It was a two-horse race atop the EBAL-Valley Division in 2018, as both Amador Valley and Granada won their other league games by comfortable margins, with Granada overcoming an early deficit to rally past the Dons in their head-to-head matchup and clinch the division.
Both teams appear ready for another run, with Amador Valley most likely having the bulls-eye as the league favorite after Granada graduated a large number of seniors. Meanwhile, Dublin figures to be much improved after failing to win a league game last year, and Livermore welcomes its most talented class of athletes in a long time for new head coach John Wade.
Four of the league’s five teams advanced to the playoffs last season, with Granada advancing to the quarterfinals and Dougherty Valley nearly pulling a big upset over San Leandro. It shows the depth of the East Bay Athletic League that four of the five teams in its lower division advanced to the post-season, which means that every Friday could be a battle.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order, with records displayed from last season.
AMADOR VALLEY (8-3, 3-1)
In 2018, it was no secret that the Amador Valley offense was largely going to revolve around then-senior quarterback Dominick Mazotti. Mazotti may be gone this season, but the Dons have plenty returning from that cast which surrounded him, and a quarterback who would have pushed Mazotti for the starting job last season before a season-ending injury.
6-foot-3 senior Kannon Dote is set to take over behind center for Amador Valley this season, after an ACL tear in last year’s scrimmage ended his year prematurely. Head coach Danny Jones sees the offense adapting to Dote’s skill set.
“He can make all the throws, and just needs the experience now,” said Jones, himself a college quarterback. “He is both a good player and a good leader. We are looking forward to him gaining that game-speed confidence.”
Dote will be joined in the backfield by explosive junior Da’jhae Wiltshire, who ran for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. Back at receiver is senior Cal Ewanich and junior Josh Heverly. Ewanich led the Dons in receiving last season.
“We kind of have skill all over the field,” Jones commented. “Those positions are a big strength of our team. We will definitely be able to throw the ball a bit more and look a little different than last year.”
Jones mentioned junior Eric Hunter III as another player to watch among that skill group, but his 55-man roster is also deep with talent up front. 6-foot-3 senior Brett Severance, who is also a standout rugby and lacrosse player, anchors both lines, moving from left guard to right tackle on the offensive side of the ball. He is joined again by returning starter Keoni Federico at left tackle. Sophomore Hayden Roberts is a name to watch for as well, as he steps into the role of a starting guard.
“We had really good lower levels last year and a lot of returning talent, so we will be in a position to win on Friday nights,” Jones said. “But all the teams we play are going to be good.”
Amador Valley opens its season at Antioch on Aug. 23.
DOUGHERTY VALLEY (5-6, 1-3)
Tim Conrad takes over for Brandon Black, who guided the Wildcats back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Right away, the big challenge for Conrad will be replacing every key offensive contributor from last year’s squad.
Dillon De France was the only non-senior to even touch the ball last season, and that was one catch for seven yards. Every other touch during the season happened with a player who has since graduated. The same goes for every player who earned all-league status for Dougherty Valley last season. Despite that, the Wildcats will be led by a sizable group of seniors.
"We do have 20 seniors on the rosters, but a lot of them are new," Conrad said. "We might be smaller, but we will be fast and aggressive."
Casey Carandang is a key returner at guard, and is joined again on the line by senior center Thomas Whang and senior tackle Eric Windham, giving the Wildcats an experienced group of returning linemen, especially on the left side. De France and Jack Varni should both be contributors in the backfield, while Varni and Diego Barragan will be key forces at linebacker. Nick Gonsalves and Josh Downton figure to be top targets in the passing game, while Downton and De France will play large roles in the defensive secondary as well.
Dougherty Valley opens its season at home against Concord on Aug. 23.
DUBLIN (4-6, 0-4)
New head coach Brandon Black takes over after a year holding the reins at Dougherty Valley, becoming the third head coach in the last four years for the Gaels. Black, however, is returning home to his alma mater and eager to get Dublin back into the playoffs.
Helping the cause will be a talented cast of skill position players, which include 6-foot-2 senior quarterback Jack Sweeney, 6-foot-2 receiver Elijah Alonso and multi-talented senior Nick Costello, a three-sport varsity athlete. Sweeney got his feet wet last season during league play, when he took over behind center for the injured Grant Manning. After playing baseball in the spring, the Gaels’ staff feels he is ready to take the next step.
“Jack has benefited tremendously from last year’s experience,” Black said. “He had a great spring and an amazing summer. He is ahead of where we thought he would be right now.”
It certainly helps a quarterback to get the team’s leading receiver back, and that’s the case with Alonso, who had nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Alonso and Costello are also key members of the successful Dublin basketball program, while Costello anchors the Gaels’ infield on the diamond. A couple more multi-sport athletes should benefit Dublin this season, including senior Javoni Gardere, a basketball athlete who can go up and win one-on-one battles in the passing game, and sophomore Adam Moore, another basketball player who will contribute in the slot and at defensive back for the Gaels.
“We have a fantastic multi-sport culture at Dublin, with coaches who all promote each other’s programs,” Black added. “We are extremely athletic as a result of that this year. We will be very well-rounded on the field.”
Two more underclassmen will be counted on to step up on the line, including sophomore center TJ Costello and sophomore guard Jahi Nelson. But there is also veteran leadership up front, led by senior interior lineman Sean Chatterjee and senior offensive tackle Logan Reilly. Branden Mendenhall rounds out the group up front.
Two other key players to watch include senior leader Dylan Pilger at receiver and cornerback, along with junior Justin Lynch, who should make an impact in the secondary.
“We have a lot of youth, but also great leadership from our senior class,” Black said. “We have a relatively small core of senior leaders, but they do a great job.”
Dublin will play at least its first six games on the road while its stadium finishes renovations. The Gaels open on Aug. 23 at Castro Valley.
GRANADA (9-3, 4-0)
Granada head coach Tim Silva has been around long enough to know that high school football runs in a cyclical pattern, meaning a phenomenal season is often followed by the challenge of replacing many key contributors from that team. In the case of the Matadors, they replace a talented group of seniors which won 18 games over the past two seasons, a group that included running back Zack Macintire, receiver Malini Ti’a and multi-faceted standout Octavio Morales.
“It is a yearly deal in high school, replacing talent. We were senior-dominated last year, but you get used to replacing talent over the years,” Silva said. “When you have that talent, you appreciate it, but you also embrace the next group.”
Granada will actually be a senior-laden team again in 2019, but just not very experienced after waiting for their turn behind last year’s seniors. Two such players who do bring back plenty of experience, however, including starting quarterback JJ Knight and 6-foot-6 defensive end Tyler Morano.
“JJ really looks great now right now, and Tyler is a very smart player, getting lots of college offers already,” Silva said. “We are also looking forward to having (senior) Drake Demo at fullback and middle linebacker. He gives us a bigger, more traditional fullback in our Wing-T.”
The Matadors might not have a home run hitter in their backfield right now, but they do have a group of consistent backs which know the system well and are ready to step in. That group includes seniors Josiah Knight and Joey Gomez, with Zach Armstrong and Jensen Roldan also in the mix. Miles Rasmussen, Nick Hill and Mitchell Mau could all contribute at receiver.
Up front, Tim’s son Travis should be able to set the edge at tight end, while 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior Jacob Burk serves as a leader on the line. He is joined by six-foot senior Matt Hagan, 6-foot-1 senior Ethan Clark and Robert Mullineaux. On the defensive side, expect Caelan Roberts and Robert Porter to both be impact players up front, while Nick Lydon and Josh Yepiz are key guys in the secondary.
Granada opens its season at Lincoln-Stockton on Aug. 23.
LIVERMORE (4-7, 2-2)
Wade heads into his third year coaching at Livermore, but it will be his first in charge of the program after taking over for Terry Butler, who is now an assistant on the staff at Amador Valley. Of course, Wade is no stranger to leading a program, having 18 years of previous experience as a head coach at Miramonte and Dublin, a stretch which has included a pair of NCS titles.
The Cowboys have reached the playoffs in each of the last three years, first under current Liberty coach Ryan Partridge and then under Butler over the past two seasons, but Livermore did so while winning four games in each of the last two seasons, playing in the always rugged EBAL. Now the program takes on a bit of a different look, not only in terms of who is leading the charge, but also who he is leading, after graduating the majority of last year’s contributors but also bringing up a junior class which has seen significant success at both the freshman and junior varsity levels.
“Our junior group has won 18 games over the past two years, only losing to De La Salle, and they have played together for a long time,” Wade said. “We’re fortunate to having that group coming up because we have a small senior class, and we think they are up to the challenge.”
One key member of that senior class is Markeith Williams, who was a first-team all-league selection as a utility player last season. He started on defense as a junior and was also one of the top kick returners in the section, returning a pair of kicks for scores in a playoff loss to Granada.
“We are really expecting Markeith to blossom on both sides of the ball,” Wade said. “He is a real good cornerback, an excellent kick returner and will do some good things offensively for us. We’re just not sure when he will come off the field right now.”
Fellow senior Xavier Williams will anchor things on the defensive line for Livermore, but otherwise it will largely be young faces and bodies doing the heavy lifting, as Wade projects as many as 18 juniors to grab starting roles before the first game. That includes Shaun Smith, who moves up from the junior varsity and will take over at quarterback. Smith might not have taken varsity snaps yet, but he certainly knows how to win after compiling an 18-2 record as a starter at the lower levels. And he will have a familiar group of receivers to throw to, with a quartet that includes juniors Jaxon Moseby, Dylan Cole, Brandon York and Dylan Prusso.
“Our receivers are all talented and working hard, all pushing each other for playing time during practice, fighting to get on the field,” Wade said.
With a young core, the schedule could be to the Cowboys’ benefit. The first five games appear winnable on paper for Livermore, in advance of a cross-over game against Monte Vista. The regular season concludes with back-to-back games against Granada and Amador Valley, last year’s divisional powerhouses. Wade, however, is setting goals and expectations in a different light.
“There were some games last year where, especially in the EBAL, we were overmatched and got into situations where we had to just manage games,” Wade stated. “So the real evaluation, with us being so young, will be whether we keep each game competitive and just play real well, making meaningful play calls in the fourth quarter. We have the potential to do that with this group coming up.”
Livermore opens the season on Aug. 23 at home against Golden Valley-Merced.