Labor Day weekend can mean a lot of things to people in Pleasanton with the start of high school football leading the list of priorities.
For the majority of the kids in town, it means an extra day off from school, while for the adults it means a three-day weekend with barbecues and beverages. Locally, many embrace the Scottish Games at the Fairgrounds or the Harvest Wine Celebration in the Livermore Valley.
But for the Pleasanton community, it also means the start of football season as the high school teams of Amador Valley and Foothill kick off their seasons next week.
For the players, coaches, families, fans and school community, there is no bigger event going on Labor Day weekend.
"Our community really makes it special," said Amador Valley coach Rick Sira of football season. "Both schools really embrace it. The kids at both schools work hard and compete, but we have no problems with the two schools. That's what makes this community unique. It really is a reflection how the community has raised their kids."
Amador Valley went 8-5 last season overall, advancing to the semifinals of the North Coast Section playoffs before being eliminated by De La Salle. Foothill battled to the second round of NCS before the Falcons saw their season come to an end.
Both seem poised to make another run to the playoffs, and both have fan bases as good as any in the area. The Dons open the season Aug. 30 at Freedom High in Oakland, and the Falcons the next afternoon in Novato. The Battle of Pleasanton takes place at Foothill on Nov. 8.
Following are breakdowns of the football teams at Amador Valley and Foothill.
The Dons lost some players from the skill side of the game, but they have key components back on both the offensive and defensive lines, a luxury not every team possesses.
Robert Faris, Alex Jader, James Moore and Jordan Mast all return on offense and defense, giving Sira and his staff a solid building block.
"Those guys played a lot last year, and we are going to depend on them," said Sira. "We are planning to ride them -- we are anxious to get them out on the field and get going."
In the offensive backfield, the Dons have some holes to fill, but at least at running back they appear pretty solid at the top. Michael White is a senior that missed a lot of last season with an injury, but he has been healthy and working well this year.
"He is tough as nails and has great speed," said Sira.
There are a host of others looking for time carrying the ball, and Sira has been pleased with the work ethic of the lot.
Quarterback is a big spot for the Dons to fill as three-year starter Kyle Moreno is gone this year. Right now it is a battle between junior Zeke Burgermeister and sophomore Ronnie Jones.
"Those guys have done a great job battling all summer," said Sira. "They really push each other. One day you think one of them has the edge, and the next day it is the other."
When either Burgermeister or Jones throws the ball, they will find some talent out wide as well.
Parker Newman played slot last year, and Collin Miller is a great athlete that played safety last year on the varsity as a sophomore. Adam Schmit is up from the JV team, but had a great summer, and Anthony Irizarrry can make big plays from all over the field.
On defense the Dons are led by their returning lineman, but there is promise throughout the field.
Jacob Felix, Conner Scanlin, Patrick Pipitone, Patrick Loughnane and White form a linebacker group that figures to be fast and talented. In the defensive backfield Newman and Miller return and, along with Kevan Knaggs, Collin Blaney and Nick Pappis, make a solid group.
While there figures to be plenty for Sira and his staff to be optimistic about, they all realize what it is like playing in the East Bay Athletic League.
"That's just the way it is," said Sira regarding the talent level of the league. "Everyone knows it and embraces it. We have teams in our league that can go out and beat everyone from other leagues and then go 1-7 in the EBAL."
The Falcons lost their fair share of players from a team that went 6-6 overall and 3-3 in EBAL play, advancing to the second round of the NCS Playoffs.
For a lot of teams it would be a rebuilding year, but that may not be the case for the Falcons, as it appears coach Matt Sweeney has just the right mix of talented returning players at skill spots and incoming players with the right work ethic.
"We are really green up front on defense, but we have a lot of talent in our skill groups," said Sweeney. "If we get tougher and play the whole time, we could be pretty good."
This is as optimistic as Sweeney has been the last few seasons, and with one look at some of the skill players, it is easy to see why.
Starting at quarterback, Kyle Kearns returns for his second year as the starter as just a junior. Last year the then-sophomore flashed moments of brilliance but also made some mistakes from inexperience.
"He should be 4-1 touchdowns to interceptions this year," said Sweeney of the 6 foot 3, 185-pound junior. "Last year he was about even. He has shown a lot of maturity, and we are counting on him."
Other returning skill players are running back Jamirr Holland, receiver Isaiah Langley and tight end Darrell Adams. Langley and Adams are both juniors as well and, like Kearns, played on the varsity as sophomores. Holland, also a standout defensive back, is a senior in his third varsity campaign.
Senior fullback Matt Luey is also back for his third varsity season, and the group will be joined by a trio of sophomores in the running game mix. Matt Gates, Cash Connolly and Isaiah Floyd have all showed toughness beyond their age.
In fact, three more sophomores figure to get substantial playing time this year for the Falcons. Joining the running backs are Dustin Dukleth (OL/DT), Mike Parisi (OL/DL) and Ruben Mercado (WR/DB).
"Our sophomores are as tough as nails," said Sweeney.
To balance the youth, Sweeney and his staff must find strong senior leadership, and Sweeney feels Johann Bolt and Perry Cheney fit the bill.
"Those guys could have played for us in any year," said Sweeney. "We have a bunch of seniors that are old-fashioned football players. They come to work every day."
Another one of those senior leaders is Ryan Anderson, one of the top baseball players in the area. Anderson is headed to Oregon next year to play baseball, but he will be one of the top receivers and defensive backs this year for Sweeney.
Joined by Langley and Mercado at receiver, the Falcons will give Kearns plenty of talent to throw.
The offensive line will be young, but behind Jimmy Ritter (Jr.), as well as Dukleth and Parisi, there is reason to be optimistic. Throw in Adams, Justin Silliman and Tyler Reni at tight end and Foothill should be able to move the ball on the ground.
On defense, the Falcons start out with a defensive line led by players like Luey, Alex Jenezon and Nofo Noa. The linebacker group is very deep with Bolt, Kyle Walsworth, Andrew Novak, Cheney, Gates and Connolly making up the talented unit.
With Holland and Langley returning in the defensive backfield, Foothill is solid. and when you add in players such as Mercado, Anderson and Reni, it becomes another complete group.