High School Sports

Prep football mailbag: Does Folsom cheat? New coach at Jesuit? Is Rocklin for real?

You asked, we pondered, we answered.

Bee reporter Cameron Salerno and I took in a flood of questions via social media, text or email, and all topics were covered: Should coaches be canned? Are teams such as Folsom cheating and why don’t we report on it? What’s fair in the playoffs? How have teams bounced back so fast?

Answers from Joe Davidson

Is it time for a coaching change at Jesuit with the bad start?

In a word: No.

We have heard rumblings for four years now that Jesuit needs to get rid of Marlon Blanton, but that’s not the answer. He’s a good coach, a good man and players appreciate and respect him. Good health and good fortune are what Jesuit needs. The Marauders entered the season banged up, but with Daniel Susac in the lineup at quarterback, Jesuit is 3-1 under his leadership. And kudos to him for multi-sporting.

How come The Bee won’t report on Folsom cheating?

Evidence. Have any?

Send our way, or to principals, athletic directors or the state governing bodies withing the Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF. We hear speculation and rumor every year since I started this Bee gig in 1988, and 99.5 percent of the time there is no proof, just talk. Some insist they have proof of illegal activity and insist schools and section office folks ignore it. That simply cannot be true. We ask for you to forward it our way, yet we see zip.

We have heard that Folsom would send coaches to Reno to scout seventh-graders. Bogus. We’ve heard that Folsom in recent years housed an army of transfers in a house and paid for it. Bogus. We’ve heard that the section and CIF allows and encourages transfers to attend Folsom and they will be cleared immediately because Folsom generates money and interest. Bogus.

If ANY team was caught cheating like this, the CIF and section would drop the hammer hard and we’d be all over it coverage wise, just like when Franklin of Stockton pipelined players in from out of state or out of country to play in the 2000s.

We heard the same noise of cheating and blatant rules violations over the years for Del Oro football, Elk Grove baseball, McClatchy girls basketball, Sacramento High girls basketball, Granite Bay in various sports, Jesuit in recruiting and others.

Is Folsom going to win state again with as many mistakes as they make?

Not likely.

Coaches Paul Doherty and Jordan Banning stress to the players that the Bulldogs MUST get better, and they either will or they won’t. If the latter, the season will not end kindly. Folsom had six turnovers against Rocklin and won, but that won’t work in the playoffs, especially in the NorCal rounds against a state heavy such as Central of Fresno. If Folsom plays without so many miscues, then the Bulldogs can three-peat.

Is it fair that De La Salle always get the Open game at State?


Until a NorCal team can beat De La Salle, the Spartans deserve the CIF State Open game, the elite contest. De La Salle has not lost to a NorCal team since 1991 and has been to 10 consecutive CIF State open finals. Folsom had a shot to be that NorCal Open entry the last two seasons but lost to DLS in season openers. But there’s also a gap between De La Salle and SoCal heavies like Mater Dei.

So, the CIF has it set up since 2013 that if DLS keeps winning the North Coast Section title, it will get a pass right to the Open game. It’s fair, and it’s right.

How far does Elk Grove go in the Division I playoffs?

Elk Grove has the talent to reach the section finals in either the Division I or Division II section playoffs and win it, but seedings and divisions won’t be sorted out until after the final regular-season game.

Elk Grove has a tremendous offensive line in the “Hammerheads” and quarterback in Carter Harris, but the loss to Jesuit will sting, as it should.

How might Folsom’s loss to De La Salle impact the section’s ability to get more teams into the state games? If Folsom isn’t in the Open Division, would that push a Rocklin-type team out?

In the old days, maybe so.

But in recent years, all section champions advance to a NorCal title game and will be pitted against opponents based on competitive equity. In earlier years, section commissioners voted on who advanced past the section finals and who stayed home, and that made little sense. So play it out on the field.

And this: Too many people insist the CIF and sections are lost here or only in it for a money grab, which is absurd. The truth is, the competitive-equity model works. If Folsom wins the D-I section again and Rocklin does so in D-II, both will advance to NorCal title games.

Virtually every California state university has shut down its football program. How does that affect choices kids have playing at next level?

It’s a big blow, to be sure, because it greatly limits the options of where one can go, particularly on full athletic scholarship. The California colleges offering full scholarships are down to Sac State, UC Davis, Fresno State, San Jose State, Cal, Stanford, San Diego State, Cal Poly, USC and UCLA.

Dropped four-year programs over the decades include: Pacific, Santa Clara, San Francisco State, Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), Sonoma State, Chico State, Saint Mary’s, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton and others.

Why don’t Sac State and UC Davis recruit Sacramento better? Those teams would be great if they had Sac kids.

Both do recruit the area, have for decades and will continue to do so. But in college sports, there’s no such thing as a hometown discount. If Sac State and UCD have 18-25 scholarships a year to hand out, there’s no rule mandating all scholarships go to local players, and this: local kids often like to leave the comforts of home when heading to college.

With the CIF dropping MaxPreps and the introduction of a new system, this new system has no checks and balances so a person could enter the wrong info and no one can correct it. This could have standings implications. Any thought on how they are going to solve it?

Let’s hope common sense and decency takes over. MaxPreps is still the best source for inputting statistics, schedules and results. Coaches believe in MaxPreps, as do consumers and statewide media. Stick with what works!

Hey fellas, what is your pregame meal every Friday and what time do you finish work on an average Friday?

We eat what we can and when we can, and sometimes that’s good grub on a school site with end zone tailgating such as Del Oro. We try to file stories on location or from a nearby spot that has electricity and WiFi as we try to cover four to six games a week and track down 20-30 others.

Will The Bee ever name a defensive lineman as Player of the Year?

The Bee has had a Defensive Player of the Year since 1994, thanks to a crushing play between defensive brute Nigel Burton of Jesuit and a Grant player in a playoff game. I went back to The Bee offices and said, “From here on out, we have a Defensive Player of the Year!”

And some of those guys have been defensive linemen, including Bill Sherman in the mid 2000s at Del Oro and Tyler Hardeman of Folsom last season.

How is it OK or legal for some teams to have a video monitor on the sideline and be able to watch the plays when the other team does not have that a advantage because of finances? It definitely gives the RICHER team an UNFAIR advantage.

There doesn’t appear to be any rules in place that prevents this, and you’re right. It is odd to see some teams with all of this video screen access to break down recent plays while the other team is scrambling just to figure out what’s going on.

Will Bella Vista keep going through new coaches?

No, the sense is that Justin Reber will be there a long time and we hope so. I’ve known Reber for years. He’s a terrific coach. Bella Vista is riding a 42-game losing streak, but these are not losers. A lot of great students and good kids trying to find their football footing.

Just wondering why you don’t cover Sutter? You cover East Nicolaus, which is in the Northern Section. Sutter is right down the road from River Valley and Yuba City.

True, we have done stories on East Nicolaus, notably when it went to and won a CIF State title game.

We’ve had news and notes on Sutter for years as that program is within our coverage area, and Sutter is listed in our weekly Bee rankings as a team on the bubble.

It also goes both ways. East Nicolaus coaches reach out and offer items of interest, record breakers and such.

Answers from Cameron Salerno

How come Rio Linda isn’t beating teams like Center or Placer?

Rio Linda coming into this season lost a lot of key players from its state championship team, including four starters on the offensive line. Cameron Skattebo and Abraham Banks might be one of the best 1-2 running back punches in the section, but teams like Center and Placer are loading the box and forcing them to run it outside. But to answer your question, I think Center might be the best small school team in the section and Placer is looking like a true contender in the D-III field. Both of those teams have the depth to win a championship. Last season, Rio Linda lost to Placer and Center, but never lost after that. It’s possible they get pushed into D-lV and make a run like last year.

Is Rocklin legit? How do they go from 2-8 to this?

Rocklin is indeed legit. In my opinion, the Thunder are clearly the second-best team in Sacramento. They have a tenacious defense that stops the run and their secondary can hold teams in check. The collective effort they showed to beat Oak Ridge was the best I’ve seen this year.

Rocklin quarterback Richie Watts is really developing well. They are spreading the field and running a lot of run-pass option. Receivers Mason Becker, Toran O’Harran, Nathan Kent and Jaylen Pickens were his go-to targets last week versus Grant. I think this team can win a Sac-Joaquin Section championship. First-year head coach and defensive guru Jason Adams has done wonders on and off the field with this team.

Who are the five best players you’ve seen (this year)?

I’ve covered a lot of different teams this year by going to games, camps, and scrimmages. The top players I’ve seen are Folsom’s Elijhah Badger, Elk Grove’s Carter Harris, Oak Ridge’s Justin Lamson, Rio Linda’s Cameron Skattebo and Center’s Michael Wortham. Folsom running back Daniyel Ngata is the top prospect in the section, but has been dealing with an injury this year.

How come teams like Woodcreek never get better?

Woodcreek opened in 1994 and went to the Sierra Foothill League in the early 2000s, which arguably is the best conference in Northern California. I think the school just doesn’t get the athletes that others do. The Woodcreek Junior Timberwolves is a really great program, but over the years some of the top players elect to enroll at other schools. Woodcreek has its guy now in Brad Hunkins, who was a co-head coach with Kyle Stowers for four years and now is fully responsible for the program. Last year, Woodcreek made the playoffs for the second time in school history because of how strong its 2019 class was. I see Woodcreek making the playoffs again in the near future, as its 2022 class is very strong.

How did Whitney get good again? A lot of new players?

Whitney got some key players from its junior varsity team, but coach Zach McNally is a major reason for the turnaround. He was hired in June 2018, only a few months before the season started. Because of that, he wasn’t able to prepare in the offseason as other coaches did.

Whitney was entering its first season in the SFL. McNally played at De La Salle in the early 2000s under legendary coach Bob Ladouceur and credits a lot of his coaching philosophy to what he learned at the school. Eli Brickhandler is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the section. Pair him with standout wide receivers Nick Tawney, Dom Spence and Ian Simpson and you have a team that can compete.

Could Center win state like Rio Linda did last year?

One of the most complete teams I’ve seen this year regardless of school size is Center. Quarterback whisper and alum coach Digol JBeily has done a great job with the program over the last few seasons, but this might be his best team yet. The Cougars at 7-0 are off to their best start in school history and will be the favorites in Division V.

Michael Wortham can do it all. Run, throw and he even plays defense when they need him to. Colfax last season won the Division V section title and got a bye in the NorCal round, leading to an automatic state championship berth. I think if Center can win the section, it will have a great chance to do what Rio Linda did last year.

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.
Cameron Salerno is a prep sports reporter for The Sacramento Bee. He is a lifelong Northern California resident and has written freelance stories across the north state. He attends Sierra College and is studying journalism.