TCAL BREAKDOWN: Chase for league crown wide open


Alvarez Eagles

Second-year Everett Alvarez head coach Ralph Ward’s mission is to change the culture of the Eagles’ football program.

“It’s just letting them know that it’s time for this school and this football team to start competing at a high level and stop being used to losing,” Ward said. “Everyone says winning is infectious, so is losing. So, we are just trying to get a winning attitude in the classroom, at home, in the classroom and on the practice field.”

The turnaround is already visible in the number of players taking the field during preseason practices. Currently the eagles have 44 players on their roster, including 20 seniors.

“We ended last season with 24 active players,” Ward said.

Just seven of those were seniors.

The Eagles crawled to a difficult 1-9 overall record and 0-6 in the Tri-County Athletic League last year.

However, because much of the starting lineup was underclassmen, the Eagles are returning a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball.

“We are pretty well balanced throughout,” Ward said.

Among the list of top returning athletes is the TCAL’s reigning Sophomore of the Year, David Perez. The bruising back posted 680 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in five appearances last season, including a massive 34 carry, 353-yard performance against North Salinas.

Salinas Cowboys

The Salinas Cowboys held a 13-0 lead over San Benito in the 2009 CCS semifinals only to see that advantage disappear in the third quarter in an eventual 14-13 loss to the Haybalers.

The Cowboys were helped last season by a relentless run game. The statistics are staggering. The Cowboys, who featured five ball carriers with more than 200 yards each, totalled 3,396 yards on the turf. They threw for just 362.

It’s star was one of the league’s premier backs, Alvin Jelks, who massacred opposing defenses to the tune of 1,705 yards and 20 touchdowns. With Jelks’ graduation, the Cowboys will look for the right platoon to fill the void with aspirations of continuing its powerful rushing attack.

Josh Estassi and Junior Cortez – the team’s starting quarterback – each had over 50 carries a year ago and accounted for seven scores between them. The Cowboys’ commitment to the run game will once again be its forte. Whether it’s a running back dive through the heart of the offensive line, or a pitch left or right, the Cowboys quick-strike ability will once again be the task other TCAL teams will have to to contain.

Palma Chieftains

There aren’t too many freshmen football teams that steal headlines from their varsity counterparts, but much was made last year of the rookie class at Palma High School in Salinas.

But last year was last year.

The upcoming 2010 season is when we’ll begin to see the strength of last year’s frosh class. Palma head coach Jeff Carnazzo said his Chieftains are young, with possibly five or six sophomores cracking the starting lineup.

“They’re a strong class and there was a number of positions we needed,” said Carnazzo, whose team earned the Tri-County Athletic League title last year with a 6-0 record.

One position that wasn’t available was running back, though. Palma returns stout senior Jack Baird to the backfield this year, one year after he claimed the TCALs Junior of the Year honors.

Baird recorded 1,085 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, and on just 185 attempts, no less.

At the signal-caller position, the Chieftains could see junior Brandon Villar or senior Ryan Morrison, either of whom will be mostly running the ball, Carnazzo said.

“A ball-control running offense is where it starts,” the head coach added. “And with Baird, it’s a good starting point.”

Palma lost six first-team selections from last season’s 8-2-1 team, including league MVP Bruce Taylor and the TCALs Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman in Max Gibbons. But despite the losses, the Chieftains still return a handful of talent, including first-team linebacker Robert Foy and first-team defensive lineman Brandon Pulealii.

Blair Gardiner is also back for his senior season at outside linebacker as is Tanner Sherman, who will roam the defensive secondary.

North Salinas Vikings

There were very few opponents who could stop, or at least slow down, the dynamic 1-2 punch the North Salinas Vikings packed in its backfield last year.

Anchored by Michael Benabides, who went on to earn the Tri-County Athletic League’s Most Outstanding Back honors after compiling 1,392 yards and 18 touchdowns on 183 carries, and coupled with Marquis Brooks, who sprinted his way to 933 yards and eight touchdowns on 142 carries, the Vikings displayed a strong running game last season.

Everyone knew it and everyone tried to stop it.

But while both Benabides and Brooks have since graduated, the mentality of the Vikings hasn’t changed much.

“It’s North Salinas,” head coach Steve Zenk said. “We always have running backs.”

Looking to follow in the footsteps this year will be senior returners Ryan Uto and Marcos Mendoza, each of whom played on both sides of the ball last year — running back and defensive back.

The Vikings will be lacking returning offensive starters, however. In fact, Zenk said the only returner to an offense that compiled 247 points last year will be quarterback Curt Ceralde, who threw for 752 yards on 58 of 115 passing last season, including seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He’s stepped it up on offense,” said Zenk, who expects the team to pass more this season, with junior Angel Estrada the team’s top wideout. “We should be entertaining.”

North Salinas will look to reclaim its 2008 magic when it went 9-2 overall and 5-1 in the TCAL, earning a piece of the league crown in the process. Last year didn’t fare as well for the Vikings, though, who compiled a 2-4 TCAL mark and fell short of the postseason.

“We lost four games in the fourth quarter last year,” Zenk said.

This year won’t start off any easier for Vikings, however. The team will open with Jefferson, Pioneer and defending Division I champion Milpitas before kicking off TCAL play with consecutive league games against Gilroy, Palma and San Benito.

Zenk said he’s not worried of the early-season schedule, though.

“It’s not like there are any easy games in our league,” he said. “They’re all tough.”

San Benito

After battling through injuries and inconsistencies for two years, which had led to a pair of disappointing seasons in 2007 and 2008, an experienced, senior-heavy squad fell on the short end of a 28-10 game against Milpitas in the Division I championship last December.

The final image of the San Benito Haybalers in last season’s title game was understandably bittersweet, a mix of emotions and thoughts as players reflected on just how far they had come, what they had gone through and experienced, and just how close they came to what would have been an improbable turnaround season.

But to take that lasting image — and everything that was wrapped up with it — into the 2010 season would almost be unfair. Of the 73 players listed on the varsity roster at the beginning of last season, the Balers lost 35 to graduation, or roughly 48 percent of the team.

“I always think you have to look at everything new,” San Benito head coach Chris Cameron said. “It’s a new slate.”

That statement may hold more weight than any other team in the Tri-County Athletic League this season. After compiling a 10-3 overall record last year and a 4-2 mark in the TCAL, San Benito earned 14 all-league selections but will return only one of them in first-team defensive lineman Marcos Silva.

“There’s a lot of pieces that need to fall into place,” said Cameron, whose teams in the past have always been strong on the defensive side, and who’ve always embodied the term “smashmouth football.”

On the offensive side, starting signal-caller and first-team quarterback Trevor Fabing graduated, as did running back Nick Acosta and offensive lineman Courtland Thompson, both of whom were first team all-league selections as well.

Coaches and players have said the learning curve of the new offense was lessened this year, though, as the bulk of San Benito’s returning players fall on the offensive side of the ball.

One returning player, Tyler Decker, saw limited action during last season’s 13-game slate while sitting behind the starter Fabing, but he did help lead San Benito to a pair of postseason victories last season, including a 13-9 victory over Independence and a 14-13 win against Salinas.

It was Decker’s only two games of the season, and his final stats were sparse as a result. He finished with 46 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns, while also throwing for 68 yards on 3 of 12 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

But Decker appeared to take a step forward last season when, as a junior, he helped orchestrate a come-from-behind win against Salinas in the Division I semifinals.

Decker will be the starting QB for San Benito this season.

Alisal Trojans

The Trojans finished in sixth in the seven-team TCAL last season. However, two of their four losses in league were by 14 points or less and they also tied Gilroy. Three games that could’ve gone the Trojans way.

Junior quarterback Michael Barron, who was named the TCAL’s co-Sophomore of the Year in 2009, returns to anchor the offense, poised to not let those close games slip away. Barron is very effective running the ball as well.

Andres Rubalcaba, a first-team selection last season returns as a stout figure on the defensive line.

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