strong receiver corp through the passing league this offseason. Seth Maldonado, who was the hero of the Atascadero versus Paso Robles game last year, has emerged as Waterman’s inside man, filling the role departing h-back Marshall Wiesner previously held winning with speedy cuts rather than his size. Magalona, who led the team in rushing attempts and yards a year ago with 422 according to Maxpreps.com, has also been featured as a receiver with Taylor Bonham and Levi Marshall rounding out a strong four-receiver corp.
Vic Cooper and the Atascadero Greyhounds will open up their padded practices with their annual midnight practice on July 31 where they start just a few ticks past the hour in a fun way to maximize their time while also getting the kids excited. The Hounds return four players on offense and seven on defense. Most importantly they still have their 6-foot-2-inch, two-time first-team all-league selection, do-it-all big man Seth Robasciotti returning for his senior year. Last season, Robasciotti led the Hounds in receiving yards by far with 452 playing tight end on offense and was second on the team in tackles with 70 and first in tackles for a loss with eight playing on the defensive line. With Robasciotti, the Hounds should have the best player on the field every Friday night but will need to find creative ways to use him as all 22 eyes will be on him at all times.
Atascadero will need to replace their rushing leader in Stephen Reyes and senior Gabe Sandoval looks to step into that role as the Hounds lead horse in an always run-heavy attack. The other key departures for the Hounds are fullback and linebacker Scott Morgan, captain of the offensive line Dylan Enriquez and their leading tackler Mathew Perry. Offensively the Hounds only have four starters returning but luckily for them, two are on the offensive line in Jack Megason and Forrest Powell and the third one is their starting quarterback in Westly Cooper.
Sam Bordan will join Powell and Robasciotti together to make a formidable defensive line with experience that will pair nicely with Wyatt Hasch and Cael Cooper who return as starters in the Greyhounds secondary. After a horrible season, all the talk out of Atascadero has been positive as coaches have said the seniors are antsy to get that bad taste out of their mouth and have been committed in the offseason. From the outside looking in, it seems the Hounds will have a strong offensive and defensive line as is often the case, which means the Hounds have a shot to be in every game if they can assert their will on the opposing teams.
The Templeton Eagles are losing a tremendous amount of their offensive production from a year ago (32 touchdowns) by graduating their starting quarterback from a year ago, Jack Trimble who threw for 2,229 yards and 21 touchdowns, and their Mr. Everything in Shane Simonin, who ran for 1,019 yards (six games over the century mark) with 10 touchdowns plus one through the air, yet are still probably in the best shape of all three North County teams going forward.
The Eagles have a new head coach who is a familiar face in Don Crow who is making his second go-round in the Green and White and we should very quickly see an improvement in a defense that allowed over 40 points per game last season. The Eagles kept former head coach Tyler Lane on the staff and he will continue to coordinate the offense as he did last year that displayed tons of firepower.
The Eagles were a young team last year and should be a preseason favorite in the upcoming Ocean League. Offensively Templeton returns their two top receivers in Marino D’Alfonso their 6-foot-1-inch outside receiver who hauled in 51 catches for 824 yards last year and 10 touchdowns as a junior last year and their slot/speed and screen threat in Tyler Kaschewski who accounted for 748 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. Zack Logan returns for his senior season and it would make sense for him to take over the starting quarterback role as he was the starter a year ago before suffering an injury that gave Trimble his chance. As far as running the rock, Mike Avery ran well in place of Simonin last year when he was banged up or needed a breather and will be joined in the backfield by Josh Berna who tore it up on the junior varsity a year ago.
Templeton also returns Blayne Twissleman who was one of the top tacklers on the team a year ago, the Doty brothers who can play anywhere from wide receiver to defensive back to linebacker and Mason Barbour who played tight end and anchored the d-line as a sophomore a year ago.
Across the board, the Eagles have a senior-heavy lineup this season and if they can keep their opponents from opening up a track meet they should be very formidable not just in the Ocean League but in the entire Central Coast.