It's been a remarkable evolution in a short time for showcase football in the Sacramento area.
In 2009, Del Oro, Granite Bay and Franklin played Bay Area teams in the inaugural four-game, one-day Battle at the Capital at Folsom High School.
Attendance was sparse, the weather uncommonly blustery and the stakes low. The games would have no impact on playoff hopes or that season's CIF State Bowl games for area teams.
Now in its the fourth year, the event has morphed into something more grandiose and unprecedented. There are now huge crowds, bowl dreams on the line and the growing reputation of area football.
The renamed Battle for Veterans it's a fundraiser for wounded veterans will be held over two weekends. It will be played tonight and Saturday at Del Oro High School in Loomis and continue next weekend at Westlake High School in Westlake Village.
It will feature six of Cal-Hi Sports' preseason Top 50 teams, including No. 4 Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, No. 9 Del Oro, No. 11 Oceanside, No. 23 Granite Bay, No. 24 Westlake and No. 25 Upland. Several other teams will compete including Franklin, with possibly its best team ever hoping to be in the mix for the first CIF Northern California and Southern California regional playoffs.
Peripheral entertainment includes youth, junior varsity and freshman games; a Battle of the Badges matchup between the Nevada County Sheriffs and the Placer County Sheriffs; and parachute jumps, flyovers and military honors.
"I never realized how big this would get MaxPreps calls it one of the top 11 high school football events nationally," said Del Oro coach Casey Taylor. "But it's never been about making money, and it's more than about great football. It's about the cause honoring our veterans."
Taylor, whose grandfather and father served in the military, says some 20 former Del Oro players are in the armed forces, including several in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper thinks it's an excellent cause, it's the intriguing competition that made him commit after bypassing the past two showcases at Del Oro.
"Casey Taylor and (event organizer) Mark Soto are great guys to work with, and we're not just playing two good teams, we're playing two of the best in California," Cooper said.
Longtime Sierra Foothill League rivals Granite Bay and Del Oro are coming off Sac-Joaquin Section championship seasons.
Granite Bay (12-2) beat Pleasant Grove for the D-I title, and Del Oro (13-2) topped Oakdale for the D-III title before falling to Helix of La Mesa in the D-II State Bowl game.
Del Oro plays tonight against Oaks Christian (11-3), which lost 49-42 to Westlake (14-1) in the Southern Section Northern Division championship last season.
Granite Bay plays Saturday against Westlake, which beat Del Oro in an overtime thriller in last year's Battle at the Capital. Westlake's only loss last season came to De La Salle in the State Bowl Open Division game.
Next weekend in Southern California, Del Oro and Granite Bay will flip-flop their Westlake Village opponents.
Cooper and Taylor agree that their teams will face faster, more athletic squads.
Oaks Christian quarterback Brandon Dawkins, Cal-Hi Sports' Sophomore Player of the Year last season, is following in the footsteps of Jimmy Clausen, who went on to play at Notre Dame and is now a Carolina Panthers reserve.
"He's Cam Newton," Taylor said, describing Dawkins' style of play to that of the Panthers' starter. "He's got a great arm and great feet, so you don't want him to scramble and run."
Several other Oaks Christian players have scholarship offers or have made verbal commitments, including wide receiver Frank Owusu and outside linebacker Cameron Judge, who have committed to Stanford and UCLA, respectively.
Westlake running back-defensive back DaShon Hunt has more than a dozen scholarship offers, including nine from Pacific-12 Conference schools.
In contrast, Del Oro's top recruit, senior running back Brandon Monroe, has verbally committed to San Jose State, while Granite Bay's leading prospect, senior outside linebacker Beau Hershberger, has offers from Northern Colorado, Sacramento State and Yale.
"We don't have anyone like a DaShon Hunt, and the same thing goes for Oaks Christian and a few of their guys," Cooper said. "But if we can play good team football, good team defense, we've got a shot."
Adds Taylor: "The key for both of us will be to get after them physically and play ball control on offense. If it becomes a track meet, we're going to lose."
CHANGING OF THE BOSSES
Many new faces are coaching high school football this season:
|School||Old coach||New coach||Comment|
|Bella Vista||Matt Polston||Tom Ingles||Ingles won 248 games and three state championships in Washington.|
|Cordova||Perry Mansch||Vance Mueller||Mueller, a former NFL running back, had lower-level success at Oak Ridge.|
|Delta||Bob Lee||Mick Pettengill||Former Las Plumas coach takes over for the Saints' successful longtime coach.|
|El Dorado||Dale Kasnic||Joe Volek||Volek has a rich coaching heritage, including father John (ex-Sac State head coach).|
|Encina||Dave Johnson Jr.||Dwayne Norris||Interim hire Norris is third coach in three years for numbers-challenged program.|
|Florin||George Smith||Mike Rosales||It's Rosales' first head-coaching assignment, but he has experience in the district.|
|Foothill||Allen Berg||Scott Swartz||Swartz expects to escape the long shadow of Frank Negri.|
|Galt||Rich Marbeto||J.J. Woodward||Woodward has coaching experience outside the region.|
|Jesuit||Dan Carmazzi||Marlon Blanton||Blanton brings fabled De La Salle (Concord) veer to a program embracing change.|
|Kennedy||Henry Lusk||Matt Costa||Costa, a former Mira Loma coach, says the Cougars are "a hidden giant."|
|Laguna Creek||Mark Nill||Dave Morton||Morton, school's first coach in the mid-1990s, is back after 17 years.|
|Liberty Ranch||Anthony Linebaugh||Bryan Golder||Former offensive coordinator hopes to keep Hawks flying high after nine-win season.|
|Lindhurst||Mike Mason||Jason Neiber||Longtime assistant takes over a program that has a championship background.|
|Mira Loma||Matt Costa||Kirk Anderson||A former Napa quarterback, Anderson understands a culture of success.|
|Natomas||Frank Negri||Jeff Remington||Remington, a former Sac State assistant, must drum up more interest.|
|River City||Art Bustamante||Steve DaPrato||DaPrato returns to high school coaching after long community college stint.|
|Sheldon||Josh Crabtree||Herbie Berry||Berry, a longtime Huskies assistant, takes over on interim basis.|
|West Campus||Marlon Thomas||Nate Harris||Harris won titles at Highlands, helped turn around Sacramento and Kennedy.|