Joe Davidson

Can Sacramento-area prep football top a record 2018 season? Folsom, Rio Linda aim to try

What does the Sacramento region do for a football encore?

More success should do it.

Sustained momentum in the form of more all-out record assaults on the end zone and more trips to the CIF State championships to cap the high school campaign will keep the area in the spotlight.

Last fall was the Sacramento region’s finest, punctuated by the amount of teams – four – that were left standing. Those schools – Folsom, Del Oro, Rio Linda and Colfax – are large, medium and small in enrollment and each a focal point of pride on campus and in their football-frenzied communities.

Practice officially started Monday, each dripping of sweat and the promise and expectations of a new season.

Folsom repeated as CIF State Division 1-AA champions in 2018, delivering a dramatic 21-14 overtime victory over Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. That effort came after dropping 84 points on an unbeaten Central of Fresno team in the NorCal finals.

The Bulldogs return a wealth of talent and a new coach for another go.

Rio Linda and dynamic running back Cameron Skattebo prevailed 38-35 in the smaller Division 5-AA title game over San Gorgonio of San Bernardino.

Skattebo, he of the record-setting 3,550 yards rushing and 42 scores in 2018, is back for more. He is a 5-foot-11, 190-pound package of proof that off-tackle plays still resonates in this pass-happy era.

Del Oro lost 21-14 in the Division 2-AA finals, the program’s fifth CIF finals showing. Colfax fell 21-10 in the Division 5-A contest in front of an overflow home crowd, some of whom have celebrated football in this cozy Placer County town since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.

How big of a deal was 2018 for a Colfax campus that continues to excel despite declining enrollment, in a town that still doesn’t have a traffic signal?

Decades-long Colfax Record sports editor Mike Ray summed it up perfectly in December, posing this question on the biggest things to “ever happen in Colfax.” His list included, in his words, “President Herbert Hoover’s visit in 1932, the opening of Colfax High in 1959, the Olympic torch passing through town on the way to the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley and Ronald McDonald visiting town to open a McDonald’s in 2002.”

All told, the Sac-Joaquin Section produced four state winners with small-school heavies Hilmar and Denair winning in the 209 area code. That was a record haul for the second largest of the 10 in the state, reflective of the depth.

Each of the section’s six CIF state finalists are public schools, another boom milestone in a state often dominated by private-school powers, leading Rio Linda athletic director Mike Morris to say, “We’re the last section as a public-school holdout.”

Last fall also saw an inordinate and troubling amount of on-field brawling, and ineligible players in the postseason – guys who barely played a down – sullied the seasons for Jesuit and Del Oro.

The Camp Fire smoke that devastated Butte County clogged the Northern California air, prompting canceled practices and game postponments, though no one complained. No one in the Sacramento area lost their house, their school and their very existence to fire.

For all of Northern California, football was a release. Memories were made.

“Last fall was the stuff you dream about as a coach and player,” said Rio Linda coach Jack Garceau, as good of a big-picture thinker as he is a gridiron leader. “You quickly learn that good fortune and good health are as powerful as good talent and preparation.

“But is is now a memory and 2019 is a brand-new start. It’s going to be a great challenge, and we are excited for it. Nobody has higher expectations for us than we do.”

The same can be said up the Highway 50 corridor, which boasts of powers Capital Christian (defending section Division III champion), Oak Ridge (a force since the early 1980s) and Folsom, which has seized the decade to the tune of nine league championships, seven section crowns and four CIF state trophies.

The new Folsom boss is Paul Doherty, a familiar name in regional coaching who takes over for Kris Richardson, now Troy Taylor’s top assistant at Sacramento State. Those are two of his best friends.

Doherty won’t flinch. He embraces a ripe challenge. Doherty headed the program’s strength-and-conditioning program in recent seasons. He and co-coach Jordan Banning – a Folsom football player back in his day – don’t have to change the culture. They just need to keep it polished.

The glow of the Bulldogs program includes a 127-10 record this decade, with 72 varsity players showing up on time and eager this week, a remarkable number in a time when football participation numbers have declined due to lingering concussion fears.

Folsom opens the season Aug. 30 against Jesuit at Sacramento State. The Bulldogs on Sept. 13 host national super power De La Salle of Concord, which has not lost to a NorCal team since 1991.

“We’re not in anyone’s shadow,” Doherty said, adding that he still talks to Richardson and Taylor regularly. “What has made Folsom so good is the culture of work, the culture of humility and hunger. We still have a ton of good football players, a ton of good football coaches – and we’ll win a ton of games..”

Indeed, the Bulldogs still boast of the area’s top roster, one dotted with 11 players who have received full-ride scholarship offers.

It starts with the region’s No. 1 recruit in Daniyel Ngata, an all-purpose player who has the attention of every name college program in the land. He’s an instinctive runner, a terrific receiver and defender and a devastating blocker.

But who starts at quarterback for a program that has trotted out stars for 10 successive seasons: Cary Grossart, David Graves, Dano Graves, Jake Browning, Joe Curry or Kaiden Bennett?

Will it be last season’s reserve Jake Reithmeier, or Ari Patu, whose family moved from Washington?

The area does not have a lot of returning starting quarterbacks, including the other three CIF state finalists, which adds an element of curiosity this fall.

But the area does have returning linemen, including two field-tilting, shadow-casting earth movers at Grant in Omarr Norman-Lott and Isaiah Tupou, both in the 6-foot-4 and 305-plus range.

For each of Grant’s six section championship teams under famed coach Mike Alberghini since 1991, line play was paramount.

Folsom returns national recruit lineman DeShawn Lynch, who showed that it’s wonderful and wise to multisport when he earned Bee All-Metro honors as a center in basketball.

At Rocklin, first-year coach and longtime program defensive coordinator Jason Adams is ready to unleash more of Bobby Piland, he of the long shock of blond hair and relentless pursuit as a two-way lineman.

Last fall, Piland became the first to make The Bee’s All-Metro teams as a freshman, and those lists date back to the 1940s.

Football was about blocking and tackling then. It still is in an era of wide-open offenses, technology and fan interest.

“It still comes down to fundamentals,” said Doherty of Folsom. “Keep it simple. No need to reinvent the wheel.”

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