Amador Valley, Foothill gear up for gridiron season that ends with cross-town rivalry
Sports rivalries can turn into ugly events as evidenced by the unfortunate incidents at the San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders preseason game this year.
But not all rivalries have to be that way. Instead of heated exchanges, the event can be one the entire community embraces. Such is the case with the Amador Valley and Foothill High football teams.
If there is one reason for the Amador-Foothill rivalry being one of mutual respect, look no further than the two head coaches at the schools -- Rick Sira at Amador and Matt Sweeney at Foothill.
The two have been at their schools for 49 combined years, with both holding dear the end of the regular season match-up.
"I think we could both be here another 25 years and it would always be competitive," said Sira. "It is something that is great for Pleasanton -- not just for football, but for the entire community."
"It's really what high school sports are all about," said Sweeney. "It is a great rivalry -- one which the kids all talk about for years to come."
The all-time record stands at 18-16-1 for Foothill, according to Sweeney, with the Falcons winning 12 of the last 13 meetings. There have been numerous times over the years where the team with the worse record entering the game has come away with the win, and there have been some times when the East Bay Athletic League title has been hanging in the balance.
"We've stumbled some in recent years, but that's what the rivalry is all about," said Sira.
For the record, the two sides will meet Thursday, Nov. 10, at Foothill in the final game of the regular season. But there is a lot of work for both teams to do before the battle of Pleasanton.
Both teams open non-league play tonight with Dons traveling to Freedom High in Oakley and the Falcons making the trip to Pittsburg. Following are previews of each of the teams.
The Dons enter the season with a nice blend of experience and youth, along with what Sira feels is great team unity.
"We've got about an even split of 20 seniors and 20 juniors," said Sira. "I feel good with the way the kids have come together. They have high expectations for each other."
On offense the Dons welcome back quarterback Kyle Moreno, who started last year as a sophomore. Moreno had his appendix removed in the last couple of weeks, but Sira expects him back soon. Ryan Mahoney will handle the starting duties until Moreno returns.
Last year Moreno went through some growing pains, but Sira is pleased with the way he has progressed, working under the tutelage of former Amador quarterback Danny Jones.
"(Jones) has got such a great demeanor working with the kids," said Sira. "He has a lot to offer and does a nice job of coaching."
Sira is looking at three players and his main ball carriers. Carter Ridgway, Nick Griffen and Sam Peters have been getting the majority of work in practice.
"It's a good battle between those guys," said Sira. "All three are capable of making the big play."
When Moreno goes to the air, look for Nik Papageorge and Mitch Worsey to be the leading receivers. Josh Hardy and Gerald Seals are expected to get a lot of time at the fly position.
"Worsey had an awesome summer," explained Sira. "He was our leader points wise in the weight room, which doesn't happen very often with receivers."
The big men opening the holes up front will be led by tackles Robert Lewis and Forrest Quinn. Other strong performers so far on the line include Jarrod Graves, Jesse Cerdas and Mitchell Mayo.
"They all worked hard in the weight room and are working well in practice," said Sira.
Overall, Sira has been pleased with the offense.
"I feel like things are going well and we are ahead of where we were last year at this point," he said.
On defense, the Dons will look to Cerdas to anchor the line, with Lewis, Mayo, Graves and Griffen to key the linebacker spots. Brandon Chun, Dan Wessell and Worsey are all keys to the defensive backfield.
"They are running around well," Sira said of the defense. "We've had to make some changes, but we are pleased with the way we have been working. We are anxious to lineup against someone else."
It will be an interesting year for Foothill as Sweeney will head into the season with just five returning starters as the Falcons will shoot for their 19th consecutive berth in the North Coast Section playoffs.
"We have a lot of good players, we're just young," said Sweeney. "But the expectations are still there -- to win the league. That will never change."
A year after Sweeney had five sophomores getting plenty of time on the field, he will have seven more this year figuring to make an impact with the team.
"We just have to show some good patience with them, work hard and coach them up," explained Sweeney.
One senior starting on the offense will be quarterback Tommy Paulson. At only 5 foot 10, Paulson will look to make plays with his legs as well as his arm.
Sweeney will look to a host of players to carry the ball in Foothill's possession-oriented offense. Cody Connolly, Griffith Gates, Ray Hudson, Tyler Lahti and Jordan Ramil all will get their share of carries.
Ramil may be the best offensive weapon on the team, and the senior will also be counted on to catch the ball as well along with Ryan Anderson and Trevor Maes.
The offensive line will be led by players like Gabe Ballacer, Justin Taylor, Eduardo Perez and Preston Hedrick. The quartet will be counted on to lead the way for the entire offensive unit.
"If we get good play from our line, we will be OK," said Sweeney.
Most of the offensive line leaders will also head the defensive unit.
In the linebacker spot, both Gates and Hudson return to lead the unit after getting a lot of time last year as sophomores. The two will be joined by Jack Finney, Jason Silva and Trent Morgan. Silva is the lone senior in the group that figures to be one of the best units in the league.
The defensive backfield is also a talented -- and young -- group. Ramil and Lahti are seniors, but they will be joined by Maes (a junior) and a pair of sophomores in Jamirr Holland and Julian Williams.
"There are a lot of teams who will be looking to lay one on us this year because of how young we are," said Sweeney. "But we will show up and compete every game."
"The teams we play know what to expect when Foothill shows up," he added.