Funny thing about football followers.
Their rooting interests are skewed by their own perceptions – especially if they got run under by the champions.
Each of Folsom’s three CIF State football crowns this decade was met with cries that the best players were not homegrown, a sliver of it true and most of it bogus. Folsom’s top players in 2010 and 2014 were indeed homegrown products who started playing football in the town’s youth feeder program.
This season’s 16-0 Folsom team that beat Helix of La Mesa 49-42 to win the Division I-AA championship on Friday was led by three Reno-raised stars who like to remind that they were “Folsom forged.” Brothers Daniyel and Joseph Ngata and Kaiden Bennett all attended Folsom High since the beginning of their freshman season. Nothing illegal or dirty there.
“When I hear that we cheat or are doing it wrong somehow, know what I tell people? Shut up!” said retired Folsom coach and athletic director Tom Doherty, a regular at Folsom events. Doherty hired Folsom coach Kris Richardson 13 years ago. “They don’t know what you’re talking about. Go to the Pop Warner youth practices and games, and that’s where it all starts.”
But sometimes, rarely, a team will be embraced by the region.
When Grant High School was playing nationally ranked No. 2 Long Beach Poly for the 2008 CIF State Open Division championship, it seemed that all of the Sacramento region was pulling for the Pacers. There was a build-up of support heading into that game in Carson.
Grant was suddenly Sacramento’s team, and people filled eateries and bars to watch on TV the Pacers stage a late rally to win, inspired by the gritty kids from Del Paso Heights and their fiery and fun coach Mike Alberghini.
All of the region’s state championship teams since then? The support came from within the immediate circle, and from outside came searing currents of disgust and discord. Rants of unfounded accusations circulated in anonymous correspondence to media and the Sac-Joaquin Section office and in social media posts from followers of rival programs.
This all comes across as bitter, and it insults the integrity of the schools, the coaches, the players and the CIF, the state’s governing body for prep sports.
The general theme seems to be that no one wins honorably any more, and it’s simply not true.
When the McClatchy girls basketball team won the CIF State Division I championship in 2015, rival programs insisted it was because of AAU talent on the roster, and they refused to acknowledge or congratulate the champions.
Del Oro reached four state football title games this decade, winning one, and the outside noise was the same: The Golden Eagles were a success only because scores of incoming freshmen from Roseville boosted the program, and the coaches sold their souls to recruit seventh graders. That was a desperate stretch.
When Granite Bay won the 2012 Division I football championship, the grumbling mantra was that the Grizzlies did it with transfers. Not true.
People have rooted against success for decades in this region. Doherty was on the coaching staff at Cordova in the 1970s when the Lancers stormed to championships and led the nation in victories for the decade.
The rub from outsiders was that Cordova achieved only because of the athletes from parents who worked at nearby Mather Air Force Base.
“Everyone hated us,” Doherty recalled. “We heard it all – ‘we recruit, we cheat.’ Give me a break. People want to see failure.”
Players take it personal when accused of bending rules.
“It’s sour grapes,” Folsom senior safety Tanner Ward said. “No one but us realizes how hard we work, how much we put into this. People just assume we don’t do it right. We do it right.”
Folsom-De La Salle? – Folsom had as many as 16 sophomores or juniors racing across the field this season, suggesting the Bulldogs are primed for a state championship repeat.
Coach Richardson and lead assistant Bobby Fresques are scrambling for nonleague games to challenge their club, but that’s often easier said than done as some teams may have a Week 1 and 3 opening while others have a Week 2 and 4 opening.
“I keep telling Kris, ‘We gotta find someone big on our schedule!’” Fresques said. “We tried to schedule De La Salle, but the openings don’t fit. It could take two or three years to get them in.”
The players will take on anyone – hello, Mater Dei, St. John Bosco, Chaminade, Mission Viejo?
“We just want to make sure we’re ready, and we’ll be ready,” said Bennett, the Bulldogs quarterback.
CIF venue switch – The CIF announced that the state bowls will be held at Cerritos College in Norwalk for the 2018 and ’19 seasons with an option for 2020, thus ending the three-year run at Sacramento State, which declined to put in a bid. The only Northern California venue to submit a bid was San Jose State.
Cerritos will be a good fit. Falcon Stadium has a new field turf and has drawn crowds of 12,000 for the Southern Section championships. Cerritos College also housed 18 state track and field finals, the last in 2008 (that event has been locked into Fresno, drawing sellout crowds).
With the upper-division state final games now going south, the Division III-A and smaller finals will be hosted by Northern California schools, which is fair and keeps things balanced.
Still, in this era of incessant complaining, fans and school personnel from some of this season’s NorCal champions groused about their opponent or location. This included some from Placer venting to the CIF office that it wasn’t fair to have to travel to Los Angeles to play the III-AA title game on Saturday night. There were concerns of travel time, finances, field conditions and fan safety.
Simple solution next time: Don’t go.