Well, here we are folks, about to embark on the second half of the high school football season and straight into league play on Sept. 28. Non-league games are done and coaches are evaluating where their teams stand; some hot, some not so hot.
What you’ll find below is a breakdown of the six football teams in the TRAC; their strengths and weaknesses, how they’ve performed the first five games, and what to expect moving forward.
And there’s the colossal De La Salle versus Buchanan game at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Sept. 21, one of the best matchups against an out-of-section opponent in recent memory.
But before you tear into all that football goodness here are six burning questions before league starts:
Six burning questions:
- A week after playing national power De La Salle, will Buchanan, with a exceptional running game, beat Central on the road to open up league?
- Will Clovis High’s high-flying passing game continue to light it up despite a lack of running game?
- Will Central keep the pedal to the metal offensively and win its third straight league title?
- Can resurgent Clovis East continue the ground-and-pound game and wear down opponents?
- Will Clovis North’s defense and passing game be enough to keep them in games?
- Can the young squad at Clovis West muster up the strength to compete for a full four quarters?
Head coach: Matt Giordano (3rd season)
Wins: Paso Robles 56-17, Bullard 31-0, Edison 45-6, Liberty 28-13
The lowdown: Buchanan is on a mission this year since losing to Central 29-7 in the Division I Central Section championship game last year. Head coach Matt Giordano, who spent eight years in the NFL, and an experienced staff enter Year 3 and they certainly have the horses to compete for their first section title since 2000. The Bears, ranked No. 21 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, breezed through their first three games by a combined score of 112-23 before beating a very good Liberty team on the road 28-13.
Buchanan features a strong running game with 5-star junior Kendall Milton (39 Division I offers) and Levi Willems, who have combined for 657 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards a carry. Both are speedy, elusive and know how to finish plays; there might not be a better one-two running back duo in the section. The Bears added senior transfer 4-star receiver and defensive back Jalen Cropper to its arsenal – an electric player who can also line up at quarterback and return kicks and punts.
The passing game is a secondary option with sophomore quarterback D.J. Stevenson, who’s thrown for only two touchdowns with two interceptions on the year. For all that, the son of former NBA veteran DeShawn Stevenson is certainly athletic and has the ability to make a play with his legs.
The stout defense is one of the best in the Central Section led by linebackers Michael Mertens, Steven Scheidt and Matthew Merritt. The excellent secondary features Brock Jones (who recently verbally committed to Stanford for football and baseball), Tanner Blount and C.J. Jones. Kicker Race Mahlum has a 4-star rating and can boot it from over 50 yards.
Bottom line: There’s no denying Buchanan is one of the top teams in the Central Section, if not the best, and playing De La Salle just before league proves it wants to play the best. The Bears are talented all over the field and have a powerful run game and an excellent defense as they’ll certainly need it when they travel to Central in Game 1. The pieces are certainly there to make a strong run in the playoffs.
Head coach: Kyle Biggs (3rd season)
Wins: Edison 35-7, Grant-Sacramento 54-12, Whitney 49-10, Paso Robles 62-0, Turlock 54-14
The lowdown: The defending TRAC and Central Section Division I champs are locked, loaded and dominating opponents and, truth be told, are the best team in the Valley until someone knocks them off. Since Kyle Biggs took over the program two years ago, the Grizzlies have been able to shed the ghosts of the past, mixing athletic talent with improved discipline. Through five games, they’ve outscored opponents 264-43, averaging 53 points in the process, and are ranked No. 13 in the state.
When you think Central football you think Trent Tompkins, the dynamic gunslinger in this third year as the starting quarterback and the 2017 TRAC Player of the Year. In his last two games alone, he’s thrown for 742 yards and 14 touchdowns adding to his 1,698 yards, 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions in a national leading effort so far. He also leads the team in rushing with 421 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target is junior receiver Justin Hunter with 14 of those touchdowns. Quali Conley is the main running back with 376 yards and an 8.5 average per carry.
On defense, the Grizzlies are anchored by a excellent linebacking crew consisting of juniors Dominic Mendez and Shando Lopez and sophomore Je’Kob Jones. Tyrell Grayson is their best cover corner.
Bottom line: After years of fielding teams filled with tremendous talent, the 2017 Grizzlies finally secured that first Valley championship in school history and it feels as if they are hungry for more, a scary thought for the rest of the section. With a fast and furious offense and a good defense, they are the toast of the TRAC until someone knocks them off.
Head coach: Rich Hammond (11th year)
Wins: Modesto 42-14, Stockdale 42-14, Bullard 17-14, Salinas 40-16 Losses: Liberty 48-10
The Lowdown: The last two years Clovis has shown either a good offense (2016) or a good defense (2017). This year the Cougars are back to doing both in the first four games – scoring in bunches and swarming the field on defense. They won their first four games averaging 35 points and gave up exactly two touchdowns in each game before a let-up loss at home to a physical Liberty team.
So, how are they putting the ball into the end zone? Simple. They are throwing the ball with confidence with junior quarterback Isaiah Robles and a talented group of wide receivers. Robles, a transfer from Bullard, has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns with senior receivers Reef Dove and Matthew Sanchez and junior Grant Lake as his main targets. The offense does have a major concern, however, averaging a mere 63 yards per game on 2.1 yards per carry.
The defensive line is one of the best in the Central Section with some large dudes: 6-foot-3, 260-pound sophomore Keanu Williams, 6-foot-4, 285-pound Nick Freeman and 5-foot-11, 230-pound Anthony Aldape. Cristian Loera, who led the state last year with 12 interceptions, is their best corner.
Bottom line: Clovis has a very good nucleus of football players to win a lot of football games this year but the Liberty game exposed some weaknesses. The Cougars trot out a quality passing game with receivers who run excellent routes and can outrun you. The defensive lineman are excellent and are great at stopping the run.
Clovis East (3-2)
Head coach: Ryan Reynolds (2nd year)
Wins: Wood-Vacaville 21-20, Sanger 14-8, Sunnyside 35-22 Losses: Lemoore 7-6, San Joaquin Memorial 28-21
The Lowdown: Is the Beast from the East back? Well, judging by their first five games I think the smart answer is yes. After the Timberwolves snapped their 27-game losing streak when they beat Wood-Vacaville, they beat Sanger and Sunnyside before losing 28-21 to San Joaquin Memorial, a game they lead 21-0 at halftime. In his second year, coach Ryan Reynolds has turned the program around most certainly.
So how are the T-Wolves doing it? Well, ground and pound was their motto when they won two D-I Central Section and six TRAC titles from 2002-2008 and they’ve brought that mentality back. Senior running back Ryan Hunt is strong and resilient, embodying what the Timberwolves are re-establishing; he started off the year at linebacker then rushed for 277 yards on 48 carries in the win against Sanger. The team runs an offense where the line reads blocks and opens up holes for a wing-T style offense, hoping to win the time of possession game and limiting the opponents offensive opportunities. Their passing game is purposely almost non-existent, but so far, it’s worked.
The defense is headlined by linebacker Asa Morales and lineman Seba Zenteno and Christian Hudiburgh. Jo’Nation Dejohnette, who started off the year at running back, has moved to linebacker.
Bottom line: Clovis East’s power running game has returned as well as its vaunted toughness, a staple of the school’s football glory years. They’ll wear teams down both on offense and defense and opposing coaches will have to scheme against a ball-controlled offense. A win in league, almost a certainty, will be their first in 35 games.
Clovis North (1-3)
Head coach: Benny Martinez (2nd year)
Wins: Sunnyside 50-7 Losses: Bellarmine Prep 13-12, Edison 37-28, Ridgeview 20-14
The lowdown: After blowing out Sunnyside to open the season, Clovis North lost three straight games that were all close at some point: Bellarmine Prep on the road 13-12, a 37-28 setback to Edison in a game they were up 28-21 at half and an overtime loss at Ridgeview. The team has yet to play its best game of the year, still, Coach Benny Martinez, in his second year at the helm, has reason for optimism as the Broncos have a solid, if not spectacular, squad to work with.
The Broncos feature a diverse and balanced offense, led by junior quarterback D.J. Frampton, running back Jackson Schultz and receivers Trenton Holloway and Trey Patton. Through four games, the left-hand throwing Frampton has passed for 747 yards and six touchdowns against four interceptions. Schultz had his best game of the year against Sunnyside with 98 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Defensively, they are led by linebacker Towasin Akindele, a powerful tackler with good lateral speed, and Nathan Arnold. Holloway is also their top defensive back.
Bottom line: The football vibe at Clovis North is upbeat and the team chemistry strong despite only one win to show for it. The defense is solid and will be able to keep the score close, and when their passing game is clicking they are formidable. The Broncos are certainly no push-over this year, but will need to play an excellent game to beat the upper escalon teams in league.
Clovis West (0-5)
Head coach: George Petrissans (5th year)
Losses: Central Catholic 21-0, Edison 41-35, Liberty 47-14, Valley Christian 42-20, Bullard 37-35
The Lowdown: Growing pains were expected this season with a majority of its roster with little to no varsity experience after graduating over 30 seniors last year. Entering league winless is certainly not easy to swallow but the non-league schedule, outside of Buchanan’s, was the toughest of anyone in the TRAC. It took a last second field goal by Bullard to deny the Golden Eagles a win in Week 5 and they lost a shootout to Edison by a touchdown.
Clovis West’s offense revolves around senior Dante Chachere, the strong-armed, accurate and fast quarterback who filled in exceptionally well last year for injured star Adrian Martinez, the first true freshman starting quarterback in Nebraska history. Chachere has accounted for 80 percent of Clovis West’s touchdowns this season – nine passing and three rushing, throwing for 900 yards and rushing for 334 more. Cam Hicks is the leading receiver with 256 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense they are led by a trio of good linebackers with senior Thomas Curran, one of the best linebackers in the TRAC, junior Mateo Morales and sophomore Nick Regalado. Lineman Mason Campbell leads the team in sacks.
Bottom line: The 2018 Clovis West Golden Eagles are certainly young and inexperienced and it has shown. However, all hope is not lost in a season that could have yielded two wins if not for untimely penalties and a lucky bounce here and there. The team plays hard, which the coaching staff loves. The passing attack is a team strength, which they rely on heavily, but the defense needs to show signs of improvement to compete in games during league.
Clovis East 3-2
Clovis North 1-3
Clovis West 0-5
Buchanan at Central 7 p.m.
Clovis North at Clovis West 7 p.m.
Clovis East at Clovis 7 p.m.
Clovis West at Buchanan 7 p.m.
Clovis North at Clovis East 7 p.m.
Clovis at Central 7 p.m.
Clovis at Buchanan 7 p.m.
Clovis West at Clovis East 7 p.m.
Central at Clovis North 7 p.m.
Clovis West at Central 7 p.m.
Clovis East at Buchanan 7 p.m.
Clovis North at Clovis 7 p.m.
Clovis West at Clovis 7 p.m.
Clovis North at Buchanan 7 p.m.
Central at Clovis East 7 p.m.