Despite them not really being in the league, there is little doubt as to who the favorite is in the Marin County Athletic League this season in the games they play against MCAL opponents, and the irony is there are some other teams with solid returning talent, but even with a new quarterback the Wildcats might be better this season than last.
This season Marin Catholic faces four MCAL opponents, whereas last year, the first year they agreed to remain in the league in name alone, and not be eligible to win the league title, they played five. Even so, the four teams they play this year, Redwood-Larkspur, San Marin-Novato, Tamalpais-Mill Valley ad Terra Linda, were handled by a 171-41 score in combined points. The closest game was a 35-6 win over Terra Linda and both Redwood and Tamalpais lost by 47-14 scores.
“We’re still in the league, we just can’t win the league championship,” remarked Marin Catholic coach Mazi Moayed. “But each year we’re going to play the top four or five teams.”
The reality is the dominance of Marin Catholic led to their partial exit from the league beginning last year. In the past nine seasons with Moayed at the helm, the Wildcats have gone 65-1 against MCAL foes, with the only loss in 2014 when Justin-Siena-Napa beat them 3-0 at home with the Wildcats having multiple players on suspension.
With competitive equity and a new realignment of the North Coast Section expanding its playoffs to seven divisions and an eighth for 8-man football, beating Marin Catholic isn’t a prerequisite to competing for a CIF state Bowl Game title.
Last year San Marin made a run for the NCS Division IV championship, and Terra Linda won a game in Division III before bowing out. With the new realignment, the two are together in Division V along with defending D4 champion Fortuna and the Moreau Catholic-Hayward team they beat in the title game.
“The league is improving and you always want to pull for you league to be better and improve,” Moayed said. “It’s better for us and everyone.”
Let’s forget about the NCS playoffs for now and talk about who can grab the MCAL title. Redwood, San Marin and Terra Linda were all 5-2 and tied for the crown, but as to who is the favorite this year you’ll have to read on to the team by team overviews, but even then it looks up for grabs between a few teams.
MARIN CATHOLIC-KENTFIELD (10-4, 5-0)
In the intro we talked about the dominance of Marin Catholic over the past nine years under coach Mazi Moayed, but the reality is going into year 10 and coming off a runner-up finish in Division II of the old playoff format after a heartbreaking 16-15 loss in the title game to Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland, on paper the Wildcats look like they may have an even better team than last year.
“We were one play away from an NCS title,” Moayed lamented.
Although they ran roughshod over their five MCAL opponents and made it to the D2 title game, last year was only the second time in the tenure of Moayed that they have lost as many as four games.
Besides going 65-1 in the MCAL since Moayed took the reins, the Wildcats have an outstanding 108-19 overall mark that includes four NCS titles. Marin Catholic won in D3 in 2009, 2012 and 2017, and in 2015 they were the D4 champion.
So why is this team projected to be better than the 2018 team? Two big reasons are the return of seniors Jamar Sekona and Gaven Cooke.
Not only is the 6-3, 310-pound Sekona the top recruited defensive lineman in the history of the MCAL and Redwood Empire, but the recent USC-commit is tops this year in the North Coast Section and second in all of California as well. Last season he recorded 102 tackles with 21 for loss, including 10 sacks which was No. 2 in the Redwood Empire. Sekona will go both ways again this season and will be the best offensive lineman in the league, but his focus is defense with a goal of playing nose guard at USC, and that is why they recruited him.
Cooke was a solid dual-threat quarterback last season after passing for 1,283 yards and 10 TDs and rushing for 1,026 yards and 18 more scores, but he’s being recruited as a defensive back and he’s a better at that position and as a wide receiver than as a signal caller. With 32 tackles and three interceptions the 6-1, 180-pound Cooke also made All Marin County Athletic League on defense where he held back a bit because of being the quarterback. Cooke doesn’t have to hold back any longer at free safety after giving way to sophomore Michael Ingrassia under center, and he likely will be one of the primary receivers as well.
As for the 6-1, 177-pound Ingrassia, Moayed has never started a sophomore, and it took current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff until the third game of his junior year to become the Wildcats starter, but after the way Ingrassia looked at the recent 7-on-7 at Bishop O’Dowd, it looks like Moayed and his staff have made the right decision. Besides, Ingrassia has varsity experience under his belt after backing up Cooke last season and passing for 427 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for three additional scores.
“Right now Michael Ingrassia is going to be our guy this year,” Moayed said for a previous feature on Redwood Empire quarterbacks. “The only question is do we rotate Gaven (Cooke) in with him at first or not, but we’ll see. We’ve still got a couple of weeks left and I think Michael can be that guy.”
The offensive line has Sekona joined by junior 6-2, 267-pound All MCAL Second Team selection Kai Davison Peterson as its anchors.
All MCAL Honorable Mention junior running back Matteo Perez will be running behind the two again as the league’s top returning runner after rushing for 1,271 and 10 TDs last season. He also had 13 catches and if the recent 7-on-7 at Bishop O’Dowd is any indication of things to come, Perez is going to be a frequent target of new sophomore quarterback Michael Ingrassia. In the O’Dowd scrimmage he used his speed to get behind the defense more than once and made two acrobatic catches.
Two other Wildcats player to look for are 6-5, 220-pound Giovanni Ghilotti. The All MCAL Second Team defensive lineman that can also play linebacker had 74 tackles last season with eight for loss including four sacks. Look for him to see action at tight end as well. The other one is All MCAL Honorable Mention 6-0, 223-pound linebacker Ryan Dolan. He had 91 tackles with five for loss including three sacks and two interceptions, plus 125 yards and two touchdowns as a fullback.
The Wildcats are very deep, but one final player Moayed feels could be a big contributor is 6-1, 193-pound junior linebacker and running back Kekoa Garrido. Last season he had 56 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
Marin Catholic opens at home on Aug. 24 against El Cerrito, and then hosts defending CIF state Division 4-A Bowl Game champion McClymonds-Oakland, a team they lost to 26-0 last season on the road.
NOVATO (0-10, 0-6)
Coach Rich Torres takes over the helm at Novato and will be the third new coach in the past three years with the departure of affable and longtime Marin County prep football coach Donald Smith, who was unable to turn around a program that nearly folded up a few years ago.
Torres has inherited a big-time work in progress, as the three All MCAL players have graduated. but the 1979 Novato alum sees some light at the end of the tunnel, and why not? The Novato program has gone winless over the past couple years, but gets a clean slate in 2019 and brings up players from a junior varsity team which went .500 last season.
Asked why he took the job and what to expect this season, the union electrician in his day job had this to say.
“Just wanting to give back to football and looking forward to a good year and the players working hard,” Torres remarked. “Novato may surprise some people this year.”
REDWOOD-LARKSPUR (6-5, 5-2)
Coach Allen Talley loses the offensive MVP and leading rusher in the MCAL Alex Aguero but according to more than one reliable source, and not including Talley, the Giants return a very solid junior class from a team that tied for second place in league with San Marin and Terra Linda.
“We have a good returning class of juniors with most of our skill guys coming back, and two starters returning on the line,” Talley remarked
The two top returners are All MCAL First Team defensive lineman and 6-0, 207-pound senior Zach Bjursten, who also plays linebacker, and All MCAL Honorable Mention tight end and 6-3, 215-pound senior Alex Hagan, who also plays defensive end. Hagan had 24 catches for 376 yards with four touchdowns last season
After starting seven games last year and passing for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns, 6-0, 170-pound senior quarterback Matt Smalbach is back and with experience under his belt.
Besides Hagan another one of the primary targets for Smalbach according to Talley will be 5-11, 170-pound senior wide receiver and defensive back Maximo Tribuzio. He had 27 catches for 339 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Talley also indicated he has “a solid incoming junior class that had success on the lower level their first two years.”
Whether or not Redwood has what it takes to put a crimp in the armor of Marin Catholic remains to be seen, but Talley, who enters his fifth year at the Giants helm rightfully concedes nothing when asked about Marin Catholic.
“Any given game you can win,” responded Talley. “It’s going in with the mindset of playing your game and doing your job for 48 minutes of football. That’s how you win games regardless of who you are playing.”
“We had a three-way tie last year for league and there will be tough teams in the MCAL this year,” Talley continued. “Other teams have guys returning so our goal is to play every week the same.”
Redwood was in Division II for the NCS playoffs last season and bowed out in the first round to Campolindo-Moraga. With the new playoff alignment the Giants stay in D2 but some teams that were in D2 last year, most notably defending champion Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland and runner-up Marin Catholic, plus Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park, are no longer in the division, but Campolindo is, and powerhouse Clayton Valley-plus other some other large schools not in Division I have been placed in the division.
“The new alignment of the NCS has kept D2 very tough since we’re in a division with a lot of former D1 schools,” Talley remarked. “We won’t worry about that and we’ll go out and play our game and style of football.
It begins for Talley and his boys on Aug. 23 with D1 Berkeley and its new head coach James Hodgins.
SAN MARIN-NOVATO (8-4, 5-2)
We enter year two of Co-head coaches Dom DiMare and Cory Boyd, and after seeing the team on the field last week at practice, it appears the two have things continuing to move in the right direction.
The Mustangs have made the playoffs every year this decade and won seven or more games each of the last seven seasons with the last two coming after Steve Stanfel handed the reins to DiMare and Boyd.
San Marin made some noise in the playoffs, and although they lost one of the top running backs and wide receivers in the MCAL to graduation, they have a lot of solid returners from a team that made it to the NCS Division IV semifinals before losing in a 56-47 scoreboard buster to Moreau Catholic-Hayward.
“We did make some noise. We absolutely did,” DiMare said. “We achieved more than we thought we would.”
“We had a young quarterback but this year he’s back and more experienced,” continued DiMare. “Our offensive line is back and we have two wide receivers back.”
The quarterback is senior 5-11, 167-pound All MCAL Second Team selection Matt Sargent. Last season he was second in the league after passing for 1,906 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Mustangs will have a new primary running back. After backing up All League first-teamer Zak Cunningham, the spot now goes to DiMare’s son, Dante DiMare, and the 5-9, 170-pound senior will also play defensive back where he was All MCAL after recording around 100 tackles with five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
The offensive line will be anchored by two returning All MCAL Second Team honorees, center Juan Camarena (5-11, 240) and Tyler Guinn (6-0, 220), and both will play on the defensive line as well, with Guinn possibly seeing time at linebacker.
The defensive line has two All MCAL selections from last season, 6-0, 165-pound senior and First Team honoree Tyler Nettleman, who Boyd says “grew an inch and gained 10 pounds from last year and is a great pass rusher.” He will also play on the offensive line. The other defensive lineman is 6-1, 215-pound senior Michael Maahs, who was Honorable Mention.
The wide receivers will be 5-11, 155-pound senior Will Hickey, the youngest of former head coach and current defensive line coach Jim Hickey, and 5-10, 150-pound senior Danny Ibarra.
Besides the eight players mentioned others Boyd and DiMare are looking to are senior linebackers Bryce Duncan and Colin McGarty, and senior running back and defensive back Jovais Kennedy.
And how does the coaching staff feel about Marin Catholic?
“We look forward to playing MC every year,” said DiMare, who played and graduated from Marin Catholic. “We always have a chance to stop MC, it takes a mistake free, disciplined game to beat MC.”
“We never forget about them,” Boyd said. “But there are no paper champions. You have to go play the game.”
As San Marin showed last year, losing to Marin Catholic didn’t stop them from making a run in the NCS playoffs, and this year in Division V with a lot of the teams they played against in D4 last year, they look like they could make some noise once again.
“San Marin’s outlook has always been to be competitive and be in the playoffs every year, and this year is no different,” DiMare said.
It all begins on the road at Kelseyville on Aug. 23 before returning home for an Aug. 31 Saturday afternoon game with Moreau Catholic, a game they hope will be the last Saturday game since San Marin now has lights.
They are showing the Friday, Sep. 6 game with Casa Grande as being at night, but things are still being ironed out with the community.
The lights came with a new press box this summer, with half of the $1M for the lights raised by the community and the other half by the school district.
When it finally becomes lights and action at San Marin, playoff games, including potential CIF Bowl Games, could be hosted there.
“That’s great to hear,” said new CIF state Executive Director Ron Nocetti. “The atmosphere it will create on Friday nights for the entire school community will be tremendous.”
Look for an in-depth feature once the lights are actually turned on for a game.
SAN RAFAEL (3-7, 1-5)
Mark Lubamersky is back for his second season and although the Bulldogs only won three games, it was three more than they won in 2016 and 2017 combined when they blanked in both years and was the best season since they were 3-6 in 2014.
Not only that, but their 28-8 victory over Novato was the first time they won an MCAL game since 2010, so it appears Lubamersky has the team moving in the right direction, and the good news is he returns a lot of players.
Dual-threat quarterback Jack Miller returns after the 6-3, 185-pound senior passed for 1,058 yards and 10 TDs and rushed for 304 yards and eight more scores.
Senior Drew Caveney, a 5-10, 155-pound wide receiver and defensive back, and the back-up quarterback, was All MCAL Honorable Mention on offense last season after 35 receptions for 589 yards and five touchdowns.
The other top returner to make All MCAL Honorable mention for defense is 6-4, 250-pound senior two-way lineman and the coach’s son Liam Lubamersky. His twin brother, 6-3, 270-pound two-way lineman Aidan Lubamersky is a player to watch for as is Griffin Rudy, a 6-3, 170-pound senior wide receiver and defensive back that had 14 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs open at home under the lights at Miller Field on Aug. 23 with D6 Albany in what could be an interesting game.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE (4-6, 2-5)
Coach Roy Giorgi begins his third year at the Pirates helm. He helped double the win total from one to two in his first year, and while he was able to guide the team to two more wins overall than his first year with non-league wins over Healdsburg and Piner-Santa Rosa, they still were only able to beat Novato and San Rafael, just like two years ago.
The top returning player is 5-10, 210-pound senior linebacker Ren Gaul. The All MCAL First Team selection had 111 tackles (97 solo) and a sack.
Just about all the top skill players graduated, meaning Giorgi will have a new quarterback, but it’s looking like the primary running back position will be filled by Phoenix Lynch. The 6-0, 185-pound junior had 335 yards rushing and four TDs last season, and at linebacker, where he looks like one of the top returners, Lynch had 33 tackles.
Offense may be a question mark this season but Drake has some other solid defensive returning players worth noting, including two way senior lineman Denzel Castillo (58 tackles, one sack), and senior defensive end Marty Conway (31 tackles, four sacks)
Drake opens at home on Aug. 24 against a Healdsburg team it beat 41-0 on the road last year.
TAMALPAIS-MILL VALLEY (6-3, 3-4)
The word last year was Tamalpais was going to be better than the team that went 4-5 overall and 2-3 in league in 2017 in the first year Matthew LemMon came over after assisting at Hercules, and they were overall, but the Red Tailed Hawks still could not get to .500 in league, but they did give San Marin a scare before falling 21-20 at home.
LemMon and his boys did make the NCS Division III playoffs but made a quick exit after falling to El Cerrito.
Tam graduated a lot of talent on both sides of the ball but they do have some solid returners including three players that were All MCAL selections last season, Joe Lubenow, Crew Hutson and Ben Reade.
Lubenow, a 6-4, 240-pound two-way senior lineman was First Team on the offensive line and Second Team as a defensive lineman where he had 39 tackles with six sacks and a fumble recovery.
Hutson, a 5-10, 170-pound junior running back that also plays defensive end, was a First Team honoree on offense after rushing for 839 and 15 touchdowns, and on defense Hutson had 20 tackles with 5.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
Reade, a 5-10, 170-pound senior wide receiver and an Honorable Mention selection, is the leading returning receiver in the league after getting 38 receptions for 607 yards and 10 touchdowns.
After serving as backup quarterback and also playing wide receiver and linebacker last season, 5-11, 183-pound senior Aidan Newell takes over under center.
“Hutson is going to be a dude this season, and Newell is quick and can run the ball and will give us a dual threat this season,” LemMon said.
After missing last season with a injury, 6-2, 240-pound senior two-way lineman Ben Ehrilichman is back, and according to LemMon “he’s bigger, heavier and faster” and is “going to be a load.”
Two other players that are part of a group of 18 players that started three years ago on varsity with LemMon are senior wide receiver and cornerback Cooper Marshall, and offensive lineman and linebacker Keenan Karcs.
“The outlook is good for us this year,” LemMon said. “Having 18 kids that have been with me all three years, they understand what we’re going for and our standards.”
“The goal is to win MCAL and go deeper in the playoffs, and I really think we can accomplish that,” concluded LemMon.
It starts on the road on Aug. 23 at Petaluma, and then continues on the road at the alma mater of LemMon, St. Mary’s-Berkeley.
TERRA LINDA-SAN RAFAEL (7-5, 5-2)
After tying with Redwood and San Marin for the MCAL title last season, the Trojans have a new coach after veteran Rich Cotruvo decided to step aside after amassing 221 coaching wins starting at Acalanes-Lafayette, and then Monte Vista-Danville, Justin-Siena-Napa, and for the past three seasons at Terra Linda.
The new coach, Dallas Hartwell, is a story unto himself. The 31-year old Nebraska native and graduate of Holdrege (NE) has never coached in California or the United States, recently moved to California, and will be commuting from Vacaville to San Rafael where he will not just coach football but will teach World History and US History at Terra Linda.
For the past four years Hartwell has been the head coach at Strathcona High in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada.
Obviously Hartwell is familiar with football rules in the United States, but the Canadian high school football rules are the same as the Canadian Football League (CFL) and a playbook with three downs and a field that is configured differently than high school football in the states is pretty much out the window.
“I’ve watched a lot of film to familiarize myself with the league and the returning starters,” said Hartwell, who was hired just prior to the end of the past school year.
At this point however, it’s more about who the new coach has on his sidelines, and while he lost a whole lot to graduation, Hartwell does have a couple of returning starters and competition is still going strong for the skill positions.
Seven of the eight All MCAL selections from last season have graduated, with 5-8, 150-pound senior defensive back Aaron Helvig, an all league Honorable Mention on defense the one returner, with 6-0, 180-pound senior Julian Deraffele another returner who started a handful of games.
“It looks like it could be a rebuilding year,” remarked Hartwell, who added, “I haven’t set a depth chart and guys are still competing for starting positions.
The quarterback, running back and wide receiver spots are still open less than two weeks before the start of the season.
The two top contenders for quarterback are Deraffele and junior Brandon Ware. Nothing is finalized, but according to Hartwell, “Dylan Johnson probably will be the starting tailback.”
At wide receiver Hartwell says “a couple of big athletic kids, Tommy Hayes (6-1, 165-pound junior) and Guy Lyons (6-0, 180-pound senior) are the likely starters but other guys are still competing.”
Hartwell might not have a lot of returners but the Trojans’ numbers are good.
“I feel good about the kids I have,” Hartwell said. “We had a good summer turnout of around 50 kids and a roster now of 45 on varsity.”
Setting goals for the season under the circumstances might be premature, and Hartwell is taking it one step at a time.
“The goal is to maximize our potential, work hard and be the best team we can be,” was the coach’s answer regarding goals.
The first step will be against Ukiah on Aug. 24 at San Rafael High.