Sports

Low turnout a reality for prep football teams in COVID era

Gunn looks to stay unbeaten in the SCVAL El Camino Division

Gunn's Richard Jackson IV ranks second in the CCS in rushing. Photo courtesy of Butch Garcia.

Many high school football programs have had difficulty caused by low turnout in recent years. It’s become worse in this shortened spring season. Attrition, caused by the cancellation of the fall season due to the coronavirus pandemic, has seriously depleted the rosters of more high school teams than usual due to prospective players losing interest, playing a different sport or just not wanting to take part due to concerns regarding the virus..

Bucking that trend there are a few programs thriving. Locally, programs such as the ones at Serra, Menlo-Atherton, Los Gatos and Wilcox, are nearly as good or better than ever.

“The pandemic has revealed the haves and the have-nots,’’ Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. “It has exacerbated their conditions.’’

Serra, which has 73 players on its MaxPreps roster, just got done beating longtime rival and former nemesis St. Francis 49-7, a game in which a running clock was employed during the second half.

Los Gatos coach Mark Krail, after his team scored five touchdowns in the first quarter against Mountain View of an eventual 56-23 victory, had this to say: “I’ll tell you, this is as good a team as I’ve been around.’’

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Wilcox, which plays Los Gatos Thursday, has scored 150 points in three games.

Then you have the situations at Palo Alto and Milpitas, which in most years are part of the top half of the SCVAL’s De Anza Division, along with Los Gatos and Wilcox. Gifford had fewer than 30 players suited up for recent games. Milpitas, which won a state championship in 2019, the last full prep season, is 0-3 while allowing 152 points in three games and scoring 40.

Lack of numbers has resulted in frosh-soph teams being shut down at numerous schools. Then there’s the preparation aspect. Instead of having the better part of a year to prepare for a season, teams had weeks between the time they were allowed to start practice and their first games.

“Football is a hard game to play,’’ Gifford said. “All that stuff we do in the offseason matters. This was like an experiment: how little can you do and still play at a high level? This shows, not much.’’

So the state of high school football is a bit of a mess from a competitive standpoint, but the bigger picture needs to be kept in mind.

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“We’re not playing for championships, rings or banners,’’ Gifford said. “We’re playing for the kids, giving them a chance to have fun, giving them a chance to play in front of their families. Let’s make it special for the seniors.’’

Here’s a look at this week’s games (warning, mismatches are the prevailing theme):

Los Altos at Gunn, Friday 7 p.m.

The Titans, even with a roster in the low 20s, have been steamrolling all SCVAL El Camino Division opponents they’ve encountered. After a 49-0 win over Fremont last time out, Gunn has scored 149 points in its three wins, allowed 33 and hasn’t punted yet this season.

“I get more proud about our defense getting a shutout,’’ Gunn coach Jason Miller said. “We only punted one or two times last year. It’s harder for us to play good defense at Gunn.’’

The way the Titans have dominated in El Camino play invites the question as to whether they might be ready to move up to the De Anza Division.

“I don’t know if I can judge whether we’re ready,’’ Miller said. “The only De Anza team I’ve seen is Paly. My worry would be our numbers. Skill-wise I think we’d be OK.’’

Actually, it’s unlikely there will be movement between divisions based on this atypical spring season. But judging by the scores the Titans are running up with their double-wing ground attack, it appears as though they belong in the league’s top division.

Gunn is leading the Central Coast Section in rushing at 431 yards per game. Richard Jackson IV has rushed for 460 yards, second in the CCS, has averaged over 10 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns.

Los Altos (1-2), coached by former Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep assistant Dave DeGeronimo, is 1-2 and coming off a 41-0 loss to Homestead, a team Gunn beat the previous week 42-12.

“Homestead was very motivated,’’ Miller said. “They were flying around on defense, playing angry after losing to us. (DeGeronimo), who I taught with at Greene and Jordan middle schools, is doing a good job with limited resources.’’

Gunn concludes the season against Cupertino on April 17.

“We’ve only got five games,’’ Miller said. “They’re all big. Issues with COVID jolts you back to reality. This thing could end quick. I just want to keep playing.’’

Palo Alto at Santa Clara, Friday 7 p.m.

Alfredo Rico-Torres saw action on both sides of the ball against Milpitas. Photo courtesy of Jenna Hickey.

Paly got its first win last time out, 59-26 over Milpitas, a game in which it scored 35 points in the first quarter.

“I can’t say enough about the guys and how they responded,’’ Gifford said. “I had (assistant coaches) Ruben Aguilera and Taulib Ikharo call plays, the first time in my coaching tenure I didn’t call plays. That first quarter was kind of insane. Quick-strike drives. I looked up at the scoreboard and thought, oh my gosh, are we going to score 100 points today?’’

Josh Butler rushed for 209 yards and Danny Peters threw four touchdown passes. Gifford also pointed to the contributions of some less celebrated players.

“Alfredo Rico-Torres told me `I’m ready to play defensive line if you need me,’ ‘’ Gifford said. “He’s 150 pounds and Milpitas is huge up front. I put him in there and he caused all this disruption. Rocky Leitch, we brought him up last week. His growth in a week was huge. He had a number of tackles playing safety and played good coverage.’’

Santa Clara, which had to drop its frosh-soph program, has been outscored 141-14 in three losses. Palo Alto’s frosh-soph will play Santa Cruz on Thursday.

Paly might be 1-2 and Santa Clara 0-3,, but as Gifford put it: “We’re batting 1.000. Every time we play it’s a win. Out there against Milpitas, even though everyone still wore masks, it felt familiar. It was cold, cheerleaders were there .... It kind of felt normal.’’

Dwayne Green (9) is one of M-A's top offensive threats. Photo courtesy of Bob Dahlberg.

Terra Nova at Menlo-Atherton, Friday 7 p.m.

The Bears improved to 3-0, displaying an overpowering defense in a 15-7 win over Atherton neighbor Sacred Heart Prep.

M-A’s offense was also effective, dominating time of possession with Dwayne Green rushing for 105 yards and Matt MacLeod passing for 132 yards in addition to rushing for 64 more.

While most teams have played three or four games, Terra Nova is 0-1 after losing to Burlingame 21-6. Schools in the Jefferson district were not allowed to begin practicing until after other districts had started. M-A beat Burlingame the previous week 21-0.

The Tigers have undergone a transformation offensively since Jason Piccolotti replaced Tim Adams as head coach, going from a wide-open spread passing attack to a power running approach with multiple tight ends.

“Terra Nova didn’t show much against Burlingame,’’ M-A coach Chris Saunders said. “They’ll be much better. We’ve got to continue to grow, execute, and not have so many penalties (9 for 90 yards against SHP), hopefully play a cleaner game.’’

Saunders said there will be an effort to integrate Raymond Price III into the team’s offense. Price was a starter at quarterback for Sacred Heart Prep as a sophomore on a team that went to a CCS final. He entered the game at quarterback for M-A to begin the third quarter last Saturday, and then after Green had to leave the game briefly, was moved to running back with MacLeod back in at QB.

“We’ve got two great quarterbacks, you’ll see more of Price at different positions,’’ Saunders said. “He’s such a versatile, explosive, natural football player.’’

San Mateo at Menlo School, Saturday 2 p.m.

On paper, another mismatch. Menlo is 3-0, San Mateo 0-4. Menlo’s wins are over Hillsdale, Aragon and Capuchino. San Mateo lost to all three of those teams.

Menlo senior Chris d'Alencon (3). Photo courtesy of Pam McKennny/Menlo Athletics.

“They have small numbers,’’ Menlo coach Todd Smith said. “A lot of schools have suffered attrition and they’ve had some injuries.’’

Menlo also has an issue with the number of players on the roster, suiting up 23 against Capuchino, but has found a way to be successful

One of the reasons has been the play of quarterback Sergio Beltran. He wasn’t named the starter until right before the opener, but Beltran has rewarded the faith shown in him. He has completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 604 yards and nine touchdowns. He also leads the team with 201 yards rushing and four TDs. He had 139 yards rushing last Saturday in the win over Capuchino.

“He was awesome,’’ Smith said. “Each week I see a progression.’’

Cav Williams (7) and Beck Anderson celebrate a touchdown. Photo courtesy of Bob Dahlberg.

Sacred Heart Prep at Half Moon Bay, Saturday 7 p.m.

This is the one non-mismatch matchup of the weekend. SHP is 3-1 with its one loss to M-A last week. HMB is 2-2 with losses to M-A and last week to The King’s Academy in overtime. The Gators also had to battle TKA down to the end of regulation before pulling out a 38-31 victory.

Everyone who plays the Cougars has to deal with a unique triple-option offense.

“Preparing for them is always a challenge,’’ SHP coach Mark Grieb said. “They execute great and have some real tough kids.’’

And then there’s the memory of last season, a game Half Moon Bay won 40-0.

“We ran into a buzzsaw,’’ Grieb said. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. We made mistakes right and left. Coming off a win over St. Ignatius we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Afterward we weren’t feeling as good.’’

A point of emphasis will be getting the offense back on track after being shut down by M-A.

“Defensively we played a heck of a game, holding them to 15 kept us in the game,’’ Grieb said. “Offensively their size presented a lot of problems. With the disruption by their defensive line it sure wasn’t a comfortable situation for (quarterback) Teddy Purcell to stand in there. If we can protect we can score a lot of points. It comes down to that -- can we protect?’’

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Low turnout a reality for prep football teams in COVID era

Gunn looks to stay unbeaten in the SCVAL El Camino Division

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 7, 2021, 4:10 pm

Many high school football programs have had difficulty caused by low turnout in recent years. It’s become worse in this shortened spring season. Attrition, caused by the cancellation of the fall season due to the coronavirus pandemic, has seriously depleted the rosters of more high school teams than usual due to prospective players losing interest, playing a different sport or just not wanting to take part due to concerns regarding the virus..

Bucking that trend there are a few programs thriving. Locally, programs such as the ones at Serra, Menlo-Atherton, Los Gatos and Wilcox, are nearly as good or better than ever.

“The pandemic has revealed the haves and the have-nots,’’ Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. “It has exacerbated their conditions.’’

Serra, which has 73 players on its MaxPreps roster, just got done beating longtime rival and former nemesis St. Francis 49-7, a game in which a running clock was employed during the second half.

Los Gatos coach Mark Krail, after his team scored five touchdowns in the first quarter against Mountain View of an eventual 56-23 victory, had this to say: “I’ll tell you, this is as good a team as I’ve been around.’’

Wilcox, which plays Los Gatos Thursday, has scored 150 points in three games.

Then you have the situations at Palo Alto and Milpitas, which in most years are part of the top half of the SCVAL’s De Anza Division, along with Los Gatos and Wilcox. Gifford had fewer than 30 players suited up for recent games. Milpitas, which won a state championship in 2019, the last full prep season, is 0-3 while allowing 152 points in three games and scoring 40.

Lack of numbers has resulted in frosh-soph teams being shut down at numerous schools. Then there’s the preparation aspect. Instead of having the better part of a year to prepare for a season, teams had weeks between the time they were allowed to start practice and their first games.

“Football is a hard game to play,’’ Gifford said. “All that stuff we do in the offseason matters. This was like an experiment: how little can you do and still play at a high level? This shows, not much.’’

So the state of high school football is a bit of a mess from a competitive standpoint, but the bigger picture needs to be kept in mind.

“We’re not playing for championships, rings or banners,’’ Gifford said. “We’re playing for the kids, giving them a chance to have fun, giving them a chance to play in front of their families. Let’s make it special for the seniors.’’

Here’s a look at this week’s games (warning, mismatches are the prevailing theme):

Los Altos at Gunn, Friday 7 p.m.

The Titans, even with a roster in the low 20s, have been steamrolling all SCVAL El Camino Division opponents they’ve encountered. After a 49-0 win over Fremont last time out, Gunn has scored 149 points in its three wins, allowed 33 and hasn’t punted yet this season.

“I get more proud about our defense getting a shutout,’’ Gunn coach Jason Miller said. “We only punted one or two times last year. It’s harder for us to play good defense at Gunn.’’

The way the Titans have dominated in El Camino play invites the question as to whether they might be ready to move up to the De Anza Division.

“I don’t know if I can judge whether we’re ready,’’ Miller said. “The only De Anza team I’ve seen is Paly. My worry would be our numbers. Skill-wise I think we’d be OK.’’

Actually, it’s unlikely there will be movement between divisions based on this atypical spring season. But judging by the scores the Titans are running up with their double-wing ground attack, it appears as though they belong in the league’s top division.

Gunn is leading the Central Coast Section in rushing at 431 yards per game. Richard Jackson IV has rushed for 460 yards, second in the CCS, has averaged over 10 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns.

Los Altos (1-2), coached by former Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep assistant Dave DeGeronimo, is 1-2 and coming off a 41-0 loss to Homestead, a team Gunn beat the previous week 42-12.

“Homestead was very motivated,’’ Miller said. “They were flying around on defense, playing angry after losing to us. (DeGeronimo), who I taught with at Greene and Jordan middle schools, is doing a good job with limited resources.’’

Gunn concludes the season against Cupertino on April 17.

“We’ve only got five games,’’ Miller said. “They’re all big. Issues with COVID jolts you back to reality. This thing could end quick. I just want to keep playing.’’

Palo Alto at Santa Clara, Friday 7 p.m.

Paly got its first win last time out, 59-26 over Milpitas, a game in which it scored 35 points in the first quarter.

“I can’t say enough about the guys and how they responded,’’ Gifford said. “I had (assistant coaches) Ruben Aguilera and Taulib Ikharo call plays, the first time in my coaching tenure I didn’t call plays. That first quarter was kind of insane. Quick-strike drives. I looked up at the scoreboard and thought, oh my gosh, are we going to score 100 points today?’’

Josh Butler rushed for 209 yards and Danny Peters threw four touchdown passes. Gifford also pointed to the contributions of some less celebrated players.

“Alfredo Rico-Torres told me `I’m ready to play defensive line if you need me,’ ‘’ Gifford said. “He’s 150 pounds and Milpitas is huge up front. I put him in there and he caused all this disruption. Rocky Leitch, we brought him up last week. His growth in a week was huge. He had a number of tackles playing safety and played good coverage.’’

Santa Clara, which had to drop its frosh-soph program, has been outscored 141-14 in three losses. Palo Alto’s frosh-soph will play Santa Cruz on Thursday.

Paly might be 1-2 and Santa Clara 0-3,, but as Gifford put it: “We’re batting 1.000. Every time we play it’s a win. Out there against Milpitas, even though everyone still wore masks, it felt familiar. It was cold, cheerleaders were there .... It kind of felt normal.’’

Terra Nova at Menlo-Atherton, Friday 7 p.m.

The Bears improved to 3-0, displaying an overpowering defense in a 15-7 win over Atherton neighbor Sacred Heart Prep.

M-A’s offense was also effective, dominating time of possession with Dwayne Green rushing for 105 yards and Matt MacLeod passing for 132 yards in addition to rushing for 64 more.

While most teams have played three or four games, Terra Nova is 0-1 after losing to Burlingame 21-6. Schools in the Jefferson district were not allowed to begin practicing until after other districts had started. M-A beat Burlingame the previous week 21-0.

The Tigers have undergone a transformation offensively since Jason Piccolotti replaced Tim Adams as head coach, going from a wide-open spread passing attack to a power running approach with multiple tight ends.

“Terra Nova didn’t show much against Burlingame,’’ M-A coach Chris Saunders said. “They’ll be much better. We’ve got to continue to grow, execute, and not have so many penalties (9 for 90 yards against SHP), hopefully play a cleaner game.’’

Saunders said there will be an effort to integrate Raymond Price III into the team’s offense. Price was a starter at quarterback for Sacred Heart Prep as a sophomore on a team that went to a CCS final. He entered the game at quarterback for M-A to begin the third quarter last Saturday, and then after Green had to leave the game briefly, was moved to running back with MacLeod back in at QB.

“We’ve got two great quarterbacks, you’ll see more of Price at different positions,’’ Saunders said. “He’s such a versatile, explosive, natural football player.’’

San Mateo at Menlo School, Saturday 2 p.m.

On paper, another mismatch. Menlo is 3-0, San Mateo 0-4. Menlo’s wins are over Hillsdale, Aragon and Capuchino. San Mateo lost to all three of those teams.

“They have small numbers,’’ Menlo coach Todd Smith said. “A lot of schools have suffered attrition and they’ve had some injuries.’’

Menlo also has an issue with the number of players on the roster, suiting up 23 against Capuchino, but has found a way to be successful

One of the reasons has been the play of quarterback Sergio Beltran. He wasn’t named the starter until right before the opener, but Beltran has rewarded the faith shown in him. He has completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 604 yards and nine touchdowns. He also leads the team with 201 yards rushing and four TDs. He had 139 yards rushing last Saturday in the win over Capuchino.

“He was awesome,’’ Smith said. “Each week I see a progression.’’

Sacred Heart Prep at Half Moon Bay, Saturday 7 p.m.

This is the one non-mismatch matchup of the weekend. SHP is 3-1 with its one loss to M-A last week. HMB is 2-2 with losses to M-A and last week to The King’s Academy in overtime. The Gators also had to battle TKA down to the end of regulation before pulling out a 38-31 victory.

Everyone who plays the Cougars has to deal with a unique triple-option offense.

“Preparing for them is always a challenge,’’ SHP coach Mark Grieb said. “They execute great and have some real tough kids.’’

And then there’s the memory of last season, a game Half Moon Bay won 40-0.

“We ran into a buzzsaw,’’ Grieb said. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. We made mistakes right and left. Coming off a win over St. Ignatius we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Afterward we weren’t feeling as good.’’

A point of emphasis will be getting the offense back on track after being shut down by M-A.

“Defensively we played a heck of a game, holding them to 15 kept us in the game,’’ Grieb said. “Offensively their size presented a lot of problems. With the disruption by their defensive line it sure wasn’t a comfortable situation for (quarterback) Teddy Purcell to stand in there. If we can protect we can score a lot of points. It comes down to that -- can we protect?’’

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