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Back on the gridiron for Foothill, Amador

Falcons, Dons kick off their 2016 football seasons tonight

It is interesting to see the dynamics of the football programs at Amador Valley and Foothill high schools.

At Amador, first-year coach Danny Jones is busy trying to build his program, while coach Matt Sweeney over at Foothill is trying to keep it business as usual.

While both have their own way of doing things, the goal is the same -- win as many games as possible. The hard work throughout the summer and in to the fall will be on display tonight as the 2016 season kicks off.

Jones and his Dons travel to Concord to play De La Salle at 7:30 p.m., while the Falcons and Sweeney head over the hill to take on San Leandro in a 7 p.m. contest.

With Dublin and Dougherty Valley coming into the East Bay Athletic League this year, the teams will have just one non-league game as there are now nine EBAL games.

Jones, who replaced longtime coach Rick Sira after Sira stepped down following last season, is trying to make the Amador team his own, something that can be tough to accomplish in the first year for a new coach.

"We are just trying to make a cultural change," Jones said of his biggest challenge thus far. "We are trying to instill accountability in these kids. You can't have one kid get off the bus. They all have to be in it together."

Sweeney on the other side of town wants the players of the present to learn from the past.

"We just need to go out and play like Foothill teams have played for the last 29 years," Sweeney said. "It's about being extremely disciplined, extremely unselfish and playing extremely hard."

Amador Valley Dons

Jones has a big foundation in his offensive line to build the team around.

"Best position group on the team," said Jones of the O-line.

The senior group of Max Moore, Alex Crepeau, Mason Bartolo and Amir Farsi will be joined by sophomore Jordan Urquhart to form the nucleus of the offense. Joining that group is another senior, Brandon Larson at tight end. Larson is a standout on offense (he will also see time at fullback) and defense where he is an outside linebacker.

The backfield is set with the duo of David White and Tore Wiley set to do much of the work. The receiving spots have been a revolving competition with Nate Lau and Jacob Rios looking strong so far.

Jones will have to find a replacement for his little brother at quarterback, as Ronnie Jones spent three years running the Amador attack before graduating in June. The competition is between senior Adam Ashley and junior Jordan Griffin.

Bryce Taylor is back to handle the kicking and punting responsibilities for the Dons.

The defensive front will have a similar look as the offensive line because most will play on offense and defense. Bartolo and Crepeau are on the inside, with Moore, Urquhart being joined by Jeremy Mast on the ends.

Jason Severance, who Jones describes as a "sideline-to-sideline player that brings the wow factor," is one of the inside linebackers and will be joined by Wiley. Larson is set at one outside spot, and White is ready to go at the other.

The defensive backfield is yet to be set, but Ashley will play either corner or safety and has looked strong through the early workouts.

With only one non-league game and opening the season at De La Salle, Jones knows what a task lays ahead in his rookie campaign. Keeping that in mind, Jones and his staff are diligently prepping the team.

"We know it's a gauntlet," Jones said of the schedule. "What we are really working hard is to put the kids in situations you will see in a game so when Friday nights roll around, you have been there before."

Foothill Falcons

Much the same as the Dons, the Falcons come into the season with a strong, veteran group on the offensive line.

Dylan Walsh, Patrick Mackle and Brennen Gallagher are all seniors, with Gallagher and Dylan Walsh in their third year as a starter. Junior Zach Walsh played on the varsity as a sophomore last season, giving Sweeney four returners.

"That's a pretty good nucleus of guys and they all got touches as sophomores and juniors," Sweeney said.

Also back is junior quarterback Ben Wooldridge. As a sophomore starter last season, Wooldridge helped lead the Falcons to the EBAL title and a spot in the North Coast Section championship game.

"Ben is very coachable and is a very special athlete," Sweeney said.

While the line and quarterback spot are as solid as any team in the league, the Falcons are looking for answers everywhere else. You can't lose skill position players like Ruben Mercado, Isaiah Floyd, Matt Gates, Josh Merryman and Cash Connolly and not take a hit.

"We need game experience in a hurry," Sweeney said. "Having (Wooldridge and the line) is huge, but we have a lack of experience across the board on defense and at the skill spots."

Jayden Gonzaga, Jake Simons and Jake Jackson should all see time carrying the ball, with players like Michael Smith (a junior in his second year on varsity), Noah Burke, Jackson and Jamal Cornwell in the mix to be on the receiving end of Wooldridge's passes.

On defense, the Falcons return only two starters, both on the defensive line. Walsh and Mackle will be joined by Derek Rodriguez on the line. Gallagher leads a linebacker group that will look for good play out of Gonzaga, Simons and Johnny French.

In the defensive backfield, Michael Easter joins Jackson at the corners, with Smith and Elijah Mack at the safety spots.

The cupboard is hardly empty for Foothill, but there is a lot of work to be done at key spots in the brutally tough EBAL. After the San Leandro opener, the Falcons run into three very solid teams in California, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley. Foothill beat all three last season on the way to the league title.

"We'll get the game experience as the season goes on," Sweeney said. "But we start with such a daunting task with the schedule. Those teams are going to be looking to hang one on us after the last couple of years."

Amador Valley

Tonight at De La Salle, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at Deer Valley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 vs. Dougherty Valley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 at California, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. Granada, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 vs. San Ramon Valley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 at Livermore, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs. Dublin, 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 at Monte Vista, 7 p.m.

Oct. 28 BYE

Nov. 4 vs. Foothill, 7 p.m.

Foothill

Tonight at San Leandro, 7 p.m.

Sept. 2 vs. California, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 vs. Monte Vista, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. San Ramon Valley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Dublin, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 BYE

Oct. 7 vs. Dougherty Valley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 at De La Salle, 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 vs. Granada, 7 p.m.

Oct. 28 at Livermore, 7 p.m.

Nov. 4 at Amador Valley, 7 p.m.

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