Don’t look now but the start of the high school football season is just seven weeks away. Gilroy and Christopher have already competed in two 7 on 7 passing league scrimmages, giving Mustangs coach Tim Pierleoni and Cougars coach Darren Yafai a small glimpse into their team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Both coaches are expecting their rosters to number in the 30s by the start of the season, with a similar total in their respective junior varsity programs.
Pierleoni is in his first season at the helm of his alma mater after previously serving 11 seasons as the Christopher coach. Even though Pierleoni said his team has a long way to go, he’s been pleased with the players’ effort and willingness to learn new positions, terminology and plays.
“You have to hand it to these kids picking it up; it’s a lot for them to take in right now,” he said. “It’s brand new for everybody so there will be some good days and not so good days. But the kids are really excited and they’re like sponges taking in everything.”
Some of the team’s top projected returners include Jadon Perkins, Marcques Anthony, Estevan Cortez and Tyler Hodges. Perkins seemingly has all the physical tools to have a breakout season, possessing a cannon for an arm and the ability to scramble out of the pocket and make plays running with the ball.
“Jadon is very athletic and we’re looking forward to getting to coach him and getting him going in the offense,” Pierleoni said. “He looks real good out there.”
Hodges is coming off a terrific freshman season and will man one of the linebacker positions.
“He’s not the biggest kid, but he’s got extremely smart football instincts,” Pierleoni said.
Cortez played defensive end last season, but he’s projected to play wide receiver and linebacker for the upcoming season.
“He’s improved on his speed and strength and we’re looking forward to seeing him make a lot of plays,” Pierleoni said.
Anthony competed in the Central Coast Section Track and Field Trials in the 200 meters last month, and he’ll look to use his speed to be a playmaker at receiver and most likely at strong safety.
“He’s an excellent kid and I’m excited to have a player like him returning,” Pierleoni said.
Christopher also has several key returning players, including Kingsley Okoronkwo, Spencer Gorgulho, Mason Pena, Nick Pham, Jaterius Lee, Jermaine Thomas, and inside linebackers Payton Wheeler and Rossi Oteri. Yafai is particularly excited to have tough, physical leaders like Wheeler and Oteri returning as they get players in the right position and have a nose for the ball.
Okoronkwo also plays linebacker and was an impact player last season. Yafai said he expects the incoming junior to get added reps on the offensive side of the ball as well.
“We’re going to use him because he’s too good of a football player and very versatile,” Yafai said. “He’s a great kid, a smart kid and has a super attitude. So we’ll find a way to utilize him.”
Lee, an incoming junior, has started at cornerback since his freshman year. He’s projected to get some reps at receiver this season, Yafai said.
Pena is another defensive stalwart who might get reps on offense, Pham can play corner and receiver and Thomas is an impact returner at receiver. Yafai is looking forward to the return of Mike Cambria, who didn’t play last season but was a starter during his sophomore year.
Cambria is a versatile talent and can play tight end, receiver, safety and linebacker, Yafai said. Although the Cougars return a wealth of talent at the skill positions, they lost some key linemen.
“O-line is where we really have to develop and manufacture because a lot of them graduated,” Yafai said. “That was the strength of our team, and it’s going to be a challenge to develop linemen to get to that level of play. We’re not going to be real big on the O-line, but we’ll be tough and scrappy.”
Yafai was pleased with the team’s 7 on 7 scrimmage with Branham two weeks ago.
“I thought our kids played fast and were very competitive,” he said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]