By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
A new season brings all kinds of challenges and hope for local football teams s the 2011 campaign prepares to get under way on Friday night.
Sacred Heart Prep has a Central Coast Section title to defend; Menlo School must find a way to get back to the section finals; Menlo-Atherton hopes to dazzle under the lights at home; Gunn must find a way to win again in the SCVAL El Camino Division after going winless in the De Anza Division; Pinewood looks for its first league title while Priory hopes to navigate the campaign as an independent.
At Sacred Heart Prep, the Gators get going on Saturday against visiting San Lorenzo Valley at 2:30 p.m. after an 11-2 record in 2010 that included the team's first-ever Central Coast Section championship.
The first challenge for head coach Pete Lavorato is to get his players focused on the season ahead and not what was accomplished last year -- as impressive as it was.
The Gators have lost a number of skill players to graduation, including quarterback John Geary, running back Colin Terndrup and two-way lineman Brian Moran among the 23 seniors who put together the most successful season in school history.
Jack Larson, who was throwing baseballs in the spring, will be pitching footballs this fall as the starting quarterback. Tyler McCool, Ryan Gaertner and Will Morgan -- all members of the track team -- will make up a speedy backfield behind Larson.
Joining that group will be Daver Refioglu, who has played tennis the past three seasons instead of football.
Duke Moran, Leo Kolomantangi, Nick Kawasaki, Matt Martella, Gabe Mitchell and Mark Oppenheimer look to anchor the offensive line, with Moran catching passes from the tight end position.
Veteran end/linebacker Luke Thomas anchors the defense along with Derek Hunter, Fatu Tupou, Mike Covell, Mark Hardy, Daniel Thaure, Kevin Honahoe and A.J. Chamorro.
The Gators appear ready to roll on offense, but the defense make take some time to catch up.
At Menlo School, the Knights will open on Friday at Santa Cruz at 7:30 p.m. Menlo is coming off an 8-4 record that concluded with a loss to Sacred Heart Prep in the CCS Division IV semifinals.
Like SHP, the Knights lost a lot of offensive yards but have enough talented bodies to keep the scoreboard lit.
Head coach Mark Newton has three quarterbacks in the rotation -- junior Matt Bradley and sophomores Mikey Diekroeger and Jack Heneghan -- plus a remarkable nine possible wide receivers to throw to -- among them Chris Reed.
The offensive returnees include Tommy Ford, Colum Coyne, Andrew Sanford and Dylan Mayer, who at 6-2 and 215 pounds will be tough to bring down at running back or slot receiver. Chris Zeisler and Heru Peacock also figure to be carrying the ball, as well.
The offensive and defensive lines need to be at their best with all the new faces behind them. Wyatt Rouser, Spencer Buja and Craig Robbins likely will go both ways along with Mayer, who doubles as a linebacker.
Returnee Carson Badger provides experience in the defensive backfield along with Chris Reed while newcomer Conner Stastny will add depth there with Reed, Sanford and Coyne.
Staying healthy and limiting two-way duty will be important for the Knights, who went 4-1 in the PAL Ocean Division last season.
At Menlo-Atherton, the Bears hope to start better than their 0-3 mark from a year ago when they play host to El Camino on Friday at 7 p.m. Menlo-Atherton will play four of its five home games under the lights this season now that permanent lights have been installed.
Second-year coach Sione Ta'ufo'ou can only hope he has something to put under the spotlight after finishing 4-7 last season.
Uilifeleti (Willy) Fonua returns at quarterback with more experience and poise and will be joined in the backfield by veterans Cameron Moody, Taylor Mashack and Dustin Nascimento.
Austin Clarence and Richard Cornew, both returning players, look to be main targets for Fonua while newcomers Blake Olsen and Evan Perkins add to the receiving corps.
Luke Pinkston leads the way on the line and will be joined by center Ricky Vea. Connor Sweetnam holds forth at linebacker but will need help from a handful of newcomers.
A lack of numbers likely will force Ta'ufo'ou to have plenty of two-way players, not the best situation in the always tough PAL Bay Division where the Bears finished 3-3 in 2010.
At Gunn, new head coach Dan Navarro (from Mountain View) inherits a team that went 0-6 in the SCVAL De Anza Division and 3-7 overall in 2010. The Titans have returned to the El Camino Division, where they are better-suited.
With his former team playing in the De Anza Division, Navarro can focus on getting Gunn back in the hunt for a league title.
Senior lineman Keenan Venuti, a 6-foot-7, 260-pounder, will have to measure up to those statistics on the field to get Gunn headed in the right direction. Fellow senior JJ Strnad will bring experience at running back and linebacker while seniors Robert Kato, Skyler Larson, Malik Gill, and Dallas Trevillien will have to be leaders on offense and defense.
Junior Andre Guzman, a transfer from Paly, looks to be the starter at quarterback. He'll make his debut on Sept. 9 when the Titans open their season on the road against McClymonds in Oakland.
At Pinewood, the Panthers went 6-3 overall last season and 5-1 while playing eight-man football in the Mission Trail Athletic League. The team will take aim at improving those marks with senior Dante Fraioli leading the way.
Fraioli was the team's MVP as a running back and linebacker last season. He scored 51 points in one game and once again will be a key factor in whatever success the Panthers enjoy.
Also back is quarterback John Bennett while MJ Stevens is a key player on both lines and will be joined by Daniel Branski and Surya Thekketh, among others.
At Priory, the Panthers hope to improve upon last season's 4-5 record (2-4 in the Coastal Athletic League) while also playing eight-man football. Running back/linebacker Matt Schwab will be a key player after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.
Freshman Anthony McMath will get the call at quarterback from coach Doug Sargent while sophomore James McDaniel is back at running back after a standout season. Malik Reid, Kellan Draeger and Riley Munks also figure to play a lot along with Will Latta and kicker Austin Mirabella.
Priory will host Stuart Hall on Friday in a season opener at 4 p.m.
2011 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULES
FRIDAY, SEPT. 2
Stuart Hall at Priory, 4 p.m.
El Camino at Menlo-Atherton, 7 p.m.
San Benito at Palo Alto, 7:30 p.m.
Menlo School at Santa Cruz, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3
San Lorenzo Valley at Sacred Heart Prep, 2:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 9
Mission (SF) at Menlo School, 3:15 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep at Riordan, 3:15 p.m.
Stuart Hall at Pinewood, 4 p.m.
Gunn at McClymonds (Oakland), 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 10
Priory at Anderson Valley, 1 p.m.
Los Gatos at Menlo-Atherton, 2 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 16
Palo Alto vs. Mitty at Foothill College, 7 p.m.
St. Ignatius at Menlo-Atherton, 7 p.m.
Burlingame at Gunn, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 17
Rincon Valley Christian at Priory, 1 p.m.
Pinewood at Crystal Springs, 1 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep at Los Altos, 1:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 23
Scotts Valley at Sacred Heart Prep, 3:30 p.m.
Hillsdale vs. Menlo School at Woodside High, 7 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton at Half Moon Bay, 7 p.m.
Palo Alto at Gunn, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 24
Kings Christian at Pinewood, 11 a.m.
Alma Heights Christian at Priory, 1 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 30
Menlo School at Mills, 3:15 p.m.
Homestead at Palo Alto, 7:30 p.m.
Harker at Gunn, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 1
Trinity Christian at Pinewood, 11 a.m.
THURSDAY, OCT. 6
Menlo-Atherton at Burlingame, 7 p.m.
FRIDAY, OCT. 7
Terra Nova at Sacred Heart Prep, 3 p.m.
Cornerstone Christian at Pinewood, 4 p.m.
Priory at Anzar, 6 p.m.
Menlo School at South San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Wilcox at Palo Alto, 7:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, OCT. 14
Half Moon Bay at Menlo School, 3 p.m.
Anzar at Pinewood, 4 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton at King's Academy, 7 p.m.
Gunn vs. Santa Clara at Buchser Middle School, 7:15 p.m.
Palo Alto at Los Gatos, 7:30 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep at Burlingame, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 15
Priory at Crystal Springs, 3 p.m.
FRIDAY, OCT. 21
Trinity Christian at Priory, 3:30 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep at King's Academy, 7 p.m.
Menlo School at Sequoia, 7 p.m.
Jefferson at Menlo-Atherton, 7 p.m.
Palo Alto at Saratoga, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 22
Pinewood at Alma Heights Christian, 1 p.m.
Gunn at Cupertino, 1:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, OCT. 28
Anchorpoint Christian at Pinewood, 3:30 p.m.
Cornerstone Christian at Priory, 4 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep at Menlo-Atherton, 7 p.m.
Menlo School at Aragon, 7 p.m.
Mountain View at Palo Alto, 7:30 p.m.
Monta Vista at Gunn, 7:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, NOV. 4
Pinewood at Priory, 3:30 p.m.
Jefferson at Sacred Heart Prep, 2:45 p.m.
Woodside at Menlo School, 2:45 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton at Terra Nova, 7 p.m.
Fremont at Gunn, 7:30 p.m.
Los Altos at Palo Alto, 7:30 p.m.
THURSDAY, NOV. 10
Menlo-Atherton at Woodside, 7 p.m.
FRIDAY, NOV. 11
Sacred Heart Prep vs. Menlo School at Foothill College, 7 p.m.
Palo Alto at Milpitas, 7:30 p.m.
Gunn vs. Lynbrook at Fremont High, 7:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, NOV. 18
First round of CCS playoffs