The 2023 High School Football season will kickoff on August 25th with Cardinal Newman hosting Casa Grande, Montgomery travelling to Ukiah, Petaluma hosting Rancho Cotate, Analy hosting Lincoln and Santa Rosa travelling to face San Rafael High School in San Rafael. Windsor opens their season on September 1st, hosting Escalon, the 2022-23 CIF Division 4AA State Champions in a game to look forward to in Windsor. The Oak has the same 6 teams as last year, but transfers have brought more talent to the league and shifted the balance. Cardinal Newman brought in transfer QB Jayson Colter and transfer ATH Sam Valenti while Windsor added 3 star ATH Ananias Walker who transferred in from Rancho Cotate. Windsor and Newman competed for the Championship last year and most likely will this year.
Last year saw Windsor face Newman at Windsor in the last game of the Regular Season in a decisive game. If Newman won, the championship would be a three way split between Rancho, Newman and Windsor. It looked like Newman would win as they were up 13-7 with very little time to go in the game and Windsor had the ball, but had a 4th & 8. Judson Anderson dropped back and threw a pass that was caught, but Newman LB Santino Acevedo knocked the ball out for an incompletion. This would've let Newman kneel the game out and win the Championship, but a late flag came in for targeting on Acevedo. Targeting is defined as a hit with the crown of the helmet and a circle 6 inches in diameter from the crown of the helmet, but Acevedo hit the receiver with the edge of his shoulder pad.
The foul was never reviewed and Windsor drove down the field. They were on the goal line with 2 seconds left and Anderson dropped back firing a pass that fell incomplete, but a flag came on the field. The flag was on LB Kaize Steverson for passing interference even though it looked as if Steverson had never touched the receiver. The foul was never reviewed, but the replay did not give enough evidence for a passing interference foul to be called there. Windsor got another play and scored a touchdown and kicked the extra point to win the game and the championship on a controversial drive with 2 controversial calls.
The League finished and 5 of the 6 teams moved on to playoffs. Rancho hosted Livermore in Division 2, Windsor hosted College Park in D3, Montgomery traveled to El Cerrito in D3, Newman hosted Petaluma in Division 4 and Analy hosted San Rafael in Division 5. Rancho fell to an undefeated Campolindo High School in the Semifinals, Windsor fell to undefeated El Cerrito in the NCS Championship Game, Montgomery fell to undefeated El Cerrito in the 1st Round, Newman survived elimination at Acalanes with a last minute game winning field goal from Patrick Gardner, but fell to Marin Catholic in the NCS Championship Game. Analy fell to Miramonte in the NCS Semifinals.
Putting all the crazy stuff that happened last year to the side, Football is back in Sonoma County and it's going a great year and amazing season. The SRJC 7-on-7 tournament and BIGs Competition happened recently and it gave a breif preview of what this year could look like. Windsor has been one of the most dominant 7-on-7 teams in the Bay Area, winning 3 competitions this Summer including the SRJC competition. The competition consisted of 13 Bay Area, but mostly Sonoma, Marin, Lake and Napa county teams competing in pool play and then in bracket play. Pool 1 was Casa Grande, Piner, Cardinal Newman and Analy. Pool 2 was Vintage, Windsor, Novato and Campolindo. Pool 3 was Santa Rosa, Roseland Prep, San Marin, Lower Lake and St. Vincent. Pool Play resulted in Windsor taking 1st with a 4-0 record, Santa Rosa taking 7th at 2-2, Newman taking 8th at 2-2 and Analy taking 11th at 1-3. Windsor ran the table and finished off on an incredible hail mary from Judson Anderson to Hayden Anderson to give Windsor the win over the San Marin Mustangs.
Newman's Sophomore Devin Bertoli won MVP of the BIGs Competition. Hayden Anderson won the MVP for the 7-on-7 Tournament. TO THE LEFT: GUS MORRIS OF THE PRESS DEMOCRAT'S TWEETS ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE.
Windsor has given themselves a tough non-league schedule and are the favorites this year to win the league, especially getting Ananias Walker, who will have to sit out the first 4 games of the schedule but will be ready for league. Newman looks good and could give Windsor a challenge especially with picking up Valenti and Colter and having Windsor at home this year. They also have 2 new incredible freshmen in WR Zion Cargill who played well in the Tournament and Tackle Kahlio Vaetoe who will be a force to be reckoned with on the line at Cardinal Newman. Rancho still has star QB Jacob Pruitt and are still in the running for the Championship despite losing Walker and star ATH Sailasa Vandrawale, who graduated and went to Cal to continue his football career. Analy lost a lot of key players last year, but had some good moments at the tournament at SRJC. Santa Rosa had some good moments during the tournament with QB Nolan Bankston showing out and throwing some dimes and WR Talan Patrick making some nice catches. Monty lost a lot of their playmakers last year, but still have senior WR Izeyah Wright who is a beast and holds multiple D1 offers. The Vikings are in a bit of a rebuilding year and it will be interesting to see how they play this year. This year will be interesting. Here are predictions for the Regular Season and some players to watch in the Oak League this year.
SANTA ROSA PANTHERS
Prediction: 2-8, 0-5 in League
Santa Rosa opens their season on the road against San Rafael, but come home to face Petaluma and Archie Williams. They then go on the road to face Ukiah and Piner, before opening league against Windsor on the road on October 6th. Santa Rosa performed well during the SRJC Tournament, but finished league last year 5th and lost star WR Nolan Frost. The Panthers will keep more games close this year and could go 3-7 depending on how well they play in non-league and how well they play in the Oak. Their offense will need to be electric to win more games and compete in the Oak. Santa Rosa is lead on offense by Nolan Bankston, their senior QB, who had a 50% completion percentage and 882 yards passing with 7 touchdowns and 2 picks. His QB rate was 81.2 and he could have a breakout year this year. Bankston also had 49 carries and 303 yards and 3 TDs in 2022. He is projected to improve his completion percentage to around 51% and throw more total passes if he plays all 10 games. The Panthers are expected to throw the ball more with Bankston taking most of the attempts. Bankston is projected to have over 1,000 yards passing and over 300 yards rushing with about 12 total TDs. The WR duo of Cooper Lee and Talan Patrick are set to have big Senior years this year. Lee is 6'4" 200 LBs and is a beast at WR for the Panthers. He had 18 receptions for 288 yards last year and is set to have a big year this year for SR. Patrick looks solid after a good junior year with 13 receptions for 147 yards last year. Both receivers are set to have a big year and were contributors to the Panthers during the SRJC Tournament. The big force on defense for the Panthers is Senior Adan Lemus who lead the team in total tackles, tackles per game and sacks with 64 tackles, 8 T/G and 4 sacks. He is expected to have a fantastic senior season and contribute well to the Panthers. The Panthers have a tough journey ahead and need to be electric on both offense and defense to make the playoffs.
Prediction: 3-7, 1-4 In League
Analy lost a lot of their playmakers last year and are in a rebuild year. Their team this year is very young but they still have some threats like Senior Lincoln Johnson who, in only 5 games last year, totalled 37 tackles, 7.4 T/Game and a sack. He also forced 2 fumbles, showing he can hit hard. He will be leading the charge at Middle Linebacker for the Tigers defense and will be a top defensive player in the league. Ben Stewart is expected to get the ball a lot at running back for the Tigers as he was incredible for the Tigers in the playoff game against San Rafael with 22 carries for 116 yards. He had 197 yards on 39 carries last year in 6 games and is expected to have a big Senior year for the Tigers. Stewart can also be used at reciever and had 6 catches for 70 yards and a TD last year, but will probably get the ball a lot more this year as Gio Visintin is gone. Stewart also reportedly runs a 4.5 40 yard dash, so he will be a huge part of the offense. Logan Mitchell had an incredible year at receiver last year for the Tigers with 4 of his 8 games being 100+ yards receiving games. Mitchell had 47 catches for 834 yards and 7 TDs. Mitchell will be a critical part of the offense for Analy this year, but could also be playing defense as he is listed as a cornerback on MaxPreps. Analy will probably run the ball more this year having lost QB Sammy Long. The Tigers will have an interesting season
RANCHO COTATE COUGARS
Prediction: 7-3, League: 3-2
The Cougars were really good last year and even though they lost a ton of their top players like Sai Vandrawale, Malik Cleveland, Sean Sage, Abel Cavillo, Ananias Walker and Liam Keaney, the Cougars have a great development system and were dominating both varsity and JV with their speed, physicality and skill. Also, the Cougars two of their top ball carriers back in Tupotu Poueu Hale and Jacob Pruitt. Poueu Hale had 115 carries for 687 yards and 9 touchdowns while Pruitt had 71 carries for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns. Another running back who will have a great Senior year is Geovanny Ortiz who had 57 carries for 385 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2022. The Rancho backfield was stacked last year and will be stacked this year. On defense, Rancho has Eric Rodriguez who had 53 tackles last year in 10 games, and Adam Raines, who had 48 tackles in 9 games. Both have a tackle per game rate of 5.3 and are returning to probably increase those numbers in 2023. The offensive and defensive lines have always been one of the best in the league at Rancho. Xavier Uli will be a force on the line next year as he stands at 6'4", 260 pounds. Cheveyo Vega could also be a force at receiver as he stands at 6'4", 165 pounds and he will be making his varsity debut. Rancho's JV team last year was big and speedy, and if that translates to varsity, Rancho could still be very scary this year.
As far as projections go, Rancho could win the Oak League this year and Jacob Pruitt is a candidate for League MVP and Poueu Hale could be a First Team All League along with Rodriguez and Raines. Rancho is bringing in new talent this year as are a lot of teams which makes projections hard, but you can still make good projections on certain players who have stats from last year. Pruitt and Poueu Hale will be taking most of the carries and should combine for over 1,300 yards on the ground in the 2023 Regular Season. The Cougars are going to be hard to stop.
Prediction: 4-6, League: 2-3
Montgomery is in a complete rebuild year. They lost all their stars except for Izeyah Wright, and have a new QB this year in Senior Bobby McGovern. McGovern has sat under Lucas Foye his entire career and will finally get his chance to start this year and prove himself. Izeyah Wright has picked up traction, but has had injury issues as have the entire Monty team throughout the past 2 seasons. If Monty stays healthy, they can go 4-6 or 5-5, but if they keep having injury issues like they had last year, they will be at the bottom of the Oak. Coach Vertis Patton is a good coach, but Monty's bottom line has been injuries. This year will be a rebuild year for the Vikings as most of the team is young, but that does not mean they will be terrible. The Vikings have promising young players who can compete and give the Vikings the edge in certain games. The offense does not have Sam Valenti or Keegan Peterson or Joey Bowser anymore so they're going to have to rely on Wright and the crew of running backs. Most of the Viking RBs are speedy and have shown that during the track season, but the true talent of Monty will be shown in their scrimmage with other North Bay teams on August 19.
CARDINAL NEWMAN CARDINALS
Prediction: 8-2, League: 4-1
Despite losing 6 Seniors who were a huge part of the team last year, the Cardinals have depth and are projected to bounce back this season. Newman is loaded on both the offensive and defensive line with everyone from those position groups returning. On the offensive line, 2022 NBL All League OL Aidan Woods is returning, and the line depth doesn't stop there. Devon Bertoli enters his sophomore season after having a great freshman season and won the BIGs Competition at SRJC in July. Newman has so much depth at the position like 6'6" Senior Matt Hilden who might play both QB and OT, Junior Omar Batarseh, Junior John Lubas, Freshman Kahlio Vaetoe, Sophomore Malikai Khaoone, Senior Truett Lee, Senior Tucker Peterson and more. On the defensive line, 2022 All League DL and NBL Oak sack champ for the past 2 seasons Jesse Myers leads the charge. 2022 All League DL Jimmy McKenzie had 11 QB hurries last year and is set for a huge sophomore season. Logan Rodriguez and Kai Carlberg both were huge contributors on the line last year and are set to have an even better season this year for Newman. If some of the linemen I listed play both ways, Newman will have the best OL and DL depth in the Oak.
On defense, Newman has great linebackers despite losing Kaize Steverson to the transfer portal. Senior Zach Homan averaged 4.8 tackles per game and had 3 sacks along with 4 forced fumbles last year in a great junior season and is set to have a fantastic senior season at linebacker, but could also be used at running back for the Cardinals. He is a versitile option for the Cardinals much like transfer Senior LB/RB Sam Valenti. Valenti had injury issues last year, but when he was on the field for the Vikings, he was a one man wrecking crew at both LB and RB, and is set to have a great season this year. Finally, Zach Raia, who also dealt with some injury issues last year that sidelined him for half of the season, is set to be a huge part of the Cardinals defense in 2023. He had 40 tackles and 3 sacks in 7 games before he was sidelined with an knee injury. He was back for lacrosse season and looked good to go, so if he bounces back, he'll dominate for CN. At the defensive back, Pasha Rapsai, the Jacobs twins, Jamari Gentry and Kenyon Strane are set to be the main DBs for Newman and could be very good in the secondary for CN.
On offense, Junior transfer Jayson Coulter seems like he will lead the offense under center. Coulter spent last year at Maria Carrillo and performed well in the Redwood. He will have multiple weapons including All League TE Santiago Adan, WR Jamari Gentry, RB Sam Valenti, WR Jonah Bertoli, RB Zach Homan, WR Zion Cargill and WR Kenyon Strane. Valenti and Homan will get the bulk of the carries, it seems, for CN and both definitely will have a huge impact on every game for Newman. Jamari Gentry will also have some carries at RB, like he did last year, because of his great speed. He could have some big runs at running back and could be a good player to involve in the run game. Madhi Camara has also been insanely good in practice for Cardinal Newman at RB and is looking like he could take some carries away from Homan and Gentry, allowing them to play their main positons more and give them more rest. Homan and Gentry could also be huge as YAC guys for Newman, taking short passes and turning them into big gains. Newman has a tough schedule, but are ready to compete for a League and NCS Title. Cardinal Newman could give Windsor a run for their money in D3 this year.
Prediction: 8-2, League: 4-1
Windsor is the incoming league favorite this year, but lost a lot of weapons from last year. Most of their linemen left for college and despite looking like they will have the best offense in the league and will have the best secondary in the league, the line was a huge part of their league title last year. They lost Conner Contreras, Brice Gonzalez, Andres Barragan and Cameron Crean, four of their top linemen, and also lost Trenton Becker, one of their top DBs. Everything else, though, will be nothing but good for Windsor. Hayden Anderson is one of the top athletes in the state and will be leading their offense and defense at recevier, QB and DB. His brother Judson will be leading Windsor under center at QB and is set to have a big senior season. Windsor still has all league WR Gunnar Erickson, all league RB Wyatt Morris, and all league RB Max McFerrin, along with transfer WR Ananias Walker from Rancho Cotate, another top athlete in the state. Windsor will definitely have a hard to stop offense.
On defensive, Jacob Byrn is set to have a great season at linebacker. He is incredibly underrated and had a great season last year with 3 sacks and 23 tackles. Wyatt Morris will also be on defense at linebacker and will contribute to the great depth at LB for the Jags. In the secondary, Hayden Anderson will lead an elite secondary that will include Gunnar Erickson and Joseph Smith who in total racked up 8 picks between the three players. Windsor also has a great development system and will bring up some great new players. Windsor has a good team and should be able to compete for a NCS Title.