PAL BAY prep football preview 

A capsule look at how the teams stack up this season:

ARAGON DONS

» LAST YEAR: 8-3 (6-1 Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division; lost to Palo Alto 23-21 in first round of CCS open division playoffs)

» COACH: Steve Sell (eighth year, 56-21-1)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: C-DL T.Y. Faaumu, OL-DL Nikko Lilomaihiva, WB-LB Tanilella Mapa, QB Alex Miller, RB-FS Seta Pohahau, FB-DL Matu Pulotu, OL-DL Ahmed Shehade, WB-CB Paul Slack, LB-FB Sifa Tonga

» KEY NEWCOMERS: WR-CB Josh Fale, OL Jake McNeil, QB-DB Alex Sortwell

» OUTLOOK: Last season, a junior-laden roster propelled Aragon to its fourth straight Bay Division title. In returning most of the skill players to their complex wing-T offense, figure the Dons to be right in the running for a fifth.

"I think we’ll be right up there," Sell said. "We have a lot of kids returning and last time we played we took the state champion to the brink."

That was a 23-21 CCS loss to Palo Alto, in which now-senior RB Pohahau ran for a spectacular 224 yards. Now committed to Brigham Young University on full scholarship, Pohahau looks to be the nucleus of a well-balanced offense.

That’s where senior QB Miller will find an opportunity to shine, as the disciplined signal-caller begins his second full season after transferring from Mount Tamalpais before last year.

"People are going to gear up and challenge us to throw, and we look forward to that," Sell said.

» KEY GAME: Sept. 29 at Menlo-Atherton, 1 p.m. Sell expects the two teams to once again be contenders for first and second place as they were in ‘06.

— Terry Bernal

BURLINGAME PANTHERS

» LAST YEAR: 6-6 (4-3 PAL Bay)

» COACH: John Philipopoulos (sixth year, 39-20)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: RB-DB Jesse Butterfield, WR-FS Jason Carlos, LT-DL Kevin Grier-Rody, QB Steve Merchant, RB-ILB Todd Mortensen, RB-DB T.J. Murray, WR-CB Landis Nasser, LG-DE Andrew Yu

» KEY NEWCOMERS: WR-CB Dominic Byrne, TE-OLB Brandon Francesconi, OL-DL Anthony Renteria

» OUTLOOK: The Panthers are looking to forego their all-or-nothing offense of a year ago. In ‘06, Burlingame averaged 32 points per game in four league victories, while totaling just 10 points in three league loses.

Senior RB Butterfield, the team’s scoring leader of a year ago, will spark the attack, while untested senior QB Merchant looks to diversify a fast run-and-shoot approach. Much will depend on the transition of an offensive line that returns just one starter in LG Yu.

It’s a formula Philipopoulos has relied of year after year though, having consistently reached the CCS playoffs, including a title in 2004.

"Every year, another guy steps up and does a great job and we don’t expect anything less this year," Philipopoulos said.

Only one returnee to the defensive front seven in the person of senior ILB Mortensen also raises questions, though CB Nasser anchors an experienced secondary.

» KEY GAME: Sept. 21 at South San Francisco, 7 p.m. Coming off tough nonleague games against Sacred Heart Cathedral and Palo Alto, the Panthers want to start on the right foot in Bay Division play.

— Terry Bernal

CARLMONT SCOTS

» LAST YEAR: 6-4 (5-2 PAL Ocean)

» COACH: Will Jacobs (second year, 6-4)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: FB-S Conrad Nichols, DB-WR K.T. McCann, WR-S Richie Fanti, FB-LB Raymond McNaulty, WR-DB Joe Ferrari, LB Sam Morgan, C-DT Joe Lucchesi, T-DT Matt Vosberg, G-DT Kyle Applegate

» KEY NEWCOMERS: RB Ricky Jordan, RB Ricky Kazakoff, QB Joe Lapaparo, QB Craig Bartkowiak

» OUTLOOK: Last season, the Scots rode the broad shoulders of RB David Aknin to a surprising 5-2 record in the PAL Ocean Division. Their reward was a trip back to the PAL Bay, where their 30-man roster will face a new challenge each week.

"We lost 22 seniors last year," relates the still-upbeat Jacobs.

The coach finds it easy to stay enthusiastic, he says, because this year’s seniors are already a year into his "We are family" mantra. "The kids we have returning know their roles," he says. "Everyone watches everyone’s back. That’s the biggest thing we preach, no matter what our situation."

Still, someone will need to carry the ball. Fortunately, Carlmont has many candidates to fill this role. Newcomers Jordan and Kazakoff will compete with senior Nichols for the top spot, but don’t expect any of them to carry an Aknin-like burden.

"I’m a pass-first coach," Jacobs explains. "When you’ve got someone like Aknin, you’re going to run the ball. But we’ve got some special backs this year, too."

» KEY GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Aragon, 3:15 p.m. The Scots jump feet-first into the flames. Their PAL Bay opener comes against a powerhouse Aragon team that has lost one league game in the past three years.

— Larry Rosen

MENLO-ATHERTON BEARS

» LAST YEAR: 8-3 (5-2 PAL Bay)

» COACH: Bob Sykes (second year, 8-3)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: DL Josh Afungia, WR Bobby Bustos, QB Troy McCabe, WR Steve Disibio, WR Sam Knapp, RB Jamal Wilkins, CB Andrew Klein, DL Latani Moi Moi, LB Raymond Vainikolo, WR Matt Mosher

» KEY NEWCOMERS: OL Semisi Mataelle, QB Turner Beatty

» OUTLOOK: Defense will again be key for Menlo-Atherton, which allowed only 154 points in going 8-3 last season. The Bears return most of their starters, including defensive stalwarts Vainikolo and Moi Moi, who combined for 17 sacks in 2006.

"We have a real strong defensive and offensive line," says Sykes, whose team improved by seven wins last year. "I’m confident in what we have."

Offensively, M-A returns QB McCabe, RBs Wilkins and Bustos and a pair of WRs in Disibio and Knapp who all saw siginificant playing time in ’06. The team stumbled at the close of last season, losing its last three games, including a playoff contest against Santa Teresa, but Sykes remains unruffled.

"It’s a new situation," he says. "We’ll be competitive."

» KEY GAME: Sept. 29 vs. Aragon, 1 p.m. The perennial PAL Bay powerhouse snapped the Bears’ eight-game win streak last season, sending them staggering to a season-ending trio of defeats. Menlo-Atherton’s chance for revenge comes in the league opener.

— Larry Rosen

MENLO SCHOOL KNIGHTS

» LAST YEAR: 9-2 (6-1 PAL Ocean)

» COACH: Mark Newton (fourth year, 19-12)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: RB-DE Ryan O’Halleran, OL-DL Nick Lycette, QB-DE Matt Corley, QB-LB Travis Boyce, RB-LB Jack Mosbacher, WR-DB Chase Richard, WR-DB Alex Curtis

» KEY NEWCOMERS: WR Jerry Rice Jr.

» OUTLOOK: Last season’s PAL Ocean co-champs jump into the big PAL Bay pond this season, minus a backfield that piled up some impressive statistics in ’06.

Gone are QB Andrew Dixon, RB Leon Ivery, WR Rickey Hawkins and utility man Anthony Bouvier, taking with them some 45 touchdowns and 2,900 yards of passing. However, fourth-year coach Mark Newton is confident of his team’s chances.

"We may not have as many big-time players, but we have more balance, maybe more overall talent," he says of this year’s Knights. Menlo runs, according to Newton, a "wide-open, pro-style attack; a run and shoot," which makes them a difficult matchup in any league.

Senior QBs Corley and Boyce are poised to pick up where Dixon left off, but what about that jump to the PAL Bay? Menlo has only 270 boys in its student body, playing schools three times its size. Newton is lucky to have more than 30 on his roster. "There are no off weeks in this league," he says. "Every week is huge in the Bay."

» KEY GAME: Oct. 13 vs. Menlo-Atherton, 2 p.m. The homecoming game against Menlo-Atherton should get the competitive juices flowing.

— Larry Rosen

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO WARRIORS

» LAST YEAR: 4-6 (2-5 PAL Bay)

» COACH: Frank Moro (sixth year, 29-23)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: G-DL Ina Faalau, G John Grgich, RB-LB Chris Herron, QB Hardesty Langi, OT-DE Patrick Mora, Chris Putney TE-OLB, WR-CB Matt Saldano, RB Nathanael Williams

» KEY NEWCOMERS: QB Will Cormier, RB Michael Coutts, RB Niko Campana

» OUTLOOK: Team speed looks to be South City’s ticket this season and the in-camp QB competition will decide precisely where that speed will be utilized.

Senior QB Langi has a leg up with his experience, having served in a backup capacity last season, while junior QB Cormier has emerged with the best foot speed on the team.

"We’re fast this year," Moro said. "I think we have the most guys under a 5-second [40-yard dash] that I’ve ever seen."

With most of the experience returning to the defensive side of the ball, though, the offense will have to prove itself. As per tradition, the Warriors have depth with a solid quartet in the backfield, including senior RBs Williams and Rossbert Blanco, and will be run through holes opened by seniors OL Mora and Faalau.

Defensively, South City returns eight starters to a squad that held opponents to under 20 points six times last season.

"We’re not going to miss much of a beat defensively," Moro said.

» KEY GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Burlingame, 7 p.m. First test in a tough early-season schedule, which includes the Sept. 7 opener at St. Francis.

— Terry Bernal

TERRA NOVA TIGERS

» LAST YEAR: 5-5 (4-3 PAL Bay Division)

» COACH: Bill Gray

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: LB-FB D.J. McDonough, WR Rodney Asuega, WR Jeremy Brenner, OL Francisco Harrington

» KEY NEWCOMERS: QB Romin Kuber, DE Anthony Kipp, QB Julian Bernard

» SEASON OUTLOOK: Gray’s squad will look to rebound from a disappointing 2006, which was marked by the Tigers narrowly missing out on the CCS playoffs because a loss to cross-town rival Half Moon Bay in the regular-season finale.

Although they lose two key starters from last year’s squad in QB Jack Forbes and RB Divine Copeland, the Tigers bring back plenty of firepower, especially at wide receiver. Asuega, a 6-4,200-pound senior, and Brenner, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, form an intimidating receiving combination, and whoever between QBs Kuber and Bernard (the starting position is still up for grabs) can get them the ball consistently, then Terra Nova should put together some potent offensive numbers.

Defensively, the Tigers will be led by McDonough, a 5-11, 240-pound senior who is a returning starter at ILB.

» KEY GAME: Nov. 9 vs. Half Moon Bay, 7 p.m. The Tigers will look to avenge last year’s shocking 8-6 loss to their rival.

— Will Reisman

WOODSIDE WILDCATS

» LAST YEAR: 7-4 (5-2 PAL Bay; lost to Milpitas 12-6 in the first round of Central Coast Section large-school division playoffs)

» COACH: Steve Nicolopulos (eighth year, 61-28)

» RETURNING LETTERMEN: RB-LB Jason Simpson, TE-LB Sekope Kaufusi, OL-DL Leo Lopez, WR-S Sean Medina, WR-LB Ryan Carey, QB Jeff Turner, RB-LB Alex Camacho, OL-DL Lloyd Whitcroft

» KEY NEWCOMERS: QB-S Corey MacDonald, WR-DB Bryan Barrow, WR-DB Brandon Carey

» OUTLOOK: For the first time in three years, starting jobs are up for grabs at Woodside. The Wildcats graduated a team full of seniors, including PAL Bay Co-Offensive Backs of the Year Lopeti Taufoou and Matt Pelesasa and PAL Defensive Player of the Year Paul Tuiono. In their place, says Nicolopulos, is a "very bright and intellectual" team.

"They catch on fast," Nicolopulos says of his green team. "You don’t have to grind it out.

This year, the Wildcats will turn to less-experienced QBs Turner and MacDonald. Nicolopulos is high on the pair, saying he will find a spot for whichever one doesn’t start at QB. A pair of newcomer wideouts, Barrow and Carey, have also impressed. Returningjunior Simpson should get most of the carries at running back.

"We had so many seniors last year; they dominated playing time," explains Nicolopulos. "These kids didn’t get game time, but when they played against that group [in practice], they got to play against a top-caliber team."

» KEY GAME: Sept. 8 at Riordan, 1 p.m. This year it is the Wildcats playing underdog to a strong Crusaders team. After this season opener, Woodside should have a better idea of the team it will field in ’07.

— Larry Rosen

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