Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford was asked if he thought his current team could be as good as last year’s team, which went 10-2 in Gifford’s first season as head coach.
“Everything’s relative to competition, to circumstances,’’ Gifford said. “We will try to be as good as we can be. Do I think we can be competitive in every game we play? Absolutely. Do I think every game will be a challenge? Absolutely. Right now all I’m focused on is competing against St. Ignatius. I know they’re thinking about last year.’’
Paly plays its season opener Aug. 31 at St. Ignatius. Last year the Vikings beat SI 21-14, to get their season off on a positive note and set in motion the success that followed.
Jackson Chryst had a big senior year at quarterback and is now at Oregon State. Kevin Cullen, an all-league safety a year ago, is taking over at quarterback. You might think the move would necessitate reducing his time on defense.
“Not if Kevin has anything to say about it,’’ Gifford said.
Cullen dedicated himself to a strength-building program in the offseason and weighs in at 190 compared to 165 last year.
“You can see the difference,’’ Gifford said. “He’s bigger, stronger, faster.’’
Sophomore Danny Peters is the backup.
Aiden Chang also needs to be replaced at running back. He was an every-down back a year ago and responded with a 1,000-yard season rushing. Creighton Morgenfeld, sophomore Josh Butler and Will Moragne will share the position this year.
Jamir Shepard returns at wide receiver after a breakout junior season in which he caught 19 touchdown passes. Colin Giffen has stepped into the slot position replacing Paul Thie. Junacio Henley will line up at the other wideout position with Lou Passarello at tight end.
Right guard Alberto Ruiz (6-4, 315) and center Jackson Bundy (6-0, 260) are returning starters on the offensive line. Patrick Crowley (6-1, 275) has earned the start at one tackle. Gifford is excited about the development of Jurgen Dittrich (6-3, 210), a tight end last year who has put on 30 pounds, runs a 4.8 40, and has been slotted into the lineup at tackle on offense and outside linebacker on defense.
Bryon Escarsega-Calderon returns to anchor the defensive line. Lou Passarello, Cullen, Moragne, Shepard, Morgenfeld, Henley, Giffen and Butler will all see time on defense as well as offense, along with Joey Passarello, Alex Wang and Arthur Martinez.