Saturday, December 26, 2015

A New Job: Sports Editor

My first real job was when I was 14. My brother and I had a paper route, delivering the New York Times and Newark News to residents of our small northern New Jersey village of Mendham.

Some 47 years later my career has come full circle. I am back in the newspaper business. On Jan. 1 I will officially become the sports editor of the Elk Grove Citizen

I have been a sportswriter for the Citizen since Dec. of 2007 (and have written this blog simultaneously for almost the same length of time).  But, last Friday Citizen sports editor Jon Gudel phoned me with news that he had accepted a job with the Governor's Office of Emergency Management as an information officer.

After a long discussion with Jon about the future of the sports pages in the Citizen and wanting to see good work continued, I sat down with publisher David Herburger. Last Tuesday we came to an agreement and I officially accepted the job on Wednesday.

For my colleagues and students at Luther Burbank High School, yes, I will still be teaching my Mass Media classes. But, many evenings will now be spent writing about our city's athletes and teams.

I petition all of you to send me tips, photos and ideas for stories at my email address, egsports@herburger. net. You can also leave me voicemails at 685-3945. Just ask for John.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cattolico Returns From Coaching Hiatus, Takes Sheldon Job

Joe Cattolico is familiar, very familiar with the Sheldon/Pleasant Grove Community Stadium. As head coach at Pleasant Grove High  School his football teams were dominant in home contests played at that facility, going 31-3 in Cattolico's final five seasons at the Eagles' helm, 2009-2013.

Now, Sheldon High School is hoping that home field magic will switch to their favor starting in the fall of 2016. That's because the Huskies have hired Cattolico to replace the retiring Herbie Berry as its next head varsity football coach.

"It's an outstanding school and has an outstanding athletic program and it competes in a outstanding, tough league," he said.

The announcement was made official Wednesday that the Princeton graduate who notched successful tenures at high schools in San Jose and over nine seasons at Pleasant Grove will take over a football program that has mired at the bottom of the Delta League for a while.

Though Cattolico had been contacted by many schools wanting him to join their staff the past couple years, he's always wanted to keep his family in Elk Grove.

"We like Elk Grove, we like the schools, the neighborhoods, "he explained. "Not that all the other places aren't nice too, but we're happy to professionally stay in this community because we like it."

Now instead of hurrying up the hill to the north of the Sheldon/Pleasant Grove stadium and onto the buses with his players, Cattolico can walk leisurely to the locker room at the top of that rise. That's something he always wanted as a football coach, to play home games on the school campus.

In Cattolico Sheldon hired a man who likes to run the ball out of an I-formation, passing only to keep a defense honest, play a tough defense and keep things fairly ordinary. But, ordinary seems to work, according to Cattolico, especially in the Delta League.

"We will be similar schematically to what we've been in the past," he promised. "It will be stuff that will look familiar. Some of the schools, Elk Grove and Grant, are similar and they are obviously outstanding. We will have our work cut out to execute to the caliber those guys do."

He resigned his football post at Pleasant Grove after the 2013 season when he was turned down for the job as the school's athletic director after Jeff Caton retired. Cattolico has continued to teach social sciences at PG and has spent his Friday nights visiting football stadiums throughout the area.

Alongside has been his father, Butch, a retired football coach who was successful for many years at Los Gatos High School. Now, the elder Cattolico will be on the sidelines again.  Joe has already hired Butch as his top assistant at Sheldon.

"He was an easy hire, so he can't say no," Joe laughed. "My mom won't let him."

Also adding approval to the return to coaching was Cattolico's wife, Natasha.

"She's excited about it," he said. "It wouldn't be happening if she wasn't."

He hasn't been assured a teaching position at Sheldon as of now. But, he is planning on making his presence known on that campus in the spring running off-season workouts after school.

"The first job will be for me getting to know the kids and for the kids to get to know me," Cattolico said. "Relationships and chemistry are critical, so those things are first and foremost before any of the football-specific things."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dinwiddie Takes Coaching Job In Calgary

Former Elk Grove quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie has taken a job as the quarterback coach for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He leaves the Montreal Allouettes after three seasons as an offensive assistant coach.

Dinwiddie will work for the Stamps' head coach Dan Dickenson.
Ryan Dinwiddie

“It’s a funny story,” Dinwiddie was quoted in a team news release. “When I first got to Boise, a lot of the fans around there were saying, ‘Hey, you need to be like Dave Dickenson — he’s been the best quarterback in the Northwest.’ So I looked him up and read about him. He’s a competitive guy who has obviously had a lot of success in college and the CFL. Personality-wise, he’s an even-keel, low-key guy but deep down, I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to win more than him.”

Dinwiddie set several offensive records at Boise State and after he couldn't break through in the NFL, went north and played five seasons for Saskatchewan and Winnipeg before he started coaching.

He got his first CFL start in the 2007 Grey Cup, Canada's version of the Super Bowl, with Winnipeg in a game against Calgary.

City College Takes State Wrestling Title

Sacramento City College easily outdistance Fresno City College and the rest of the field last weekend for the team championship at the California Community College Athletic Association's state championships in Fresno.

The Panthers had 158 points, 21 more than Fresno City College. Third was Cerritos College from Norwalk. Sierra College placed 12th.
Antonio Jimenez

Individually, former Franklin Wildcat Antonio Jimenez placed sixth at 141 pounds for City College. Isaac Pilgrim was fifth at 133 pounds. Chris Vaughan was seventh at 149 pounds. Taking a third place was Keleio Romero at 157 pounds.

Taking first at 165 pounds was Dylan Forzani. Teammate Derek Lee Loy was second at the same weight classification. Trevor Wright grabbed a second place medal at 174 pounds and Isaiah Smith placed fifth at the weight.

Placing third at 184 pounds was Nick Rohrer. At 197 pounds Jason Zecchini was fourth. In the heavyweight division, D'Juan Ewing-Smalls was fourth.

“It’s been a great season for our team," Panther head coach Dave Pacheco said. "Sure we had some ups and downs, but mostly ups.  Friday was an amazing day. There were some bumps in the road Saturday, but honestly this is the biggest team effort I can remember.”

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Herd Places Fourth At Mettler

It’s annually the tournament that officially marks the start of the high school wrestling season in Northern California. The Curt Mettler Invitational brought 21 of the top wrestling teams last weekend to Elk Grove High School.

The event was won by state power Buchanan with De LaSalle second and Del Oro third.
Host Elk Grove placed fourth on the strength of Jacob Seto’s third straight Mettler individual championship at 114 pounds. 
114-pounder Jacob Seto

“(Kalani) Tonge also had a good tournament,” Elk Grove wrestling coach Pat Coffing said. “I think we’ll be pretty decent this year. With Seto, Kalani, the twins (Lokahi and Nahale Tonge) and Terrell (Turner) I think we’ll be a team people will have to reckon with.”

The Herd graduated only heavyweight Tyler Yates, state qualifier Sai Ta’amu, and 145-pounder Carson Sperber. Ta’amu’s younger brother, Lau, along with 190-pounder Jake Bellecci and Jon Pochop coming off the football team will all be counted on to contribute this year once, as Coffing called it, “they get into wrestling shape.”

(see Photos from the Mettler on the Sports Corner's Facebook site)

This weekend the Herd will be tested as they compete at the 14th annual Zinkin Classic at Buchanan High School in Clovis. This tournament brings in some of the wrestling powers of the Central and South Sections.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Pride Loses NorCal Playoff To Immanuel

Reedley - Two weeks ago the Bradshaw Christian Pride found a way to avoid defeat in the Sac-Joaquin Section's Division VI championship game despite turning the ball over five times.

Friday night, they weren't so lucky.

The Pride fumbled the ball twice, threw a pair of interceptions and turned the ball over on downs three times in losing the CIF Class 5AA NorCal Football Championship, 31-21, to Immanuel High School of Reedley. 
Phillip White grabs the pass on a 59-yard TD play.

The Eagles' quarterback Caleb Paulson completed 26 of 43 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns to lead Immanuel to the Class 5 AA State Championship game on Saturday.

"We thought we’d have to score with them, so we threw the football,” Eagles coach Matt Armstrong told the Fresno Bee. "Their defensive front is the best we’ve seen all year. We had to get the ball out quick and let our playmakers make plays."

(Photos of the Bradshaw/Immanuel Game on the Sports Corner's Facebook Site)

The Pride actually scored on its opening possession of the game played at Reedley High School. Jared Knipe, one of Bradshaw's 1,000-yard rushers this season, squeezed into the end zone from a yard out to give the Pride an early lead. 

Immanuel bounced right back with a score on the next possession. Kyle Dunigan scored from a yard out to tie the game at seven. The Eagles recovered a Bradshaw fumble on the next drive and Dunigan scored once again, this time from the 11 yardline to take a 14-7 lead.

The Pride opened the second quarter with its biggest play of the game, a Kyle Wilburn to Phillip White pass and run that covered 59 yards. The teams were tied at  14. 

But, Paulson came back with some magic of his own hitting Ryan Case on a 30-yard scoring strike. Immanuel led 21-14 at halftime.

Three times in the third quarter the Pride gave up the ball on downs and Immanuel took advantage of that. Paulson connected with Adrian Jump on a 13-yard pass play to take an insurmountable 28-14 lead. 

Bradshaw did pull to within a touchdown scoring early in the fourth quarter but Immanuel's defense stiffened the rest of the way. Case intercepted Wilburn with three minutes left in the game that resulted in Viktor Cooper's 26-yard field goal.

Cody King picked off another Wilburn pass in the final minute to seal the win. 

Immanuel will now face Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista, a 21-14 winner over Notre Dame of Riverside in the SoCal Regional game,  for the Class 5AA State Championship.

Hernandez Signs With The Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies signed right-handed reliever David Hernandez to a one-year, $3.9 million contract. The former Elk Grove H.S. and CRC pitcher will now join his third Major League Baseball organization.

Hernandez, 30, went 1-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 40 appearances last season with Arizona. He missed 2014 and the first two months of the '15 season following Tommy John surgery. Before that, Hernandez was Arizona's setup man, compiling a 3.42 ERA and picking up 17 saves over three seasons. He began his career with the Orioles, who drafted him in the 16th round in the 2005 Draft.
David Hernandez, now a Phillie

"It was a priority for us to add someone to the back of our bullpen who has pitched in high-level situations in the past," Phillies GM Matt Klentak said. "Throughout the last couple of months, we've been adding a lot of depth to our bullpen. Many of those players don't come with a lot of experience. So we wanted to make sure that we added at least one player who added a lot of experience who could help to pitch in the late part of the game."

Phillies president Andy MacPhail and Klentak were with the Orioles when Hernandez made his big league debut in 2009. Player development director Joe Jordan helped draft Hernandez in '05.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Just Who Is Immanuel High School?

We're now two weeks past Thanksgiving and opening the playoffs for the CIF State Football Championships. Just one local team is still alive - Bradshaw Christian.

They're in the 5AA State playoffs (there's going to be 13 state champions when this is all over) and Friday will travel a little more than three hours south to Reedley High School and play Immanuel. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m.

Now, where's Reedley? According to the school website it is 19 miles southeast of Fresno and 19 miles north of Visalia. Plus, it's about a 15 minute drive east of Highway 99. Immanuel High School boasts 51 Central Section championships and three state championships, though none in football.

Much like Bradshaw, their current enrollment is 390 students. There are roughly 375 students at Bradshaw, located just east of Sheldon High School on Calvine Rd. Immanuel high school has been in its currently location since 1944 and they've been a K-12 school district since 2004.

The website tells very little else about its athletic program except for the fact "athletics" is misspelled a few times (atheltics).

They are the Eagles and Reedley was 10-2 this season. Bradshaw is 12-1 on the field, losing to Vista del Lago but also having to forfeit the season opener with Big Valley Christian because of playing an ineligible player.

This is Bradshaw's first time, though, they've won 12 games in a season (they beat Big Valley, 61-0). And, this year's team may rank right up there along or even above the talent the Pride have had in its nine seasons of football. Bradshaw's 28-18 Division VI win over Hilmar two weeks ago was its fifth Section title.

Immanuel head coach Matthew Armstrong will call upon the arm of quarterback Caleb Paulson who threw for 2405 yards, 29 TD's and only seven interceptions this season. The top rusher is Kyle Dunigan who has rushed for 804 yards.

Bradshaw is a run-happy team warrant the fact backs Jarred Knipe and Mateo Bromstead each have more than 1,000 yards - Knipe with 1106 and Bromstead with 1161. Quarterback Kyle Wilburn has thrown effectively, too: 926 yards and 12 TD's on just 95 attempts.

The winner of this game will take on the winner of Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista and Notre Dame of Riverside. That game will be played Dec. 19 at a site to be determined by the CIF. Several state championship games are slated for Hornet Stadium on the Sacramento State University campus.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Macres Tourney Tips Off Thursday

The 9th Annual Mark Macres Memorial Basketball Tournament begins Thursday and runs through Saturday December 12th at Monterey Trail High School.

This year’s participants include; Pleasant Grove High School, Granite Bay High School, Yuba City High School, Merced High School, and Freedom High School. 

Tip off starts at 5:00 pm. on 12/10.  Games continue through Saturday, with the final game slated for 7:00 pm. 

Here at the Thursday games:
5:00—Freedom vs. Yuba City
6:30--- Granite Bay vs. Pleasant Grove
8:00---Merced vs. Monterey Trail

Tournament website;

Previous winners include;
2007—Monterey Trail
2008—Bella Vista
2009—Granite Bay
2010—Granite Bay
2011—Pleasant Grove
2012---Pleasant Grove
2013—Cosumnes Oaks
2014—Granite Bay

Carda On Team USA Softball

One of the top pitcher ever to come out of our area was Ally Carda. She was a star at Pleasant Grove, leading the Eagles to the 2009 Section championship. Then she went to UCLA and was a key part of several excellent clubs there. In 2014 she was a finalist for the top collegiate softball player in the entire country.

Carda is still playing, for Team USA. Here is a link to her page on the USA site.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Herd Comes Up Short, Again, In Section Final

Three times in the last four years the Elk Grove High School football team played at Hornet Stadium on the Sacramento State University campus in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s championship game.

Three times in the last four years the Herd has left the locker room in Broad Fieldhouse on the south end of the stadium with heads down, muttering what might have happened if one or two plays might have gone their way.

Each time head coach Chris Nixon, though very disappointed, has found the words to reflect back on the season and find the positives that got the Herd to the championship game.  Saturday he had those words after losing the Division I championship to Folsom, 35-27.

“There were a lot of tears shed and a lot of disappointment, but this was a tremendous season,” he said.

Elk Grove came into the game with a 13-0 record. With the same mark was their opponent, Folsom, marking this just the second time a pair of 13-0 teams faced off for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship. The other time came in 1989 when Merced and Nevada Union both were 13-0. Merced ended up the winner that day.

In the past few years Elk Grove has been in the Division II playoffs, but this year under a new rule, were brought up to Division I because of its Delta League championship.

“The Section has its reason for doing what they did, forcing us up to D-1, but to take two teams like this and play us off in Section, it does leave us with an empty feeling like we came away with nothing, “ Nixon said. 

For Folsom head coach Kris Richardson the early December games at Sac State is familiar territory. The Bulldogs have now won four straight Section titles, are the defending state champions in Division I and are riding a 30-game winning streak.

Richardson said this Section championship was particularly special because his son, Kooper, a starting offensive lineman, is a senior.

“I’ve watched a lot of these guys go through the youth program and watch them grow up with my own son and it was fun to watch,” Richardson said.

But, obtaining this Section title was a battle for the Bulldogs. Folsom quarterback Jake Jeffrey fumbled on the fourth play of the game, recovered by Lau Ta’amu a the Bulldogs’ 16.

Ryan Robards scored on the next play and then kicked the extra point for an early 7-0 lead.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Understanding The New Regional Football Championships

Looking a bit past tonight's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game between 13-0 clubs Folsom and Elk Grove is an interesting setup statewide for the CIF Football Championships.

For the first time, California will have 13 state champions and how they will seed the Section champions for a NorCal and a SoCal Regional Championship is a big confusing. A very good explanation along with a prediction where the Folsom/Elk Grove winner will play next Friday is on the Cal Hi Sports website. (click here to watch the video)

The site's writer/reporter, Mark Tennis, told me this morning he could see Elk Grove host Bellarmine of San Jose should the Herd win tonight. If Folsom pulls off its fourth straight Section title tonight at Hornet Stadium, Tennis believes the Bulldogs will have a re-match against Clayton Valley, a team Folsom defeated by one point in the season opener.

The CIF Board will convene Sunday to set up the NorCal and SoCal Regional games.

Tennis also thinks Division VI champion Bradshaw Christian could travel to Sierra of Manteca, the Division IV winner in the NorCal 4A game. Again, he explains how CIF will set the regional games on the video.

And what does he think about tonight's Section Division 1 battle?

"If (Folsom) can actually stack the box and stop Elk Grove's running attack and force them to throw, then they may win it," Tennis predicted. "But, no one has been able to do that this year."

He believes tonight contest, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at Hornet Stadium, is a real toss-up.

The game will be shown online on the NFHS Network.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Best Game Of The Year Coming Saturday

Most prep football fans thought Elk Grove would be good this year, but not 13-0 good.

Same thing goes for the defending Division I state champion Folsom Bulldogs. They had no starters returning this year, yet no one has beat them. They are now on something like a 38-game winning streak.

Only St. Mary's came close to ending that in last weekend's Sac-Joaquin Section semi-final contest. Folsom once again was lighting up the scoreboards around the Sierra Foothill League with its quick-snap, score-fast offense this fall.

Elk Grove had a few more returning starters in 2015, but no one dreamt Ryan Robards would be a 2,700-plus yardage man who would be at or near the top of the scoring charts in all of California. But, it is evident that success has come as a result of a big, strong, efficient offensive line. Offensive line coach Moe Loller has now a conveyer belt of big guys annually coming to play for him.

This may be his best overall group of "Hammerheads," the nickname given to the offensive linemen at EGHS, warrant how many times Robards and Fullah and the rest of the Herd backfield get to the "second level" virtually unnoticed.

The addition of Jeff Carlson as the defensive coordinator a year or so ago has really beefed up the Herd on that side of the ball. He had terrific defenses the years he and Dave Hoskins were co-head coaches.

Looking to Saturday's game, which will kick off at 6 p.m. at Hornet Stadium, Carlson may have the defensive scheme that could stop Folsom (or at least slow them down) and give Elk Grove its first Section football championship since 2001.

Folsom, on the other hand, is looking for its fourth straight Section championship. The last two were in Division I and the 2012 title came in Division II.

So what will be the difference in what is easily the most highly anticipated game of the year? What is likely to hand the blue championship banner to one school over the other?

I'm afraid it may be the referees.

Yes, I really believe the winner will be determined with how tight the officials will call this game. If they allow Elk Grove defenders to touch the Folsom receivers then I think the Herd has a chance to win it.

What shot down a very good Grant squad in the title game last year with Folsom were a few questionable defensive pass interference calls that came in the second quarter. Then the defenders were forced to back off and the flood gates opened for an easy Folsom win.

These kind of tight games always find a way to bring out one or two bad calls from the refs, too. I'll never forget how the Herd lost the D-II championship game two years ago against Del Oro. Right after the Golden Eagles scored a TD to come to within 12 points in the fourth quarter, they attempted an onside kick. It was clear the Eagles blocked Herd defenders away from the kicked ball prior to the ball passing the required ten yards so that a Del Oro player could recover.

The officials, when asked by Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon for an explanation, acted dumb. They later admitted a mistake and said the video Nixon sent them would be used for future instruction of officials (HERE is a link to that video posted here on the Sports Corner).

Del Oro went on to score on that drive.

Though we'd all like to think the officials will call an objective game Saturday night, it invariably happens that when two very even, very good team play in a big game like a Section championship, someone walks away muttering about a rotten call they got.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think this game could be one of those contests.