For Part II of our NCS Division I football preview, we will focus on the two teams that played for the Division I title: Pittsburg and Clayton Valley.
Last season: 9-3
The talk around the NCS the last few years since the Open Division was created in 2016, and even before that, was that former De La Salle alum and Pittsburg head coach Vic Galli and his Pirates, more often than not had the best chance of ending the De La Salle streak of section championships. The streak began in 1992 after Pittsburg knocked them off in the 1991 3A title game.
Even last year when De La Salle looked vulnerable with two losses to teams north of Fresno, Pittsburg couldn’t turn the trick and lost 42-14 in the Open Division qualifying game. With the newly adopted format in the NCS, the Pirates still got into a title game when after the loss they dropped into Division I, where Pittsburg won its first NCS championship since that very 1991 season.
The season ended in a bit of disappointment when Pittsburg went on the road for the state CIF Northern Regional Division I title game and lost convincingly to Liberty-Bakersfield, 35-7.
Still, Pittsburg won an NCS championship and Galli returns a ton of talent led by Miami-committed senior quarterback Jaden Rashada, the Bay Valley Athletic League Most Valuable Player, and all-NCS selection and a Cal-Hi Sports All Juniors first team Multi-Purpose honoree.
The 6-5, 195-pound Rashada passed for 2,220 yards and 27 TDs with only five interceptions. His high water mark came in a 49-14 victory over Heritage when he passed for 363 yards and five touchdowns. Rashada also had five TD passes in a 50-6 victory over Deer Valley. He also rushed for 193 yards and one score.
Leading rusher Charles Brown has transferred to Antioch and Israel Polk is now at St. John Bosco, but three Pirates returners that garnered all-BVAL honors are Washington-bound senior wide receiver Rashid Williams, Oregon State-bound wide receiver and defensive back Zach Card, and senior defensive back Robin Boyd.
Williams had 55 receptions for 753 yards and 11 TDs last season. Card had 36 catches for 738 yards and nine TDs, plus he had 66 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. He was first-team all-BVAL on offense and defense. Boyd led the team with four interceptions
Galli is really high on Card, who ran a 10.53 in the 100 at the NCS Meet of Champions and is being looked at by Oregon State for both offense and defense.
“He may be the Bay Area athlete of the year after it’s all said and done,” said Galli.
Other returners that earned all-BVAL second-team honors are senior wide receiver Khai Taylor, senior kicker Octavio Lopez and senior linebacker Cameron Clanton.
The offensive line is a question, and the defensive line will be anchored by all-BVAL honorable mention selections Odera Okaka and sophomore Jewelous Walls.
“We have a lot of talent at the skill positions, but new faces that are young and inexperienced on the offensive line,” Galli remarked. “We’re going to be a competitive team, but the line is going to have to gel.”
Pittsburg opens with Jesse Bethel and then travels to San Diego to meet Nevada Liberty in the Honor Bowl. From there it's California followed by two real tests at home with visits from Folsom and McClymonds before beginning BVAL action.
Last season: 9-4
Under the new Open/Division I format in the NCS instituted last season, Clayton Valley received the No. 3 seed in the combined bracket and that meant they were the top seed in the D1 portion of the bracket. The Ugly Eagles opened with a 42-21 victory over Antioch and then avenged an East Bay Athletic League-Mountain Division 19-18 loss to California with a 24-21 victory in the semifinals.
The California win set up a D1 title game with a No. 2 seed Pittsburg, which lost to De La Salle in the Open Division qualifier. The season ended for head coach Tim Murphy and his Uglies in a 28-14 loss to the Pirates.
Murphy, who at times over the past couple of years has contemplated stepping aside, comes into the season as the No. 5 active leader in wins in the NCS with 214, according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book, and that’s if you include No. 4 Paul Cronin and his 222 career wins as still active. Of those wins, 100 have come since he took the Uglies helm in 2012 when he came from Clovis East to replace legendary Clayton Valley coach Herc Pardi. Prior to two stints at Clovis East, he spent five years as head coach at Ygnacio Valley. Even with a COVID-shortened 4-2 season in 2020, Murphy is still averaging 10 wins per season.
“I’m taking it year by year at this time,” Murphy said. “Right now, co-head coach Nick Tisa has been amazing and helping me so much.”
As for this season, Murphy loses 10 players that were all-EBAL - six first team, two second team, two honorable mention selections - and returns no one that made all league.
This isn’t the first time Murphy has had to re-tool and he’s adapting with a new offense that may shock some local prep football fans. He has a lot of players that will play multiple positions.
In 2014 the smash-mouth, grind it out on the ground Ugly Eagles offense produced a national record 7,051 yards on the ground. Last year Clayton Valley had 3,770 yards rushing and 37 TDs and 1,669 yards passing and 11 TDs, but apparently that is going to change.
“We’re putting in a spread this year,” Murphy said.
A spread starts with a throwing and more mobile quarterback, and wide receivers that can catch and run with the football. Murphy apparently now has that in his arsenal, and he’s made a decision to utilize what he has.
The quarterback position is still undecided but there are two solid signal-callers vying for the position. Mason Lovett, a 6-0, 180-pound junior who was last season’s backup is in competition with 6-1, 170-pound Christian Aguilar, a transfer from Pittsburg who backed up Jaden Rashada, but saw enough time to pass for 617 yards and six TDs with two interceptions.
The leading returning wide receiver is Cody DeMartini, and Murphy is also excited about 6-2, 175-pound junior Daven Amos.
“Daven is a hard-working blue-collar guy with speed,” Murphy remarked. “My prediction is he’s going to be the D1 receiver I’ve had since I’ve been at Clayton Valley.”
Two other receivers Murphy feels will be contributors are Charles Cox, a 6-1, 190-pound senior transfer that didn’t play football as a junior, and 6-0, 175-pound junior Hank Phifer.
The top returning running back is Nicholas Khashabi, a 5-8, 190-poind senior that ran for 455 yards and six TDs last season.
As usual the line is solid.
Offensive right tackle and defensive tackle Richard Mckay returns. The 6-7, 289-pound senior didn’t make all league last season, but according to Murphy, he has five offers including Arizona. Jordan Palega, a 6-3, 310-pound junior is back. The little brother of 2021 all-EBAL first team defensive lineman Jared Palega broke his hand last season but came back at the end to start at center. Manny Serna will start at left tackle. The 6-5, 260-pound junior reportedly has some offers, including UMass.
Angel Gonzalez rotated with Jared Palega last season, but Murphy is looking to the 6-2, 225-pound junior to anchor the defensive and play every down on defense.
Middle linebacker Miguel Alvarado returns. The 6-1, 220-pound senior will also play fullback.
The secondary looks solid as well.
Senior defensive back Ryan Morimoto had 62 tackles and led the team with four interceptions last season. The Clayton Valley soccer star will once again handle the kicking duties. Senior Casey Forrester will play defense and offense. He had 67 tackles and two interceptions and deflected 24 passes last season, plus he had 104 yards on six catches last season, but three went for touchdowns.
Murphy is putting in the spread, but as someone who loathes punting, will he punt the ball more often this season? “We’ll see,” he said with a chuckle.
The Ugly Eagles may have some holes to fill but Murphy is a proven winner, and he will get the most out of every single player this season.