Tradition, results and desire capture the mood of these five regional high school football programs as The Bee unveils the next installment of the preseason Top 20 rankings.
Elk Grove and Grant have combined to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs 67 times, winning 11 section championships since 1991, sometimes going through each other with intensely physical contests to win a league or section title.
Grant has been steady with coach Mike Alberghini, seeking his 27th consecutive playoff berth. His current streak is already a section record.
Elk Grove has sustained power since the 1980s despite the opening of so many surrounding schools in the last 20 years, and with a changeover of coaches. Now it’s the dawn of the John Heffernan era as he takes over for Chris Nixon, a tremendous coach who kept the machine rolling in recent years.
Inderkum, which opened in 2004, has 11 consecutive double-digit winning seasons under coach Terry Stark. Rocklin, opened in 1993, went 14-1 in 2009 with a CIF State Bowl team and remains formidable under coaches Greg Benzel and Jason Adams.
And there’s Capital Christian, which is fast shedding the small-school label with the addition of big-time coach Casey Taylor. He won six section championships, two Northern California banners and a CIF State crown at Del Oro, but he yearned for new challenges. He’ll get that chance at a school with 429 students, but enormous otherwise in potential.
And to test his young team, Taylor invited Grant for a visit on Sept. 8. That’s the ultimate program-defining contest for the Cougars, who could score perhaps the region’s greatest regular-season upset here.
See how we rank teams here with each playing one closely ranked in an opener or early in the season:
The Bee’s Top 20 countdown (Nos. 6-10)
6. Elk Grove (11-2 in 2016)
Coach: John Heffernan
School opened: 1893
Opener: Inderkum, Aug. 25
Pedigree: Thirty-one playoff teams since 1984 and five section titles in nine title-game appearances.
The skinny: Heffernan arrives after elevating Burbank into a playoff regular over 15 seasons, replacing the hugely successful Chris Nixon, who won 12 or more games four times in six seasons. Quarterback Jake Jordan and running backs Jaden Burns and Zion Thomas will run the triple-option, and tackle/linebacker George Spithorst is one of the most dominant players in the section.
7. Inderkum (11-3 in 2016)
Coach: Terry Stark
School opened: 2004
Opener: Elk Grove, Aug. 25
Pedigree: Eleven consecutive double-digit winning seasons, nine league championships and three section-title game appearances.
The skinny: Stark has built a powerhouse on the foundation of speed, effort and quite a few college recruits, though a section title has eluded the Tigers. Division I recruits include receiver Isaah Crocker, running back Hamilton Grigsby and linebacker Leevi Lafaele.
8. Grant (8-4 in 2016)
Coach: Mike Alberghini
School opened: 1932
Opener: Rocklin, Aug. 25
Pedigree: A Sac-Joaquin Section record 26 consecutive playoff appearances, seven section and 16 league titles since 1991 under Alberghini.
The skinny: The Pacers are forever big, fast and skilled. The lines are strong with 6-foot-2, 300-plus pounders Niti Liu (committed to UCLA), Oscar Umana and Daryell Abraham. Nate Thomas takes over at quarterback.
9. Rocklin (4-6 in 2016)
Coach: Greg Benzel
League: Sierra Foothill
School opened: 1993
Opener: Grant. Aug. 25
Pedigree: Seven playoff teams since 2009, including a 14-1 CIF State Bowl team in 2009.
The skinny: The Thunder return 11 starters to a team that suffered a lot of close losses, with scoring often an issue. Cade Wyant returns after passing for 1,081 yards in seven games, as does leading tackler linebacker Blayden Brown (126 stops) and two-way linemen Tyler Geide and Preston Manley.
10. Capital Christian (11-3 in 2016)
Coach: Casey Taylor
League: Golden Empire
School opened: 1977
Opener: Service-Alaska, Aug. 25
Pedigree: Eight playoff berths since 2007 with five league and three section championships under coaches Karl Zierhut, Ron Gerringer and Phil Grams.
The skinny: The hiring of coach Taylor from Del Oro, where he won six section championships and had four CIF State bowl teams, is proof that the Cougars want to rise from small-school power to any-sized-school power. A Sept. 8 game against Grant will be telling as Capital Christian will be realigned into a Division III league next season. D’Marcus Ross and Christian Simmons are being recruited to play running back or linebackers. Defensive back Maurice Gaines and lineman Evan Bennett, one-time Folsom starters, are also big recruits.