Joe Davidson

Why upstart high school football teams in the region have intrigue and interest

The sun sets as Folsom hosts Oak Ridge on Friday night. These Sierra Foothill League teams aren’t the only programs providing interest around the Sacramento region. Two upstart teams in the area are Foothill and Rio Linda, who meet this week.
The sun sets as Folsom hosts Oak Ridge on Friday night. These Sierra Foothill League teams aren’t the only programs providing interest around the Sacramento region. Two upstart teams in the area are Foothill and Rio Linda, who meet this week.

The intrigue of the regional high school scene isn’t specific to the achievers, The Bee-ranked programs that roll on week after week and season after season.

The upstarts take notice, too, and two of them face off Friday in a nonleague game.

Rio Linda (3-1) hosts Foothill (4-0) as both seek to extend promising starts.

Rio Linda has enjoyed big seasons before under coach Mike Morris, who is now the school’s athletic director. The Knights won a Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 2004 under Morris and a string of league titles, the last in 2013. Now Jack Garceau, in his second season as coach, is aiming for his second playoff berth.

Foothill already has its highest single-season win total since 2010. The Mustangs have been determined this season to recover from back-to-back 1-9 seasons. The program last made the playoffs in 2009, under coach Allen Berg. That is also the last time the Mustangs produced a winning record. Second-year coach Anthony Eustace has the Mustangs believing.

The common connector in all of this is Frank Negri. The ageless guru coach was a 200-game winner at Foothill, ending that tenure in 2006. After a stint as an assistant to Larry Cunha at Roseville, Negri is now at Rio Linda as an assistant, coming full circle. Negri got his regional coaching start at Rio Linda in 1962.

“Jack Garceau asked me to come over and help him up in the box with offensive play calls,” Negri said. “Plus he upped my free beer count after games as my stipend.”

Negri is so beloved by the Knights that they urged him to do a post-game dance after beating Roseville 64-25. Negri has no rhythm, all elbows and awkward feet, but the Knights have found their groove.

An opening 40-26 loss at Center, now ranked 18th, served as a wake-up call for Rio Linda.

“It started with us with having a major shot to our ego against Center,” Garceau said. “Our kids stepped off the bus thinking the game was over just because we showed up. They didn’t take into account the last game that Center team had played in was a section championship game to Placer, which was a 10-point game.

“Since then, it has been tough and physical practices, testing heart, desire and motivation and a lot of coaching. We are starting to have leaders emerge and guys settle into the roles and buy into what we are doing. We have a long, long road ahead. It’s going to be a grind.”

Tyson Ybarra is a key returning starter at quarterback for Rio Linda, as is rumbling back Cameron Skattebo, who has 744 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Knights average 378 yards rushing per game.

Foothill averages nearly 300 yards rushing a game with leading rushers William Goebell and Dae’vonnie Williams.

Injury update — The Folsom-Oak Ridge game was marred by a grisly injury.

Oak Ridge 6-foot-5 junior lineman Ben Dillon suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage late in Friday’s Sierra Foothill League opener. He will have surgery this week.

Dillon was placed onto a stretcher and wheeled to an ambulance, but not before he was mobbed by a flood of teammates who let him know they were thinking of him.

“I hurt for him because it’s traumatic,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “He’ll get through this. He’ll be back. He’ll want to attend practice. He’s that sort of kid. We have a lot of kids like that.”

Get Full access to local sports

The Sacramento Bee's Sports Pass is the ticket to local sports coverage. Support what we do as we bring you prep football's Friday night highlights.

Subscribe to our new digital package and get full sports access — for just $30 per year. 

Thunder noise — After opening with losses to No. 5 Inderkum and Bay Area power Serra of San Mateo, No. 14 Elk Grove has won back-to-back games, downing Northern Section power Shasta 46-7 and opening Delta League play with a 21-14 victory over upstart Davis.

Triple-option quarterback Carter Harris had a 92-yard touchdown run and Tre’Von Frazier rushed for a score and had 100 yards on 11 carries for the Thundering Herd. The defense held the Blue Devils to 63 yards rushing.

Elk Grove visits No. 8 Sheldon on Friday in a Delta contest of run-heavy teams.

Grant’s SFL debut — Grant has lived it up large in various leagues over the decades, winning championships in the Capital Athletic League in the 1980s and ’90s, and the Metro and Delta leagues over the past 10 seasons.

Now the storied Pacers will try their hand in the SFL after being moved into Northern California’s best league for football only through realignment. The SFL is loaded with Bee-ranked teams: No. 1 Folsom, No. 2 Del Oro, No. 6 Oak Ridge, No. 9 Granite Bay and No. 17 Rocklin.

Grant visits Granite Bay on Friday in the first meeting between the programs since 2008. That’s when the Pacers prevailed 22-19 in a section Division I playoff thriller en route to the state’s first CIF Open Division championship to cap a 14-0 season for coach Mike Alberghini, the school’s head coach since 1991 who’s been with the district for 50 years.

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson:, @SacBee_JoeD,

The Bee’s Top 20

Last week’s rankings in parentheses.

1. Folsom (1) 4-1

2. Del Oro (3) 5-0

3. Monterey Trail (6) 4-0

4. Placer (4) 5-0

5. Inderkum (5) 4-0

6. Oak Ridge (2) 3-1

7. Capital Christian (7) 5-0

8. Sheldon (10) 4-1

9. Granite Bay (8) 2-3

10. Jesuit (9) 2-2

11. River Valley (11) 3-1

12. Bear River (12) 5-0

13. Grant (13) 2-2

14. Elk Grove (14) 2-2

15. Ponderosa (16) 5-0

16. Antelope (17) 2-3

17. Rocklin (18) 2-3

18. Center (20) 5-0

19. Casa Roble (19) 4-1

20. Lincoln (15) 2-2

Dropped out — None

Bubble teams (in alphabetical order) — Bradshaw Christian (2-2), Burbank (2-3), Colfax (4-0), Cosumnes Oaks (2-2), Davis (3-2), East Nicolaus (4-0) Foothill (4-0), Franklin (2-3), Nevada Union (2-2), Oakmont (2-2), Rio Linda (3-1), Winters (4-0), Woodcreek (5-0), Yuba City (2-2).

This week’s schedule

All games kickoff between 7-7:30 p.m. Friday, unless noted.

Top 20

Whitney at No. 2 Del Oro

Paraclete at No. 3 Monterey Trail

No. 5 Inderkum at Lincoln-Stockton

No. 17 Rocklin at No. 6 Oak Ridge

El Camino at No. 7 Capital Christian

No. 14 Elk Grove at No. 8 Sheldon

No. 13 Grant at No. 9 Granite Bay

Franklin at No. 10 Jesuit, 4:30 p.m.

Yuba City at No. 11 River Valley

Roseville at No. 16 Antelope

No. 20 Lincoln at Eureka

Byes — No. 1 Folsom, No. 4 Placer, No. 12 Bear River, No. 15 Ponderosa, No. 18 Center, No. 19 Casa Roble

Other games

Rio Americano vs. Christian Brothers at Del Campo

Bradshaw Christian at Woodland Christian

Dixon at Argonaut

Florin at Kennedy

Foothill at Rio Linda

Galt at Franklin-Stockton

Highlands at Pioneer

Colfax at Wheatland

Del Campo at Vista del Lago

Pleasant Grove at Cosumnes Oaks

Woodcreek at Bella Vista

Johnson vs. Encina at Rosemont

Lindhurst at Natomas

Nevada Union at Fairfield

Oakmont at Cordova

Valley vs. McClatchy at Hughes Stadium

Mira Loma at San Juan

Woodland at Wood

University Prep vs. Western Sierra at Mahaney Park

Gridley at Marysville

Golden Sierra at East Nicolaus

Winters at Esparto

Related stories from Sacramento Bee