Cardinal Newman players and coaches pose on picture day last Friday prior to practice.
Harold Abend/Prep2Prep

Redwood Empire powers look to repeat 2021 success - Part II

August 26, 2022

Like the East Bay portion of the North Coast Section and the Central Coast Section, we are focusing our preview of the Redwood Empire portion of the NCS on teams that won state CIF Bowl Game championships and those that only won NCS titles, plus some additional perennial powerhouses as well.

Whether or not the Redwood Empire area of the North Coast Section can duplicate what it did in 2021 is a question mark. Last season the Redwood Empire had four teams win NCS titles in the nine divisions: Windsor in Division III, Marin Catholic in Division IV and San Marin in Division V, St. Vincent de Paul in Division in Division VII. And if you count 8-man football champion Branson, that would be five out of the 10 championships contested.

Two of those teams went on to win state Bowl Game championships: Marin Catholic in Division 4-AA and San Marin in Division 5-AA. It was the second time two teams from the Redwood won a state title in the same season and the first-ever state titles for the Marin County Athletic League. Part I previewed those two teams. For Part II of this feature, we will preview four more teams.


Last season: 11-2 (3-1 North Bay League–Oak Division)

Windsor lost its final league game last season in a 28-27 heartbreaker at Rancho Cotate, but they rolled to a second North Coast Section title by capturing the Division III championship with a 35-17 victory over Northgate, a 33-32 semifinal squeaker in the semifinals against El Cerrito, and a 38-14 victory over Benicia in the title game.

The Jaguars lost a ton of talent, and also head coach Paul Cronin, who decided to pursue other interests, but Cronin’s protégé and first-year head coach DJ Sexton still has very talented squad that should in the thick of it for the NBL-Oak and NCS D3 titles.

The top returner is sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Hayden Anderson. The top sophomore prospect in the Redwood Empire and all-North Bay League-Oak Division first team wide receiver turned a lot of heads and was considered one of, if not the top freshman in Northern California last season.

As a wide receiver, Anderson had 50 catches for 998 yards and nine touchdowns. As a defensive back, he registered 37 tackles (35 solo) four interceptions, six batted down passes, a safety, a blocked punt and a forced fumble.

Another top returner is two-way 5-10, 210-pound lineman Nate Ojeda Viramontes. He didn’t play much defense last year, but according to some scouting sources and Redwood Empire coaches, this super tough lineman may be better on defense than offense, where he was a first-team all-North Bay League-Oak Division selection. Besides anchoring the offensive line look for him to potentially anchor the defensive line as well.

With dual-threat quarterback Chase Vehmeyer graduated, the stage is set for a brother-to-brother combination, with 6-2, 215-pound Judson Anderson winning the job and getting to throw to his little brother Hayden.

Another returner Sexton is looking at to potentially step up is 5-10, 160-pound junior wide receiver/defensive back Gunnar Erickson. John Marshall, a 6-5 offensive lineman who was first-team all-West Alameda County Conference-Mission League at Encinal, has moved into the area and according to Sexton has been cleared to play.

At running back, Sexton is looking at junior Ricky Campos and sophomore Wyatt Morris to step up.

“We’re a young team with only 12 seniors on a 42-man roster,” Sexton said. “Our new quarterback and receiving corps look to be extremely talented weapons and our dual power running backs will carry the load behind a talented offensive line group.”

“We will be tested early on with games against some perennial powers,” Sexton continued. “But we’re excited for the challenge of our early non-league schedule.”

Windsor opens the season on Friday at home against Tamalpais, then travels to Sac-Joaquin Section small school power Escalon. North Coast Section Division II champion Campolindo is next at home followed by Lincoln-San Francisco at home and then a bye followed by Skyline-Oakland on the road before opening league play at Santa Rosa.

Rancho Cotate

Last season: 10-2 (5-0 North Bay League-Oak Division

After winning an NCS Division III title in 2019 before COVID cancelled the 2020 NCS championships, the Cougars fell short last season when the No. 2 seed in the Division II playoffs lost in the semifinals to No. 3 seed Foothill at home, 35-7.

The good news for the Rancho Cotate faithful is they have some very solid returners that should help them be one of the teams to beat in this year’s Division II bracket.

Those returners are led by the top player and recruit in the Redwood Empire, Cal-committed Sailasa “Sai” Vadrawale. He only played eight games after breaking a bone in his hand, but had 40 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. On offense he led the team with 61 receptions for 941 yards and eight TDs, and he rushed for 139 yards and three more scores. He also had 355 combined punt and kickoff return yards.

Another top returner is junior wide receiver/defensive back Ananias Walker. Last season he had 31 receptions for 428 yards and four touchdowns. On defense Walker registered 32 tackles and an interception, and on special teams the highlight was an 88-yard kickoff return he took to the house. One of the top underclass prospects in the Redwood Empire, Walker has two Pac-12 offers from Oregon State and Washington.

Other top returning players include senior offensive lineman Malik Cleveland and senior quarterback Liam Keaney, who threw for 2,254 yards and 21 TDs and ran for 434 yards and seven TDs. Another returner the team hopes will break out is 5-9, 155-pound senior RB/WR/DB Tupotu Poueu Hale.

“We have a tough preseason schedule as we usually do,” Cougars head coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “It will be a good test for us and we want to challenge ourselves to see what we are capable of.”

“We have a lot of team speed and are deep at the skill positions,” Hotaling continued. “The big question mark is how we handle the line of scrimmage and can we get consistent knockback against tough opposition.”

Before the season ended in a bit of a disappointment in the playoffs, Hotaling and his Cougars won the North Bay League-Oak Division but a repeat this season will be a real challenge.

Rancho Cotate opens the season at Las Lomas on Friday. From there they have Redwood and Sacramento at home before travelling to Fairfield to meet SJS Division 4 and state CIF Division 3-AA champion Vanden, a team they beat 38-31 last season in overtime at home. Then comes another road trip to Chico to face Pleasant Valley before opening league play at home with Analy.

Cardinal Newman

Last season: 8-4 (3-1 North Bay League-Oak Division

After two solid wins in the NCS Division IV playoffs - 56-6 over Newark Memorial and 44-22 against Tennyson, both at home - first-year head coach Richard Sanchez and his Cardinals had their season end in a 42-7 loss to Marin Catholic in the title game in Kentfield.

“We most definitely have some unfinished business from last season,” said Cardinals star Santino Acevedo. “Last season we didn’t have a full off-season like we did this season and I think we learned from experience last year and we’re going to do a whole lot better.”

Acevedo, a 6-1, 210-pound senior running back/middle linebacker is unquestionably the top returner on Newman and one of the top two-way players in the Redwood Empire. The NBL-Oak Division co-Player of the Year was the Cardinals’ workhorse and had 1,153 yards and 23 TDs on the ground and was second on the team with 23 catches for 241 yards and one score. On defense he registered 76 tackles with eight for loss, three sacks, and two interceptions, both going for a pick six.

Even with those numbers, the amount of plays he was on the field showed its wear and tear, particularly against Marin Catholic. But seeing him at practice on photo day last Friday, he looked bigger and stronger and in tip-top shape.

“During the off-season I gained 20 pounds so I think I gained 20 pounds of strength and still maintained my agility,” Acevedo remarked. “I feel like I’m a whole lot better and a whole lot stronger – and I think the team is a whole lot stronger.”

The other top returner is 5-9, 175-pound senior Nick Ayer. The wide receiver, running back and kick returner and all-NBL-Oak Division Specialist of the Year had two TDs receiving, 34 tackles on defense, and on special teams he blocked a field goal and had 741 yards on combined kickoff and punt returns.

Besides Acevedo and Ayers, the other two first Team All-NBL-Oak returners are 6-0, 190-pound senior defensive back Zachary Kelly and 6-3, 215-pound sophomore linebacker Jesse Myers.

Myers is a two-way player who had 45 tackles, a fumble recovery and five batted down passes. Kelly also had 26 receptions as a wide receiver for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Myers is considered one of the blossoming young stars by coaches and analysts queried despite just being a sophomore. He was very impressive as a freshman with his size and explosiveness off the snap. Last season he had 37 tackles with 11 for loss, including 10 sacks. The word is he may also get some time at tight end this season.

One of the big questions was who would be the new quarterback. The answer is big as in big Matt Hilden, a 6-5, 270-pound junior who lost around 30 pounds from last year when he played on the defensive line. He certainly will be a threat to run and he claims he can air it out at a max of around 60 yards.

“I think he’ll carry this team on his back,” said “Ace” as Acevedo is known as on campus..

If that’s the case it’s certainly a big back.

“He barely could fit in his jersey,” Sanchez while trying to keep a straight face. “We just got new uniforms and I wasn’t planning on switching him out of No. 15. His number was a double extra large last year and it was tight.”

“He’s losing some more weight,” continued Sanchez. "But he has the best arm on the team. As long as he can manage the game in this offense, change the cadence, get in and out of the plays we want him to check and protect the football, he’s going to help us. ”

The Cardinals also return two all-NBL-Oak selections, 5-10, 210-pound junior linebacker Zach Homan and 5-10, 192-pound junior running back and linebacker Kaize Steverson. A player Sanchez is thinking will break out is 6-3, 220-pound junior tight end/defensive end Santiago Adan.

“We’re a lot better offensively than last year,” Sanchez said. “How much better, who knows?”

“We have a better corps of running backs than we’ve had with Ace leading the way,” Sanchez continued. “We’re trying to manage him and make sure he doesn’t get over 85 reps a game playing both ways.”

With Acevedo a major factor on both sides of the ball, making sure he stays healthy and his body doesn’t break down late in the season could be key to the Cardinals success.

Cardinal Newman opens on Friday at San Leandro, then comes Vacaville, Vintage and De Anza, all on the road. The final non-league game is at home against SJS powerhouse St. Mary’s-Stockton followed by a bye week and then an NBL-Oak opener at home against cross-town Montgomery.

St. Vincent de Paul

Last season: 11-2 (3-1 North Bay League-Redwood Division)

It’s taken a few years for St. Vincent de Paul head coach Trent Herzog to get an NCS title since taking the helm in 2018, but last year was the year as the Mustangs captured the NCS Division crown with a 54-32 victory over St. Helena. It was the first NCS title since 2008 and the fifth in school history.

The Mustangs were not able to play for a state championship after losing on the road to eventual state champion Argonaut-Jackson, 42-12 in the NorCal Division 6-AA Bowl Game championship, but even so it was one of the greatest seasons in school history.

The good news for the Mustangs faithful is the team is even better this year with many of the key player returning.

The top returner is senior Kai Hall. The shifty and speedy 5-8, 180-pound running back rushed for 1,474 yards and 20 TDs, and he had one more score receiving. Despite only getting in five games with 536 yards and eight TDs in his COVID-shortened sophomore season, Hall has 3,783 career rushing yards. If he has a similar season to last and goes over 5,000 yards, according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book, Hall would be No. 2 in the Redwood Empire on the Most Rushing Yards (Career) list. Hall, who carries a 3.7 GPA in the classroom already has offers from three branches of military schools: Air Force, Army and Navy.

A second top returner is Cameron Vaughn. While he is predominantly an offensive lineman, the St. Vincent de Paul roster says the 6-3, 275-pound all-North Bay League-Redwood Division First Team offensive lineman can play tackle and center on offense and tackle on defense. The academically outstanding Vaughn has offers from Columbia, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Western Oregon and Carnegie Mellon. Vaughn will anchor the offensive line at right guard, and that is what he’s being recruited for, but he will also be the Mustangs starting nose tackle.

The third key player Herzog returns is Jared Bosarge. The 5-9,175-pound multi-talented senior and dual-threat quarterback is also a defensive standout. He couldn’t help lead his team to a state CIF Northern Regional Division 6-AA Bowl game title, but he did guide them to an NCS Division VII championship. On a St. Vincent de Paul team that likes to run the football, he threw for 753 yards and 10 TDs, and he rushed for 409 yards and four more scores. On defense at cornerback and strong safety, the all-NBL-Redwood Division first team defensive back registered 57 tackles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

A fourth returning standout is 6-1, 220-pound senior fullback/linebacker Nathan Rooks.

“We are very excited for the season,” Herzog said. “We return seven starters on both sides of the ball and if we can stay healthy we have a chance to be very good.”

“Our players have been working hard all summer,” Herzog continued. “We have great senior leaders like Kai Hall, Cameron Vaughn, Jaret Bosarge and Nathan Rook. Those four seniors have set the standards and expectations high.”

The Mustangs open on the road this Friday at St. Bernard’s, then take a trip to Nevada near Lake Tahoe to meet Incline. St Helena at home is next and then Oakland Tech on the road followed by Montgomery at home. After a bye they face Piner in Santa Rosa to begin play in the NBL-Redwood Division.

Other top Redwood Empire returners not on featured teams in alphabetical order:

TE/DL James Aken (American Canyon) 5-10, 200, Sr.

QB/DB Kaleb Anderson (American Canyon) 6-1, 185, Sr.

WR/LB/P Will Basnight (Tamalpais, Mill Valley) 6-0, 170, Sr.

DL Kodi Cornelius (Casa Grande, Petaluma) 6-1, 280, Jr.

QB/RB/LB Henry Ellis (Petaluma) 6-2, 195, Sr.

DB Nolan Frost (Santa Rosa) 6-4, 190, Sr.

RB/LB Giancarlo Desolenni (Del Norte, Crescent City) 5-10, 180, Sr.

TE/LB Joseph Gonzalez (Eureka) 6-1, 210, Sr.

LB Adan Lemus (Santa Rosa) 5-11, 175, Jr.

RB/LB RJ Loftin (Del Norte, Crescent City) 5-10, 190, Sr.

QB Sammy Long (Analy, Sebastopol) 5-10, 195, Sr.

OL/DL Jadon Meyer (St. Helena) 6-0, 190, Sr.

RB/WR Sam Mortimer (Maria Carrillo, Santa Rosa) 5-10, 175, Sr.

RB/WR/LB Grant Omey (St. Bernard’s, Eureka) 5-9, 179, Sr.

RB/LB Silas Pologeorgis (Petaluma) 6-1, 190, Sr.

DB Matt Reilly (Casa Grande, Petaluma) 6-2, 170, Jr.

OL Tucker Rice (Arcata) 6-2, 260, Sr.

WR NJ Robert (Piner, Santa Rosa) 5-8, 140, Sr.

QB/RB/DB Drew Sisemore (St. Bernard’s, Eureka) 6-0, 195, Sr.

LB Jake Son (Tamalpais, Mill Valley) 5-9, 170, Jr.

QB Braden Young (Tamalpais, Mill Valley) 6-1, 180, Jr.

DL Samuel Valenti (Montgomery, Santa Rosa) 6-2, 220, Jr.

P Conor Weasler (Redwood, Larkspur) 6-0, 165, Sr.

QB Brady Weingart (Redwood, Larkspur) 6-3, 205, Sr.

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