Joe Davidson

Think Folsom football is widening the gap around Sacramento? Look at other state powers

Folsom’s Elijhah Badger, left, celebrates with Daniyel Ngata during a 2017 playoff game. They are both seniors and national recruits heading into this season.
Folsom’s Elijhah Badger, left, celebrates with Daniyel Ngata during a 2017 playoff game. They are both seniors and national recruits heading into this season. Special to The Bee

Football got off to a rousing start at Prairie City Stadium on Friday night.

An intrasquad scrimmage at Folsom High School played out in refreshingly mild temperatures. The action started with youth players matching power and speed, and hours later was punctuated by the varsity stars crashing into each other or simply breaking away.

Some of it hardly seemed fair when sizing up the season in general. The Bulldogs still tower over the regional field. This is a player’s game, and Folsom still has the top players in abundance.

There was national recruit Daniyel Ngata twisting and turning at tailback with some Barry Sanders to his quick burst, sprinting into the end zone from 30 yards out.

There was another blue chip recruit in Elijhah Badger pulling in a beauty of a touchdown bomb from Jake Reithmeier and racing 70 yards for a score.

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And then there was DeShawn Lynch, all 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds of determination, chugging downfield as a tight end. He’s a national recruit as a lineman, but get a load of his hands, wheels and hustle.

All three seniors lead the Bulldogs charge in effort, too, every day in practice. Recruiters love that. Opponents cringe.

“We’ve got some guys,” Folsom coach Paul Doherty said, beaming like a chef surrounded by fine eats to dig into.

Folsom has put its indelible blue stamp on this decade, going 126-10, the best nine-year stretch in Sac-Joaquin Section history. Amid the spoils: eight league, seven section and four CIF State crowns.

But has Folsom become too good for the region? Is there any suspense when it comes to the Bulldogs? Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere has said the gap has never been greater between Folsom and everyone else in regional history.

Some rival coaches within the Sierra Foothill League lamented last fall that the Bulldogs have won “unnaturally” and that maybe Folsom should be moved into another league, or go as an independent.

Shipping Folsom out is not the answer. The challenge is on the region to close the gap, much like it did collectively when Grant led the region in victories in the 1990s and 2000s.

Play them, equal them, conquer them. Or try.

Folsom is a public school doing what normally happens at private schools: dominate. And really, it’s a good thing that this region is not overwhelmingly dominated by private schools, unlike Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and the Bay Area. Where’s the joy in any of that?

Folsom does have unique advantages. The school is thriving across the board, academically and in all things extra curricular. It is an open-enrollment school, so families can come in (and some leave to take their student-athlete elsewhere) all rooted in competition, be it football or the arts.

The Bulldogs have 11 players on the current roster with scholarship offers in football. Some area teams don’t have 11 kids sign over a 30-year period.

Folsom has been top-ranked by The Bee every week except once since the start of the 2012 season. Only Cordova of the 1970s could relate to that sort of sustained success, when the Lancers led the nation in victories for that decade (102-6-1). As the season nears, we’re not sure what the area’s No. 2 preseason ranked team is.

More pressing, is Folsom an example of a Have towering over the Have Nots? Coaches wonder, and some seethe (mostly off the record). Some allege that Folsom has recruited players to its campus, but the governing bodies within the California Interscholastic Federation have never received concrete evidence of wrongdoing. If it did, rest assured it would drop the hammer on the program.

Jesuit is itching to take on Folsom again, having been conquered by the Bulldogs in regular season and postseason play in recent seasons. The teams face off in an opener Aug. 30 at Sacramento State.

Antelope hosts Folsom on Sept. 6. No one questions Titans coach Matt Ray’s sanity here and we offer high-fives for going for it.

“I’m about the only one willing to take them on,” Ray said with a laugh. “Who else can we play around here who’s better? Ultimately, competing against the best makes you better. It’s a great test for us and our kids are excited.”

Coaches like Ray, Roseville’s Joe Cattolico and Inderkum’s Terry Stark are old school. They preferred the old days when a league championship and 10 regular-season games made up the entire season, or when league champions advanced to the playoffs.

But the momentum and popularity of high school football led to the start of the CIF State playoffs in 2006. It had to happen. California was the last state to introduce the format.

Folsom is at a national level, eager to lead the Northern California charge to close the gap with an even greater giant: De La Salle.

The national powerhouse Spartans from Concord visit Folsom on Sept. 13, where a Bulldogs victory would register as the area’s biggest in nonleague play – ever.

De La Salle has owned NorCal football, going a remarkable 384-5-2 against NorCal teams since 1984. Since 1991, the Spartans have a 299-game unbeaten streak against teams north of Fresno, including a 3-0 showing against Folsom this decade. Two of those games were in NorCal Open Division title rounds and last season to open the season, 14-0. Folsom can score one for all of NorCal here.

And there’s another gap towering over the state, dripping of more Haves and Have Nots.

De La Salle is trying to close the widening gap with Bosco of Bellflower and Mater Dei of Santa Ana, schools that attract scores of transfer student-athletes and pipeline dozens to the college ranks. If coaches believe that Folsom’s success has come “unnaturally” – meaning transfers – then what Bosco and Mater Dei have done and still do doesn’t feel much like high school competition at all.

Bosco downed De La Salle 56-33 in the 2016 CIF State Open finals, and Mater Dei beat De La Salle in the last two Open title games, 52-21 and 35-21.

Wow and wow.

Bosco and Mater Dei have 21 of the state’s top senior college prospects, according to 247Sports. De La Salle has two and Folsom two (Badger and Ngata).

It’s a player’s game and a numbers game, an all-out sprint to be the best while the rest sit and wonder.

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.
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