Bears set to grapple with tough nonleague schedule | August 23, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 23, 2019

Bears set to grapple with tough nonleague schedule

Defending state champions ready for another deep run

by Glenn Reeves

The Menlo-Atherton football team is loaded with talent. It better be because there's a loaded schedule looming for the team to play. Two WCAL opponents to open the season (Bellarmine and Serra) followed by a trip to play at Utah powerhouse East of Salt Lake City, a trip to play at Northern California juggernaut Folsom, and a final non-league game against an Arroyo Grande team that has gone 75-23 over the last nine years.

Not for the faint of heart.

The nucleus of a state championship team returns for M-A, but a new coach, Steve Papin, has replaced Adhir Ravipati.

"I knew from the start the job wasn't going to be easy,'' Papin said. "But for me the transition period is over. They've bought into our schemes. Guys are enjoying themselves and we've become a family.''

Sophomore Matt MacLeod will start at quarterback. As a freshman he saw his first varsity action when he came off the bench to help rally the Bears to a 33-28 win over Wilcox in the Central Coast Section Open Division I championship game.

"He's a special one,'' Papin said. "Has all the tools, can make all the throws and he's smart.''

Raymond Price III, a talented transfer from Sacred Heart Prep, will become eligible by the fifth game of the season.

Papin ran an offense with two or three running backs on the field at Independence, his previous coaching stop. Ravipati's base offense was a one-back set with four wide receivers, three on one side.

"We still want to run that triple-option look, not trips (wide receivers) on every down,'' Papin said. "We really want to get single coverage for Troy.''

Papin is referring to junior wide receiver Troy Franklin, a special talent who has received scholarship offers from a who's who of college football powers (Alabama, USC, Texas, Oregon, etc). Sophomore Jalen Moss, Independence transfer Jayden Stanley, Skyler Thomas and JD Carson are among those who will team with Franklin at wideout. The plan is for Justin Anderson, another player with numerous Division I offers, to play primarily in the defensive backfield where he is moving from cornerback to safety.

Last year's top three running backs -- Deston Hawkins, Jaeden Barker and De'Marshaun Payton -- have all graduated. So it's a new group of players set to line up in Papin's multiple running back sets.

Francisco Sanchez, a star sprinter on the M-A track team who placed third in the 100 at last spring's CCS finals, has made an impression in practice.

"He's looking real good, he'll be the go-to back,'' Papin said. "It's hard to get a good shot on him.''

Songi Eke and Seth Carlisle will also get their carries.

M-A possesses a wealth of size and depth on the offensive line. Papin said he has 12 who can play and is conducting reps in practice with two completely separate units -- a bigger power group and a smaller speed group. Some of the standouts include Uate Uhila (6-1, 285), Fale Mosley (6-0, 260) and Semisi Mataele (6-0, 312). Uhila is on the radar of college recruiters and has received an offer from the University of San Diego.

On defense, the secondary gives the offensive line a run for the title of the team's most talented unit. With Anderson moving to safety, Thomas and Treavon Norton are penciled in as the starting corners. Papin's defensive coordinator Ali Bhatti utilizes a three-safety alignment with strong safety Eric Stuart and weak safety Thomas Taufui joining Anderson. Franklin will also see some time in the defensive backfield.

Up front M-A needs to replace inside linebacker Daniel Heimuli and tackle Noa Ngalu, both now at the University of Washington. That tandem made the inside run a non-option for M-A foes a season ago. Joe Posthauer, primarily a safety last year, has been moved to linebacker.

"He's not Heimuli,'' Papin said. "But he's one of the smartest players I've ever coached.''

There's a committee approach to manning the front four, but with no shortage of candidates. Uhila and Afu Fonua are a couple of guys who have caught Papin's eye.

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