PETALUMA, CA – The First Annual D1 Bound 7-on-7 Passing Tournament at St. Vincent de Paul High more than met any and all expectations for an inaugural event. That was largely due to the efforts of D1 Bound Football Academy CEO Kahlil Bell and the staff he assembled in what turned out to be a great two-day event this past Friday and Saturday.
Bell, a hard-nosed running back who had a stellar college career at UCLA before a 5-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, is no stranger to high school football in the Redwood Empire. After two years at Montgomery-Santa Rosa he transferred to Marin Catholic-Kentfield where in 2004, and among many honors, he was named the top running back in the Bay Area on the San Francisco Chronicle All Metro team.
There was no running in the 7-on-7, only passing, and a bright new passing/receiving combination emerged after Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park held off Casa Grande-Petaluma in an exciting 36-28 championship game victory that was still in doubt until the final play of the game.
Facing third-and-five with 42.3 seconds left, Rancho Cotate incoming 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior quarterback Liam Keaney found 6-foot, 170-pound incoming junior wide receiver Sailasa “Sai” Vadrawale for a first down and from there the Cougars were able to run out the clock.
Based on the rules of the tournament, had Casa Grande gotten a stop, they would have earned two points and the ball with a stopped clock. A touchdown would have earned six points and tied the game, and with a one-point conversion they would have won the game. Unfortunately for the Gauchos faithful the Cougars duo of Keaney and Vadrawale made sure that didn’t happen.
“Our play was designed for Sai to find an open space and he did just that and we got it to him, ” Keaney said of the game’s final play.
Throughout the two-day event that drew 14 teams, Vadrawale made catch after acrobatic catch on offense, and on defense as a cornerback, he was a lockdown defender. Besides the title-game winning reception, Keaney and Vadrawale connected on two TD passes, including a third-down scoring strike on the final play of the first half that gave Rancho Cotate a 24-7 lead.
After all was said and done Vadrawale was hands down the best player at the tournament and for his efforts he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“He’s something else,” said Rancho Cotate head coach Gehrig Hotaling about Vadrawale, who already has on offer from Nevada-Reno.
“He does some things every day that leaves you scratching your head, in a good way,” Hotaling continued. “He even did some things today I hadn’t seen before.”
“From a talent perspective Sai has everything you look for,” Bell said. “He’s quick, explosive, has great feet and hands, and judges the ball well which helps him offensively and defensively.”
“What’s impressive is he’s still an underclass player,” Bell continued. “If he grows and becomes a student of the game I see him playing on Saturdays at a Power 5 school.”
“I wasn’t surprised to hear I was named MVP,” Vadrawale said. “I know the work I’ve put in with my teammates to be able to execute in these types of environments. Everything you saw is from God, my family, my teammates, and my coaches for pushing me every day to reach higher limits.”
“The tournament not only boosted my confidence but it boosted everyone’s confidence in the Rancho football program,” Sai continued. “I wasn’t too sure about us at first but after the tournament I noticed we’ve got some dogs. I’m ready to go to war with these guys.”
Besides Sai another wide receiver that played very well and Hotaling gave a shout out to was incoming sophomore Ananias Walker.
“We have two Ferraris on the outside,” said Hotaling about Vadrawale and Walker.
Vadrawale may have been the MVP of the tournament but Keaney was a close second and was the best performing quarterback. He consistently put the ball in places where his wideouts could make the receptions.
As for Keaney, Hotaling really liked what he saw. Prior to the start of the two day event he had said Keaney was the “leader in the clubhouse” as the starting quarterback. After this past weekend the junior signal-caller erased any possible doubts.
“This is the first time Liam has had consistent reps,” Hotaling said. “He’s been rotating this summer at quarterback but we wanted to get him into rhythm and see what he could do, and it paid off. He really found himself and his identity.”
It seemed like in each game Keaney’s confidence grew.
“Yes, it was a confidence builder for me,” Liam said. “I started out the tournament a little nervous and kind of shaky, but as I got a feel for it I slowly elevated and elevated until the last game where things came together perfectly.”
Casa Grande got all four of its TDs in the championship game from the duo of 6-foot-4, 175-pound incoming senior quarterback Jacob Porteous and incoming senior wide receiver Marcus Scott.
Rancho Cotate punched its ticket the championship game with an impressive 38-2 romp over San Marin-Novato. The Cougars led 27-0 at the half and the only score the Mustangs could muster was a 2-point stop on defense in the second half as their offense was totally muzzled.
Casa Grande handled Vintage-Napa in the semifinals with a 52-33 victory over a Crushers team that did well considering the offense of head coach Dylan Leach relies on the run. Even so Vintage still took the opportunity to compete in a passing competition.
“We’re young, heavy with juniors and sophomores so this kind of validates what we’re doing in the morning workouts,” said Hotaling, who had a final shout out to give to his top four players and it went to incoming junior wide receiver and defensive back Angel Ruiz.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Hotaling continued. “It was a good confidence builder but ultimately I don’t want this to be the high point of the year.”
Neither does Keaney. It’s a little early but the way they looked Rancho Cotate may very well be a solid contender in the North Bay League – Oak Division.
“Our goal is another ring. We want another NCS championship,” Keaney said. “We have to beat some tough teams but I feel we can do it.”
Besides the previously mentioned players, other players from quarterfinal teams plus a few others that caught our eye and made an impression on the coaches, include:
Donavin Abramson, Casa Grande-Petaluma, DB/QB, Sr.
Dante Antonini, St. Vincent de Paul-Petaluma, WR/LB/DB, Sr.
Caden Cramer, Casa Grande-Petaluma, WR/DB, Sr.
Diego Davis, Vintage-Napa, RB, Sr.
Andy Garcia, San Marin-Novato, WR, Sr.
Michael Gormley, Archbishop Riordan-San Francisco, QB, Sr.
Justin Guin, San Marin-Novato, RB/DB, Sr.
Jaycob Gualberto, Vintage-Napa, RB/LB, Sr.
Kai Hall, St. Vincent de Paul-Petaluma, RB/LB, Jr.
Ali Johnson, Vintage-Napa, WR/DB, Jr.
Zach Jones, Archbishop Riordan-San Francisco, WR/DB, Jr.
Jimmy LeMar, Rancho Cotate, WR/DB, Sr.
Dominic Mancuso, San Marin-Novato, DB/WR, Sr.
Chris Murray, Archbishop Riordan-San Francisco, WR/DB, Sr.
Bryce Powers, Vintage-Napa, WRT/DB, Sr.
Shane Runyeon, Casa Grande-Petaluma, WR/TE, Sr.
There have been other similar events in the past in the North Bay portion of the Redwood Empire, but nothing quite like the D1 Bound 7-on-7, and this was Bell’s first year. In fact it was only in 2020 when her partnered with his former high school basketball coach and current CEO of North Bay Basketball Academy, Rick Winter, to start the D1 Bound Football Academy.
“I grew up in the North Bay and always felt we were underrepresented with getting kids to the next level,” Bell remarked. “Even after leading the NCS in rushing I only got one scholarship offer and I always felt it was because I never got love and exposure.”
“That’s the reason I started this academy, to shine a light on the North Bay,” Bell continued. “I also have plans to have a travel team that can compete in places like Oklahoma.”
According to Bell the academy is also geared towards younger players.
“We’re about teaching the young kids the proper fundamentals so they can truly learn the game at a young age,” Bell said.
“It’s not just about giving kids a ball and telling them to go play, Bell continued. “It’s about starting at the youth level with proper instruction to have the kids prepared to play in high school.”
He’s only been at it a year but after the success of the academy’s first event don’t look for Bell to fail.