Friday marked the midway point of the high school football regular season, just as the weather shifted from steamy to seasonal.
As the league races start to heat up, here’s a sample of early contenders for Sacramento Bee regional accolades, subject to change after the playoffs – the real season, of course.
Offensive Player of the Year – Jake Browning, Folsom – No debate here as the quarterback has thrown for 32 touchdowns in a sizzling 5-0 start. The senior also leads with class and humility, quick to credit teammates and coaches, who all point back to him.
Player of the Year (in any other year) – Beau Bisharat, Jesuit – The region’s top running back sets a physical and fast tone for the Marauders. Also in the running: Oak Ridge’s Ian Book, who’s composed and fiery at quarterback, and Woodcreek’s Malcolm Thomas, who has boosted the Timberwolves with receptions, defensive touchdowns and special-teams plays.
Defensive Player of the Year – Lonny Powell, Sacramento – He’s had two games with three or more sacks, altering games at defensive end or linebacker. Also in the running: Grant linebackers Chris Atteberry and Carl Granderson, Granite Bay linebacker Cameron Smith and Elk Grove defensive tackle Sai Ta’amu.
Coach of the Year – Folsom was expected to roar this fall under co-coaches Kris Richardson and Troy Taylor, but they certainly warrant consideration for execution, class and sportsmanship in regularly pulling the dogs, or the Bulldogs, in five successive routs. What might cement this honor is a 16-0 season, increasingly realistic now that Folsom won’t meet playoff nemesis De La Salle after the CIF declared the top team in the North and the South will earn regional byes.
Also in the Coach of the Year running – Mike Alberghini has Grant snarling and prolific again at 4-0, the program’s best start since 2010, despite a rash of injuries to star players. Greg Benzel has Rocklin rolling at 4-0 and looking dangerous in a Sierra Foothill League race that includes Folsom, Oak Ridge, Del Oro, Granite Bay and Woodcreek.
Upstart Coach of the Year candidates – Joe Volek has El Dorado off to its first 4-0 start since 1987; Terry Logue and Scott Savoie continue to produce winners at Bear River despite dropping enrollment; and Jason Stowers vowed to change the culture at Woodcreek and has.
Welcome Back to Relevance Award – Dennis Houlihan had re-energized storied Nevada Union with a 3-2 start after his alma mater limped in at 0-10 in his rookie season in 2013. Ryan Battle has Natomas at 3-1 after the Nighthawks entered the season with a 32-game losing streak. Vance Mueller has Cordova, a program steeped in tradition unlike any other in the region, off to a 5-0 start after some lean seasons.
Long live the little guy – Football is forever a big man’s sport, but there’s always room for achievers of any size. Take Grant receiver Ariyon Huff, 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds but quick enough to beat the coverage. He caught three touchdown passes from Donovan Brown on Friday in the Pacers’ 43-14 win over Franklin.
Recovery of the Year – Brandon Johnson, Franklin. The wide receiver had his junior season come to a crashing halt, literally, in the 2013 season opener. He had his leg shattered on a blocking play and was lost for the season. He promised his father and coach, Mike Johnson, he’d return better than ever and has, leading the Wildcats in receptions.
Small in enrollment only – Some of the best football can be found in the Northern Section or outposts such as Garden Valley, where Golden Sierra is 4-1, losing only to longtime power and 3-1 Colfax, which lost only to 3-1 Winters, the defending Northern Section champion seeking more. Also include Sutter, a longtime powerhouse in that section, off to a 5-0 start.
Locally, Capital Christian is thinking CIF State Bowl behind coach Phil Grams and playmaking senior Justice Shelton-Mosley.
Saluting the students – More than ever, high school rooting sections are packing stands to be seen and heard. The top rooting sections include, in no particular order, the Woodcreek Black Mob, Folsom Dog Pack, Cosumnes Oaks Crazies, Del Oro Black Hole, Rio Americano Rowdy Raiders, Jesuit Galley Crew, Granite Bay Tribe, Placer Gold Mine, Antelope Red Zone, Oak Ridge Blue Crew and those from Christian Brothers, Del Campo, El Camino, Pleasant Grove, Rocklin and Whitney.