Del Oro High School's football success this fall begins with its offensive-line play: five friends who love to mix it up on the line of scrimmage.
They will have to be up for the task tonight against 13-0 Oakdale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game with a state bowl within reach.
Del Oro's linemen have paved the way for running backs Brandon Monroe (1,469 yards, 20 touchdowns) and Nick O'Sullivan (1,208, 22 TDs) and protected quarterback Bobby Heatherington, who has thrown for 2,083 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Zach Heath, the third Heath to play at Del Oro, is flanked by Logan Lamb, Kevin Love, Dalton Hudec and Ashwin Cardenas.
Love is the scholar with a 4.2 grade-point average, and Lamb is the jovial son of Mike Lamb, who played offensive line for USC in the early 1980s.
On Thursdays, Del Oro players have a team meal, listen to a motivational speaker, then line up for seconds and thirds in the food line.
"They're all smart they're grinders, physical, great technique, a huge part to our success," Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said of his linemen.
Del Oro Golden Eagles (12-1) vs. Oakdale Mustangs (13-0)
Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
It's simple for second-seeded Del Oro: Beat top-seeded Oakdale for the program's eighth section title since 1989 and expect an invitation to a bowl game. The Golden Eagles can run with power with Nick O'Sullivan (1,208 yards, 22 touchdowns), run with speed with Brandon Monroe (1,469, 20 TDs) and pass short or long with quarterback Bobby Heatherington (2,083 yards, 22 TDs) and receivers such as Russell Smith (594, eight TDs). In the playoffs, the defense has been led by linebackers Alex Bertrando and Tanner Huber. Oakdale hopes to avenge last year's 21-0 loss in the rain in the section title game. The Mustangs and coach Trent Merzon have targeted this game ever since. Casa Roble amassed 498 yards against Oakdale in a semifinal, and the Mustangs understand they cannot yield nearly that many against Del Oro.
Stoppers on D Folsom's Tanner Trosin deservedly has earned his share of headlines this season as the first quarterback in state history to approach 5,000 passing yards in a season.
But Folsom's defense has been paramount in the playoffs for the defending D-II section and state champions. And the defense must play another big role against surging Vacaville, coming off a 27-17 win over top-seeded Buhach Colony, on Saturday night.
Linebackers Alex Wood (127 tackles), Mark Meyer (6 1/2 sacks), Derek Stiles and Zach Van Meter and defensive lineman Quincy Capel have played well.
Defensive back contributors include Phillip Carter, Hunter Hast, Carson McMurtrey, J'Juan Muldrow and Trosin. They'll bunch the line of scrimmage against Vacaville's wing-T.
Admiring coach C Pleasant Grove clearly is talented, but players credit the Eagles' 25-2 record over the last two seasons to the program and coach Joe Cattolico.
"I think the main key is coach Catt and his football acumen," said D.J. Dunn, the Delta River League Defensive Player of the Year. "He knows what he's talking about, what he's doing, and gets us to buy into one universal plan."
Added quarterback Cody Demps: "It's definitely coach Catt. He's always one step ahead of the other team. It's just a matter of us buying into his philosophy of getting better each day in practice and being prepared. Games that are won on Friday are really played during the week in practice."
Rivals, then teammates? Granite Bay defensive end-tight end Spencer Briare has received strong recruiting interest from Nevada, which has offered Del Oro linebacker-tight end Alex Bertrando a scholarship. Could rivals become teammates?
"I think it'd be great," Bertrando said.
Nill bows out Mark Nill has announced his retirement as Laguna Creek's football coach, a run that included a D-I semifinal appearance in 2008 and the thrill of coaching his son Sean for three seasons. Nill said he will continue to teach English at Laguna Creek.
"It is time for me to spend more time and energy with my family," Nill said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correctly identify Dalton Hudec and Ashwin Cardenas.