Back in Action: Top VOL Football Returners

Sierra High wide receiver Hunter Johnson (23) could be one of the top targets in the VOL. (WAYNE THALLANDER/MANTECA BULLETIN)

The Valley Oak League has become a hall of champions.

The new VOL, an eight-team gauntlet, has Central Catholic (17 Sac-Joaquin Section championships, back-to-back NorCal and state titles), Manteca (4 SJSCIF titles, NorCal bowl appearance last season) and Oakdale (2013 NorCal D-II champion, three SJSCIF banners).

Not to mention a playoff team in Sierra, along with Weston Ranch, East Union, Kimball and Lathrop.

Locally, we’ll focus on the Manteca schools – Sierra, Manteca and EU – and Stockton’s Weston Ranch. I’ll also try to include Tracy’s Kimball. Manteca opens with a heck of experience Aug. 29, with a 4:30 p.m. game at the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Buffaloes face Wilcox of Santa Clara, which beat Manteca 28-27 in OT in Manteca to kick off last season.

I hope to be there, and if so, I’ll be updating live on Twitter.

For now, here are the Top VOL Returners for 2014. To look at my SJAA and TCAL returners, check out our blog.

RB – HECTOR SOTO (Manteca, Sr.)

Soto played third fiddle behind Alex Laurel and Michael Gonzalez in the Buffaloes’ D-III championship and NorCal D-II bowl game run, with 487 rushing yards on 67 carries with eight touchdowns.

Odds are he’ll be the man in the backfield spotlight this season.

DB – DOM PISANO (Manteca, Sr.)

Pisano led the Buffaloes with 87 tackles as a junior, adding two interceptions.

He’ll need to be the leader on the defensive side once again as Manteca ventures into the brutal VOL.

WR – HUNTER JOHNSON (Sierra, Sr.)

Johnson could be an early candidate for an all-area receiver, coming off a junior season where he hauled in 46 catches for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His QB from last year, and our first-team all-area QB Jake Pruitt, will no longer be there, though.

LB – TREVON MCCRAY (Sierra, Sr.)

McCray powered the Timberwolves with a team-high 88 tackles as a junior, with one forced fumble and a blocked pass.

You can bet Sierra will need McCray to hold down the fort in late-game situations against Manteca, Central Catholic and Oakdale, to name a few.

LB – ANGEL ROBLERO (East Union, Sr.)

Roblero led his team in tackles as a junior, too, with 102 of them for the Lancers. He also forced a fumble and had a rushing touchdown against Orestimba of Newman.

WR – CHRIS CANNADAY (Weston Ranch, Sr.)

Cannaday was a bright spot amid the Cougars’ 3-7 season, with 41 catches for 643 yards and six touchdowns.

The tough part for him is his quarterback, now-senior Marcus Moore, transferred to Stagg and will lead the defending-TCAL champion Delta Kings in the second half of the season.

MORE RETURNERS TO WATCH

TE JARED RICE (Central Catholic, Sr.)

QB HUNTER PETLANSKY (Central Catholic, Jr.)

RB MONTELL BLAND (Central Catholic, So.)

DL LANCON ICHORD (Oakdale, Sr.)

RB RASHAAD COOPER (Kimball, Sr.)

DB JACOB TALOA (Kimball, Sr.)

*Lathrop did not have any statistics posted for the 2013 season, so I could not surmise who its best returner would be. The same stats problem goes for Oakdale, but thanks to my friend Rich Estrada, aka “Black Hat Football”, I was able to find Ichord.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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Back in Action: Top TCAL Football Returners

Tracy High senior tailback Nate Jones (right) could be one of Northern California's top rushers in 2014. (MICHAEL MCCOLLUM/THE RECORD)

Today, I met Lodi High football coach Robert Sperling. And I asked him what he thought about the re-assembled football gauntlet: the Tri-Cities Athletic League.

“It’s like the SEC,” he told me. “It’s loaded.”

He couldn’t be more right.

The TCAL includes two schools each from Stockton, Tracy and Lodi this year, with defending champion Tracy, Stockton’s St. Mary’s and Lincoln and Lodi’s Tokay as the four that should battle for the top spot.

Tracy’s got one of the best tailbacks in the section in Nate Jones, Tokay will get UCLA-bound WR L.J. Reed (Cosumnes Oaks transfer) likely halfway through the year, St. Mary’s is loaded as always and Lincoln has a ton of returning talent, and looks big, strong and mean.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top returning players in the TCAL, with at least one – but not limited to one – entry from each team.

Here’s a look at my top SJAA returners from Monday.

RB – NATE JONES (Tracy, Sr.)

Jones, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound force, has been listed as a tailback to watch in the state of California, by Cal-Hi Sports. Now that’s saying something.

As a junior, Jones was instrumental in guiding the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record overall and a 5-0 mark to win the TCAL. Tracy routed Edison to open the section playoffs before taking a beating of its own against Jesuit.

Jones had 113 carries for 1,174 yards – that’s an average of 10.39 yards per carry, folks – with 19 TDs.

LB – JOEY PATINO (Tokay, Sr.)

Patino was a beast for the Tigers, with 69 tackles and a crucial 6.5 sacks. He’s one of several talented defensive returners and seems like he can stop the run and rush the passer effectively.

Look for Patino to team up with Jose Villanueva and Bradley Kazmierczak to lead the Tokay defense.

LB – KHALIL HODGE (St. Mary’s, Sr.)

Hodge is one of several D-I prospects in this league, and has already received an offer from D-I FCS Sacramento State, he said. He stands at about 6-1, 225 pounds, according to last year’s MaxPreps roster, and had 102 tackles, second-best on the team, with two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.

St. Mary’s looked massive when I saw them practice, and Hodge should be a menace on the TCAL this season.

RB – CHANCE TRAMMELL (Lodi, Sr.)

Four-year varsity football players are special, and Trammell certainly can and should be for the Flames this year.

As a junior, Trammell had 84 carries for 558 yards and three touchdowns, through the eight games reported on MaxPreps.

He’ll need to lead Lodi at linebacker too.

WR – MARK RUSSELL (Lincoln, Sr.)

From everything I’m hearing, the Trojans senior wideout will be a great target for quarterback Colby Dickson. Lincoln coach Brian Gray is excited about the returning talent on this team, which includes most of last year’s major contributors.

Russell and the Trojans have only a couple games worth of stats reported on MaxPreps for 2013.

WR – ALLEN WARD (Tokay, Sr.)

Ward was instrumental in the Tigers’ 8-3 run in 2013, hauling in 26 catches for 548 yards – a team-high – and eight touchdowns.

Once he’s teamed up with Reed in midseason, the Tigers’ offense could be scary. That’s a nice situation for quarterback Grayson Dillon to say the least.

WR – DEMETRIUS FERGUSON (St. Mary’s, Sr.)

Ferguson is another D-I prospect like Hodge, Rams coach Tony Franks told me, and had 30 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.

Look for him and quarterback Noah Righetti to develop a great chemistry as the season moves along.

RB – CHANCE WILSON (West, Sr.)

The Wolfpack’s stats were incomplete on MaxPreps, so it was difficult to place who would be their best returners.

However, in the four games registered for Wilson, he had 37 carries for 163 yards – averaging four-and-a-half yards per carry. He’ll need to be a beast for West to rebound and stay tough in the TCAL.

DL – JORDAN MCMILLER (Lincoln, Sr.)
The Trojans’ four-man front should be one of the team’s major strongpoints, led by the veteran McMiller.

MORE PLAYERS TO WATCH

NOAH RIGHETTI (St. Mary’s QB)

ANTHONY JORY (Lodi LB)

JACOB ALVARADO (Tracy SS/RB)

COLBY DICKSON (Lincoln QB)

GRAYSON DILLON (Tokay QB)

NOTE: Tokay’s Reed is not included on this list because he is not a Tokay returner, he’s just a returner to the varsity level.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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Brookside Christian parts ways with girls basketball coach Ngo

Que Ngo will no longer coach Brookside Christian girls basketball after four years. His teams went 110-21. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

As our own Jason Anderson wrote back in Feb. of 2011, when Que Ngo started coaching the Brookside Christian girls basketball team, he didn’t have a legacy to continue, he had a legacy to build.

The Knights had 33 Sac-Joaquin Section championship banners, but none for girls hoops. In four seasons, Ngo captured three of them and a CIF NorCal Division V championship to boot.

This weekend, though, Brookside Christian announced it decided not to renew Ngo’s contract, principal Dennis Gibson confirmed Tuesday.

I haven’t got to meet Ngo, or speak to him on the phone today, for that matter, so I can’t speak to his personality as a coach, his character or his basketball IQ. What I can say is how jaw-dropping his statistical resume is.

The Knights went 110-21 (winning percentage of .840) in his four seasons as coach, and won back-to-back-to-back SJSCIF banners from 2012-14. His best player, Tiara Tucker, scored a whopping 2,519 points in three varsity seasons. She transferred to McNair and played a shortened season as a senior, her poorest statistically.

Check this blog, Recordnet.com and The Record newspaper for a full story on Ngo’s departure and Brookside Christian’s search for a new coach in the coming days. As always, thanks for reading, everybody.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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Thunder makes good and familiar hire

Sometimes the obvious choice is the best.

Bringing back Dave Piecuch to become the new president of the Thunder was an obvious move, and the correct one. A former vice president of sales from the time when the franchise led the ECHL in attendance, he brings a nice combination of youth, experience and familiarity.

The fans, sponsors and many of the employees know him. He’s only 38, but has worked in pro sports for about a dozen years.

The one question mark is that he has never run a franchise himself. It’s different when you are the boss. But he knows what he wants to accomplish, and has experienced hands such as chief financial officer Bill Davidson to help him get settled.

This is a good, solid hire by Thunder owner Brad Rowbotham.

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Back in Action: Top SJAA Football Returners

Stagg High wide receiver Lester Williams (left) is one of the top returners in SJAA football. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)

The new San Joaquin Athletic Association is what high school football is all about.

This league is all Stockton, and in a six-team format with defending champion Stagg, Edison, Franklin, McNair, Bear Creek and Chavez. The Delta Kings, who went 5-0 in SJAA play and 10-2 overall last year en route to the No. 2 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, are the favorites, sure.

But it’s wide-open, as everyone else should be improved.

As we ramp up our coverage here at #RecordPreps heading into the season, I’m taking a look at the top returning players for the SJAA schools. We’re doing at least, but not limited to, one per team.

NOTE: Look for top returners in the TCAL, VOL and more in the next couple of weeks.

WR – LESTER WILLIAMS (Stagg, Sr.)

The Delta Kings will be in an unorthodox offense this season, using former wide receiver Lavante Bushnell at quarterback the first half of the year. After that, Weston Ranch transfer Marcus Moore should step in as a more traditional QB.

Williams was exceptional last season, with a team-high 43 catches for 914 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He may see the ball a bit less with Bushnell, but Delta Kings coach Don Norton likes his new QB’s development, and Williams and Moore should be fast friends come October.

RB/LB – JA’ QUAN WILLIAMS (Edison, Sr.)

Williams, a muscular, 6-foot, 210-pound senior, will see a much heavier role as a tailback in 2014.

He was limited in 2013, with 18 carries for 58 yards for two touchdowns, but coach Andre Horace sees a heavy role for him. He and quarterback Sean Buligon must lead Edison.

QB – BRICE WEBER (Bear Creek, Sr.)

Weber has limited stats posted from a year ago, but needs to be on his game for the Bruins to compete in the SJAA.

QB – JULIUS DAVILA (Chavez, Jr.)

Having a solid returning senior quarterback is rare and treasured in high school football. Having a junior is even better.

Davila is back to lead coach John Ward’s Titans, a team I believe will improve in 2014, and threw for 2,250 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine INTs in 2013. He also had four rushing scores.

WR/CB – ALBERT RIVERA (Franklin, Sr.)

Rivera only had four catches for 37 yards and two TDs in a rough year for the Yellowjackets – 3-7 overall and 0-5 in the SJAA – but he’s coming back to an offense that nearly graduated entirely.

For example, no Franklin player returning had more than eight yards rushing a year ago.

WR/S – SEAN HAMILTON (McNair, Jr.)

Hamilton, the rare junior returner on a list like this, was vital in McNair’s passing game, with 18 catches for 415 yards and four TDs.

LB – JEFFREY VALVERDE (Stagg, Sr.)

Valverde is the kind of enforcer a young Stagg team needs to defend its SJAA title, heading a new-look 4-2-5 defense.

Last season, Valverde had a team-high 120 total tackles with four sacks.

WR – PRIEST JENNINGS (Chavez, Sr.)

Jennings wasn’t used as heavily as all-area teammate Darrin Gentry last season, but was solid when he got the ball. As a junior, Jennings had 14 catches for 192 yards and two TDs.

QB/LB/DB – SETH SANTOS (McNair, Sr.)

Santos was one of the bright spots in a difficult season for the Eagles, passing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.

***

Thanks for reading, everybody, and stay tuned for my top returning players from the TCAL, VOL and more. And, please, if you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to contact me. I’m an open book.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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Best of Brandin: Saints’ Cooks’ top games at Lincoln High

Lincoln High's Brandin Cooks (4) could be the steal of the 2014 NFL Draft for the Saints. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)

Brandin Cooks may have been the steal of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Cooks, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound receiver from Stockton’s Lincoln High, was selected 20th overall by the New Orleans Saints. Mind you, a Saints team that makes menacing weapons out of ultra-quick players like Cooks. See: Darren Sproles.

Cooks tore apart the Pac-12 with Oregon State, where in three seasons, he had 226 receptions for 3,272 yards with 24 touchdowns. He showed the world what he might be able to do in the NFL quickly, with a mesmerizing hard-stop and juke touchdown against the Rams in the Saints’ preseason opener. See it here.

It’s been four years since Cooks adorned the red, white and silver of the Lincoln Trojans, but as he embarks into his potentially prolific NFL career, it’s worth a look back at his top high school games. Many thanks to our friends at MaxPreps, where much of the information my blogs cover stems from.

Here’s the best from his three varsity seasons, from 2008-10:

2010 SEASON

37-35 W over Oak Ridge (Nov. 13)

Cooks’ final high school win was a huge one.

Lincoln topped Oak Ridge to open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, and Cooks went off for 10 catches with 207 yards and three touchdowns. You can bet in a two-point game, the Trojans needed Cooks to win it.

28-17 W over Lodi (Oct. 28)

Cooks was a nightmare for Lincoln’s neighbors to the north, lighting up Lodi with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown.

56-20 L to Grant (Sept. 17)

While the Pacers rolled over the Trojans, Cooks shined with 10 catches for 151 yards and two TDs.

2009 SEASON

53-7 W over Chavez (Nov. 13)

In this battle of Stockton teams, Cooks was electric, with four catches for 95 yards and two TDs.

37-13 W over Fremont (Sept. 25)

Cooks was a beast as a junior, too, hauling in five balls for 103 yards and a TD in the Trojans’ preseason win.

2008 SEASON

44-18 W over Tracy (Oct.  7)

Cooks’ varsity coming out party was a big one. In this early-season victory, Cooks had just three catches, but for 123 yards (average of 41 per reception) with three TDs.

56-12 W over Davis (Nov. 21)

The young Cooks wasn’t intimidated by the section playoff stage, torching Davis for four catches, 157 yards and two TDs.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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Ferrero still in the game

Lodi High and University of Texas graduate Lisa Ferrero is skipping this season on the LPGA Tour as she fights breast cancer. Ferrero, 31, was diagnosed with the disease last year and recently had her final surgery. She is recuperating at her home in Florida, looking forward to earning her place back on the tour.

“I’m not playing this year because I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Ferrero said by telephone. “I just had the last surgery, so I’m trying to get back for next year.”

Recently, Ferrero came home to Lodi and spent some time coaching with the First Tee of San Joaquin’s Golf for Girls program at Swenson Park Golf Course in Stockton. She wants to remain involved with the program, which teaches golf and a set of nine core values to children ages 7-18.

Ferrero said the LPGA is urging its players to become involved with First Tee chapters in their hometowns. Ferrero said she was only too glad to help, with assistance from Stockton Golf and Country Club pro Kelly Spooner.

“I really like doing that sort of thing and I was home, so I was like, ‘I can help out,’” Ferrero said. “So it worked out perfect.

“The kids are awesome. They have a great group.”

 

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Yaqui Lopez would be a champion if classic fight happened in 2014

As a lifelong boxing fan, it was fascinating to research old fight footage while preparing to write the story which ran in Saturday’s edition of The Record about famed Stockton fighter Alvaro “Yaqui Lopez’s trip to attend the funeral of old friend and foe Matthew Saad Muhammad.

And I was left with the feeling that if their classic 1980 brawl happened today, Yaqui would very likely have won and been crowned WBC light-heavyweight champion.

The fight was selected as The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year and the eighth round was the Round of the Year. In the eight, Lopez hit Saad Muhammad with more than 20 unanswered punches. To his credit the Philadelphia fighter battled back, but this is a different sport now. Boxing officials are much more conscious of head injuries, and today the ref stops it in the 8th on a TKO.

The fight was also fought under the old 15-round rule for title bouts, instead of the current 12 rounds. Lopez dominated and faded late, but may have piled up enough points to win through the 12th. It would have been very close.

But the rules were the rules, and Yaqui certainly would never look for an excuse. He was stopped in the 14th round of that fight, and made a good friend out of the deal. So in a very real way, Yaqui did get a victory out of an historic night.

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Delta water polo signings

Delta water polo players sign with four-year institutions.

Pictured (left to right): Manuel Zorn, Carson Williamson, Jacob Castro and Cole Mahoney.

The Delta College Men’s Polo Team will have four athletes moving on to play polo at the university level.  Jacob Castro (Soph., Lincoln HS – Stockton) has accepted a water polo scholarship to play at UC San Diego, Cole Mahoney (Soph., Tokay HS – Lodi) has accepted a water polo scholarship at California Baptist,  Manuel Zorn (Soph., BG Gallus – Bregenz, Austria) has a water polo scholarship to Concordia University, and Carson Williamson received scholarships at Penn State – Lake Erie, and will compete in both swimming and water polo.

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Thunder finished because it couldn’t finish

It was a fine run by the Thunder in the playoffs, it played hard and swept a higher seed in the first round of the playoffs.

But it didn’t get out of the second round because it couldn’t close the deal when it had the lead against Bakersfield.

The Condors won 5-3 on Saturday, won the Western Conference semifinals in 5 games and move on to meet Alaska. Considering all the injuries the Thunder had to deal with, including the loss of captain Garet Hunt, it’s hard to be too tough on Stockton.

But what has to irk coach Rich Kromm and his players is that they had the lead in three of the games they lost. Stockton lead 2-0 in Game 1, and lost 3-2. It had a one-goal lead with less than eight minutes left in Game 4, and lost 2-1. And finally, the Thunder built a 3-0 advantage in Game 5, but went down 5-3.

That’s tough. The one that hurts the most is the opening game. Win that, and it’s a completely different series.

Give the Condors credit. They known how to rally, and should be congratulated. We’ll see if they can handle the high-powered Aces.

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