Digol J’Beily gladly bows to the new leader of the argument.
Who’s the best athlete in the 30-year history of Center High School? On the short list is J’Beily, the eight-year Center football coach who quarterbacked his alma mater to its first playoff berth in 1987, scored on jumpers for the school’s one-loss basketball team and fired fastballs in the spring.
And now? Say hello to Tyrell Anderson, a Center senior whose ability to make plays on offense, defense and special teams has propelled the sixth-seeded Cougars (9-3) into tonight’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal at powerhouse No. 2 seed Hilmar (12-0).
How to deal with Anderson? Good luck. Rio Linda coach Mike Morris has called the 6-foot, 170-pound quarterback/cornerback/return specialist “an amazing athlete.”
Placer coach Joey Montoya said Anderson is “phenomenal. He’ll just beat you.”
And he just beat Placer in a quarterfinal last Friday, zipping through the defense on a touchdown run before bringing the Hillmen to their knees with a late 85-yard kickoff return for a 24-20 victory. Montoya didn’t want to kick to Anderson, having experienced his act too many times before. But the squib kick somehow reached Anderson, and off he went.
“On that kickoff, you don’t want to miss what Tyrell can do,” J’Beily said. “I had to move around the other coaches on the sideline to see what was happening. I’ve had Tyrell for three years, and every year he improves, and he’s just tremendous.”
How good is the speedster? He has 1,155 passing yards with nine touchdowns; 1,072 rushing yards and 10 scores; a state-leading 12 interceptions and leads Northern California with 910 total return yards.
“As long as I’ve played and coached, he’s the best athlete I’ve ever been around,” J’Beily said. “But what impresses me even more than what he does on the field is what he does off the field. He’s a terrific young man. He cares about his teammates. He cares about his classmates. He’s very humble. People may say he’s a one-person team, but he points to his teammates for the success.”
Anderson downplays his season, saying simply, “It’s not just me. It’s everyone doing their job.”
Still, if not for a heart-to-heart discussion among Center seniors and younger players at midseason, the Cougars might have flamed out. Center’s 3-0 start quickly dissolved into a 3-3 campaign.
“We had younger guys who were doubting what we were doing,” J’Beily said. “The senior leadership stepped up, and they said, ‘This is a long season. You’re either with us or off the team.’”
Everyone rallied. The six-game winning streak included a Pioneer Valley League co-championship with Placer and two playoff victories. Senior running back Joe Swen has rushed for 1,683 yards and 23 touchdowns. Fellow senior linemen Spencer Bracey and Jason Perry have been two-way standouts.
J’Beily became Center’s head football coach in 2004, mentored by since-retired athletic director in Bob Eason, his former football coach. But a trying year in 2005 nearly drove J’Beily out of the game. He was forced out of his coaching position through a controversial vote of two school board members who were vague in their reasoning, with one allegedly taking it personally that J’Beily did not start his son at quarterback three years earlier.
Teachers, students, parents and Antelope community members marched in front of the school in support of J’Beily. Teachers vowed to resign if the decision wasn’t reversed. J’Beily was soon reinstated, and the wave of community support included the recall of the two school board members who pushed for his removal.
Among the scores of family members who stood by J’Beily in the rally was his brother, Elias. Today, Elias’ son, also named Elias, is a Cougars receiver.
“It’s been a blast coaching my nephew,” J’Beily said.
J’Beily added, “Bob Eason had a lot of influence on me when I played here. He cared about his players, making sure kids did the right thing, making them good young men. I hope I’ve done some of that. Right now, we’re riding the wave, having fun.”
SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION SEMIFINALS
Games played at 7 p.m. today unless noted.
• No. 12 Jesuit
at No. 1 Folsom
• No. 7 Pleasant Grove
at No. 3 Oak Ridge
• No. 4 Yuba City
at No. 1 Del Oro
• No. 3 Elk Grove
at No. 2 Rio Linda
• No. 8 Christian Brothers at No. 5 Sacramento, Saturday at 1 p.m.
• No. 3 Inderkum
at No. 2 Manteca
• No. 4 Ripon
at No. 1 Central Catholic
• No. 6 Center
at No. 2 Hilmar
In Lodi at Grape Bowl,
No. 3 Golden Sierra, 6 p.m.
In Lodi at Grape Bowl,
• No. 1 Bradshaw Chr. vs. No. 3 Ripon Chr., 1 p.m.