Up the ladder we continue to climb, and for our last two teams before we begin the top 10 countdown we have two CIF North Coast Section proven winners tied for what is technically the No. 11 spot
11T. Clayton Valley-Concord (10-5)
Some will ask how can the Ugly Eagles, who could only beat Foothill-Pleasanton in league and in the NCS playoffs in all its meetings with East Bay Athletic League-Mountain opponents, be ahead of teams that beat them.
Other pre-season rankings have Clayton Valley ahead of those teams - Danville’s Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley in particular - and we see the Uglies the same way as well. But although they finished ahead of Cardinal Newman in the final Cal-Hi Sports rankings last season, we had them at No. 8 in the final NCS rankings and directly behind Marin Catholic, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley.
The answer as to why they get to come up and tie with Marin Catholic is who they return and the way they finished last season.
Early in the season, the team had some issues, but after a loss to De La Salle, and the death of the brother of Omari Taylor the night before the game, Clayton Valley was a different team, and Taylor shook off the adversity as the lead running back in leading the Ugly Eagles to five straight playoff wins.
Included during the run was an NCS Division II title-game win over Campolindo-Moraga, a Northern Regional Division 2-AA 28-26 victory over Elk Grove, and a state CIF 2-AA 10-7 Bowl Game victory over St. Thomas Aquinas-San Bernardino in Southern California and in a game where befittingly Taylor scored the team’s only touchdown.
Taylor returns for his senior season after rushing for a team-leading 1,428 yards and 12 TDs plus one TD receiving. Also returning to the potent Uglies running game that racked up 4,314 yards and 43 TDs is junior Rashaan Woodland (557 yards, 2 TDs).
Head coach Tim Murphy also has his quarterback returning and likely will look to pass more like he did last year when senior Jake Kern threw for 1,685 yards and 12 touchdowns. The offensive line will be anchored by senior right tackle Tyler Chabonneau, who has offers from Air Force and Sacramento State.
Murphy also returns a lot of talent on defense, including senior linebacker and second-leading tackler Lucas Linkhart (95 tackles, 3 interceptions), senior linebacker and third-leading tackler Dylan Seeley (75 tackles), who will also be the H-back on offense, senior strong safety Ryan Sparks, junior defensive end Amari Comier, and senior defensive back Charlie Saylor, who had an interception late in the Elk Grove game to seal the win.
Murphy was circumspect about whether there will be a season but hopeful.
“I just hope we can get in five games so these kids can get some film they really need to help them get to college,” he said.
If things get going on schedule, the Ugly Eagles will land in Turlock on January 15 to open their season.
11T. Marin Catholic-Kentfield (11-2)
After seeing the Wildcats on the field recently at a limited practice, we were considering moving Coach Mazi Moayed and his boys up higher, possibly to the same level, which you’ll find out shortly, as the Cardinal Newman team that beat them 13-10 in the CIF North Coast Section Division 4 title game.
However, with all the uncertainty about when and if we will have a season, we decided the pecking order will stay the same and hopefully things will shake out on the field.
Other than the NCS title-game defeat, the only other loss last season was to a state-ranked McClymonds-Oakland that was followed by 10 straight victories before the loss to Newman.
UC Davis-committed senior running back Matteo Perez returns after finishing second in the NCS in rushing with 2,024 yards and 30 touchdowns. Perez also had 246 yards receiving and four more scores, and with an 80-yard kickoff return for a TD as he accounted for 35 total touchdowns last season. After seeing how he looked in the modified practice, he had us wondering if any opponents on the Wildcats schedule can stop the speedy running back.
The player that looked the most improved is quarterback Michael Ingrassia. Remember, current NFL star Jared Goff didn’t start until a third of his junior season was gone, while Ingrassia, who has greatly improved his frame and shows improved arm strength, has a full season under his belt with playoff experience, and 1,688 yards passing with 20 TDs and 314 yards rushing with four more scores to show for it.
The result is a lot of colleges are interested but wanting to see what Ingrassia can do this season. If his performance at the National Preps Collegiate Showcase in Vacaville last Saturday is any indication of his progress, the fact he was a finalist for quarterback MVP should answer any and all questions.
Another player we observed at the practice that had the look and physique of a college player was Geordie Aarsheim. The senior tight end and outside linebacker will be the leading returning receiver (26 catches, 553 yards, 3 TDs) and will also lead the linebacking corps.
Perez will have a big line to run behind anchored by San Jose State-committed two-way senior lineman Kai Peterson-Davison. Another lineman with college offers that will be opening holes for Perez is senior Dawson Brown.
Besides those previously mentioned with college interest, some other players to look for that are on the college radar screen and shined at the workout are senior strong safety Kekoa Garrido, senior defensive back Michael Jennings, and senior defensive back Matt Jacobson, who showed well at the National Preps Collegiate Showcase in Vacaville as well and has interest from Columbia, plus others, and that doesn’t include a lot of up and coming underclass players.
The bottom line is Marin Catholic has a ton of talent and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be slugging it out with Cardinal Newman for the NCS D4 title just like last season. The journey is currently scheduled to start January 8 on the road in El Cerrito, and that’s a team with a ton of talent waiting to prove itself.