Sunday, August 12, 2012

Football Preview: Watch Out For Jesuit

Here's the latest in my series of football previews, a team I think will do real well this fall, the Jesuit Marauders. 

It’s sort of like Jimbo Fisher replacing Florida State’s legendary coach Bobby Bowden or Gene Stallings when he replaced “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. Marlon Blanton has the task of bringing his brand of high school football to Jesuit High School in 2012 where for the past 31 years Dan Carmazzi established a reputation of fielding quality, competitive teams.

However, in just the past few seasons, the Marauders haven’t wielded the big threat on the field they once were known for, succumbing to sub-.500 records each of the past three years.  After making the playoffs for 13 straight years between 1992 and 2004, winning Sac-Joaquin Section championships in 1995 and 2002, Jesuit’s football program reverted to back-to-back 4-6 seasons in 2009 and 2010. Last season they were 5-5, 2-3 in the Delta River League.

Through a bit of a quirk in the playoff format, the Marauders did make the post-season but fell to Bethel in the opening round, 24-17. Prior to that the last time Jesuit was in the playoffs was 2007.

The Jesuit faithful had the heat turned up under Carmazzi to the point that when Christian Brothers High School, his alma mater, came calling in the spring with the offer of an assistant athletic director role, Carmazzi resigned and Blanton was brought in from St. Patrick/St. Vincent in Vallejo, where he coached the past 14 years.

“Moments and opportunities like this are very rare,” Blanton said of his hiring at Jesuit. “I feel very fortunate to join such a selfless community.”

He inherits a team that will return three starters on offense and five on defense, but may have one of the area’s best all-around athletes, Thomas Sperbeck, son of the head coach of the Sacramento State Hornets.

Last season Sperbeck completed 105 of 176 passes for 1,311 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He was also the Marauders’ second-leading rusher gaining 585 yards on 70 carries, scoring eight times.

Blanton also inherits several quality athletes who played on the junior varsity squad that won nine times last season. That plus Blanton’s new system makes Jesuit a threat to finish at or near the top of the DRL this fall.

Offense –
Blanton says he’s installing the veer offense, the same scheme employed by T.J. Ewing at Monterey Trail High School. In fact, the Marauders will scrimmage the Mustangs on Aug. 23.

Success of Jesuit’s veer will require a quality offensive line, which he has with returners Rafael Aguilar (6-2, 230), Alec Garofalo (6-1, 200) and Garrett Strohmaier (6-3, 270).

“I want to take advantage of Thomas Sperbeck’s big play ability with the run and the pass,” Blanton said.

Running the ball much of the time will be James Avila-Ellington, who had limited time offensively last season, but defensively was a major player. He had 25 tackles and four sacks.

Blanton promises his offense will work towards controlling the ball and limiting turnovers.

In the tradition of quality kickers at Jesuit, the placekicking duties will be handled by Andrew Endicott and the punting by Andrew Hoy.

The strength of the Marauders on this side of the ball may be their backfield led by Sperbeck, who will play free safety, along with cornerbacks Devin Kelly, Steve Heath and Kristan Williams.

“There’s big play ability in that defensive backfield,” Blanton said.

The top defensive linemen are Aguilar, Casey Reilly (6-0, 200), Jacob Rice, Malcolm Harvey and Andrew Augustine. Watch for the play of linebackers Mathew Ternan (5-10, 180) and Austin Gates (6-0, 190).

“Tackling and communication will be important,” Banton added.

Blanton has an impressive resume. Blanton began his football coaching career in 1993 at his alma mater, De La Salle High School, where he was a running back.  A three year varsity football player, Blanton spent time coaching the freshman and junior varsity teams at De La Salle before being named head varsity coach at St. Patrick’s/St. Vincents in 1998. Blanton was named the Bay Shore Athletic League Coach of the Year in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

His assistant coaches are Lane Hawkins, Ross Evans, Paul Willover, David Salias and Antolin Macalino.

There’s only three home games this fall at Loyola Field because of a bit of a quirk in the schedule. Next year they may have none because plans are to have a new synthetic turf installed.

Their non-league schedule will all be on the road and includes the usual rivals Rio Americano, the public high school just down the street, and Christian Brothers (“The Holy Bowl” played at Hughes Stadium), both very winnable games. Jesuit also travels to El Camino and Laguna Creek. Its toughest non-DRL game will be against Franklin on Sept. 21 at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

The first home game will be the DRL opener on Oct. 6 against Ponderosa.

Prediction – 8-2 overall, 4-1 DRL
There’s no reason why Jesuit shouldn’t be at least 4-1 with it begins the DRL part of the season in October. Their toughest league opponents will be Pleasant Grove and Folsom, but Jesuit looks to have the athletes in the defensive secondary to stay with the Bulldogs’ receivers.

It is very likely that the league championship will be determined in the regular season finale at Pleasant Grove.

Blanton hopes his new offensive and defensive schemes will be quickly learned by the Marauders and admits that several players he’s counting on this fall lack varsity experience.

But, they should win most of their league games and be back in the playoffs this November.

“This will be a successful season if we learn how to play for each other,” Blanton said.

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