By Kyle Foster, photo courtesy of Mike Blom (Napafootball.shutterfly.com)
Twitter: @NapaKyle @NapaSportsLive
The Monticello Empire League has been the Napa and Vacaville show over the last decade, with both schools trading off the title in that time. Vintage-Napa, and Wood-Vacaville are expected to challenge for the title this season.
It’s safe to say it’s been a rough offseason for the defending league champion Indians. Napa will be going into this upcoming season after Jesus “Chuy” Martinez was named the Indians head coach.
“It’s going great, we had a great turnout the kids are very competitive,” Martinez said of his first season in charge, “they obviously know the type of preseason schedule we have, and that’s why we switched our practices to afternoon to better prepare us for that type of heat we’re going to face in Pleasant Valley (Chico), at our scrimmage against Antioch, so they’re extremely motivated, and absolutely just push each other.”
Napa will have a tough non-league schedule, as they’ll host Pitman of Turlock on August 25th to begin the season. The Pride made it to the quarterfinals of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs last year losing to high-powered St. Mary’s-Stockton. They will host Rocklin September 2nd, visit Archbishop Riordan-San Francisco on September 9th, host Nevada Union-Grass Valley on September 15th, before finishing the preseason by visiting Pleasant Valley-Chico who is the defending CIF 4-A champion on September 22nd. The Vikings beat Napa last year 30-14 in Napa.
“Better competition in the preseason is always beneficial going into league,” Martinez explained of the gauntlet schedule leading up to league. “It gets us both physically prepared, and mentally, a lot better then playing teams that aren’t good as us or to the caliber.”
“We treat every team the same,” Martinez added on the Pleasant Valley game, “we prepare the same for every team whether it’s a returning champion or won two games the year before, you never know, you have to prepare the same way for every team, and not take a team too lightly or think too much of a team either.”
The Indians will begin the Monticello Empire League season on October 6th at Wood of Vacaville. Two weeks later on October 20th Napa will visit Vacaville High School in the game that everyone always looks to for the title. On November 3rd Napa will meet rival Vintage in BIg Game XLVI (46).
Napa will return most of its skill player starters even after the coaching change, but they will return QB Caden Cortese, running backs Dawson Trent and Brandon Herter, wide receiver/DBs Alex Perez De Leon, and Sean Madigan, RB/LB Chase LaRue who was on varsity as a sophomore last year, RB/DB Allen Estrella, and RB Roger Fuentes. On the line they will return offensive lineman Ethan Harrison,and Colby Kelnhofer, Christian Sanchez, Issac Delgado, Keola Frazer, Erick Castro, and Logan Zampa. On defense they’ll return linebackers Isaac Castrillo, and TE/LB Cameron Ross, Solomon Tinnon, and Kyle Berryhill .
The Indians lost in the first round of the CIF SJS division I playoffs last year 37-28 to Sheldon-Sacramento.
The Bulldogs had a very good season last year, as they finished second in the MEL. They won their first round playoff game at Roseville, and lost to the defending CIF SJS division II champs Del Oro-Loomis in the quarterfinals.
Vacaville will host Liberty-Brentwood on August 25th, Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills on September 1st, visit Yuba City on September 8th, and host Granite Bay September 15th, before finishing the non-league portion of the schedule with a trip to Pittsburg on September 22nd. The Pirates beat Vacaville last year 42-31 in Vacaville.
“We have great respect for the preseason opponents we are able to schedule,” Vacaville coach Mike Papadopoulos said of their tough pre-season schedule. “They have a strong tradition of success that helps make our program better quickly. Each team does a tremendous job attacking our areas which need the most development so we can address those areas before league begins.”
Vacaville will begin league play on October 6th at Armijo of Fairfield, they meet Napa two weeks later, and end the season on November 3rd at Wood in the Black-and-Blue bowl.
The Bulldogs lost a good amount of their starters from last season. Vacaville will return seven starters RB/LB Timothy Jackson, OL/DL Jake Levengood, OL Freddy Muzio, OL/DL Kyle Mills, LB Shane Garner, LB Toven Steele, and DL Jesse Camarillo.
“They are a great group to work with, and it helps us move forward a little faster,” Papadopoulos added on his returning players.
Dylan Leach has now gotten a year under his belt as the Crushers head coach. In his second season at helm of Vintage football he’ll try to steer the Crushers to a playoff berth.
Vintage will begin the season by visiting fellow Napa County, and Napa Valley Unified School District foe American Canyon on September 1st, host Davis on September 8th, visit Woodcreek-Roseville on September 15th, host Lincoln-Stockton on September 22nd, before finishing the preseason with a trip to Fairfield to face Vanden on September 29th. The Vikings beat Vintage 44-14 in Napa last season.
“We have a pretty stacked preseason I think,” Leach said of the opponents they’ll face before MEL play. “American Canyon obviously is going to be very speedy, and fast, they’re discipline, they play hard so really looking forward to that challenge. Davis who got off to a slow start I think it was 0-3, and we beat them, but then they went off on a run I think that included Sheldon (Sacramento), Elk Grove, so they beat some very good teams, and again those are discipline guys, they’re hard nosed guys. Woodcreek has been the nemesis, when I got here I hadn’t played them or known that much about them, but you know Vintage hasn’t beaten them, so obviously that’s something we’re aiming for, and got to take into consideration we’re aiming to beat those guys. We picked up Lincoln of Stockton who’s a perennial powerhouse, and anytime you get a chance to play Lincoln of Stockton, man your juices are flowing they’re a perennial powerhouse always in the playoffs.”
The Crushers will begin league play October 6th at home against Rodriguez-Cordelia. November 3rd’s Big Game could be for a playoff spot.
Vintage will return QB/DB Isaiah Garcia, RB/LB Ronnie Porter, RB/LB James Robert, LB/WR Zach Geary, OL/DL Bruno Martinez, WR/DB Nolan Brown, K/P Abdiel Ballines, WR/DB Sam Carter and OL/DL Max Craig.
“They know what I expect from them, and they know how practices should be ran, and the speed and tempo that I like our practices to be run,” Leach explained of his returning starters, “anytime you’ve had guys who have been through that, and gone there they know what to look for, and they can always kinda push the younger kids to the tempo that we need them to play at.”
For Will C. Wood of Vacaville they’ll be without Carson Strong their starting quarterback, and a University of Nevada-Reno commit for the whole season after he injured his knee. He is listed as a quarterback to watch in the SJS.
“We currently have two juniors battling for the job of quarterback,” Wood coach Carlos Meraz said of finding Strong’s replacement.
Andrew Jones, and Jhalen Grayer are those two juniors battling for the job.
The Wildcats will return 11 players from last season. The returners are: WR/FS Asa Wondeh, TE/LB Zach Marsh-Wojan, WR Dominick Garcia, RB Daniel McFadden, RB Chris Catlin, OL Darius Shupe-Mickles, LB Nick Devore, LB Aidan Cocuzza, DL Josh Beshears, DL Kamani Currie, and DL Anthony Guzman.
“They help us with their leadership and experience,” Meraz added on his returners.
Wood will begin the season August 25th at Concord, September 1st at River Valley-Yuba City, September 8th will be their first home game against Liberty-Brentwood, they’ll visit American Canyon on September 15th, before finishing the non-league portion at home vs Fairfield.
“All games are important to us in our preparation for league,” Meraz explained of the non-league schedule. “Our goal during the preseason is to get better each week. Our focus is trying to get ourselves prepared for playoffs.”
Wood will begin league play October 6th against Napa. They meet rival Vacaville on November 3rd.
For the Mustangs they’ll have new coach Stephen Meyers, 27 at helm. He replaces Greg Sutter who had a combined record of 5-15 over two seasons in charge.
Rodriguez will begin the season September 1st at Vanden, visit Acalanes-Lafayette on September 8th, their first home game will be September 16th against Fairfield, they’ll host Northgate-Walnut Creek on September 22nd, before finishing up the early season schedule at Terra Linda-San Rafael.
The Mustangs will begin league play October 6th at Vintage, they’ll end the season on November 3rd at Armijo-Fairfield.
Their top returners are quarterback Adam Shafer, TE J.J. Storey, and WR Keichaun Parker.
The Indians had a less than impressive season last year. This year they will have new coach Anthony Gonzalez, 54, leading the way. Gonzalez was Armijo’s JV coach last season.
Armijo will begin the season August 25th at Vallejo, they’ll host Bethel-Vallejo on September 8th, visit Benicia September 15th, host Mount Diablo-Concord September 22nd, before finishing the preseason schedule visiting long time rival Fairfield on September 29th.
The Indians will begin league play October 6th against Vacaville, they will end the season hosting Rodriguez on November 3rd.
The top returner for Armijo are quarterback Tariq Eid.