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Monday Morning Lights: Midseason player of the year watch and more

Welcome back to Monday Morning Lights, our weekly feature that sheds more light on the high school football weekend and peeks ahead to the new week. If you haven’t already, please subscribe. Your contributions keep us going.

MIDSEASON REPORT: WHERE THINGS STAND

We’ve reached the midpoint of the high school football season.

What we’ve learned to date is Serra is the undisputed No. 1, San Ramon Valley QB Luke Baker is even better now than he was when he captured Bay Area News Group player of the year honors in 2022 and Oakland High leads the group of surprise teams.

But there is plenty more that has caught our eye since the season kicked off in August.

Here are our midseason notables:

Player of the Year candidates

Luke Baker, SRV: All the 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior has done is pass for 1,506 yards and 18 touchdowns while leading the Wolves to a 5-0 start and No. 3 BANG ranking. Was BANG player of the year last season.

Herschel Turner Jr., Mt. Diablo: Has rushed for 1,584 yards in 82 carries – 19.32 per attempt – and 25 TDs for the 4-1 Red Devils. Three-star prospect by 247Sports. 

Michael Mitchell Jr., Archbishop Riordan: Averaged 315.5 yards passing through the first four games. In the fifth game, Saturday vs. Valley Christian, the sophomore set a WCAL record with six touchdown passes.

Coach of the Year candidates

Aaron Becker, San Ramon Valley: Has led the Wolves to a 5-0 start and none of the games has been close. Won a NorCal title last season.

Terry Hendrix, Oakland: The former Fremont-Oakland coach has orchestrated another turnaround. His team is 4-1.

Mike Parodi, Hillsdale: Has coached the Knights to their first 5-0 start since they won seven in a row to open the 2017 season.

Jack Schram, Miramonte: Unbeaten start has included a lot more running and tough defense. Might challenge Campolindo and Acalanes for the DAL Foothill title.

Best of the best

Serra: The San Mateo powerhouse beat Northern California’s two other premier programs – Folsom and De La Salle – to open the season. The Padres have continued to roll since then.

De La Salle: Not as dominant as they once were, but the Spartans are the second-best team in NorCal after defeating Folsom, St. Mary’s-Stockton, McClymonds and St. Francis to bounce back from losses to Serra and Orange Lutheran.

San Ramon Valley: The Wolves have beaten St. Ignatius, Acalanes, Elk Grove, McClymonds and Liberty by a combined 232-61, or an average of 46.4 to 12.2 per game.

Surprise teams

California: Not expected to contend in the EBAL Mountain when the season started, the Grizzlies look ready to compete with the big boys now. Their 4-2 start includes a 38-35 loss at No. 4 Pittsburg. 

Deer Valley: Snapped an 18-game losing streak in Week 2 and is now 3-2. Has found a way to win the close games, defeating Dougherty Valley and Kennedy-Fremont by a total of eight points.

Hillsdale: Clearly didn’t get the memo after being picked to finish last in the PAL De Anza Division. The Knights’ 5-0 includes a win over Sacred Heart Prep from the PAL’s top division, the Bay.

Miramonte: Has not skipped a beat despite graduating four-star UCLA quarterback Luke Duncan. The Mats (5-0) are averaging 184 rushing yards per game and are 2-0 in the DAL Foothill Division. 

Oakland: The Wildcats entered the season on a 21-game losing streak dating to 2019. They started 4-0 before losing to Atascadero last weekend.

— Darren Sabedra and Joseph Dycus

SERRA: TEACHABLE MOMENT HITS THE RIGHT NOTE

Serra head coach Patrick Walsh watches his players play St. Francis in the third quarter of their game at Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Serra defeated St. Francis 45-17. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Serra head coach Patrick Walsh watches his players play St. Francis in the third quarter of their game at Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Serra defeated St. Francis 45-17. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Near the end of the first half Saturday, with top-ranked Serra comfortably in the lead, a St. Francis running back got hit hard by a Padres defender.

The defender punctuated the blow by adding some extra-curricular activity (i.e. taunting) that raised the temperature on the St. Francis sideline and with Serra coach Patrick Walsh.

Although there were no penalty flags thrown despite pleas from St. Francis, Walsh made sure to deliver a stern message to the player and apologize to his team’s rival when the half ended.

He pulled the player out of the locker room and told him loud and clear that poor sportsmanship would not be tolerated.

“That’s not the brand that we want to be known for,” Walsh said after his team’s 45-17 victory. “These guys know each other. Everyone’s a cousin or a brother. It’s not what we want to be known for. I apologize to the St. Francis community for that. That’s not who we are.

“They’re teachable moments. One of our core values is humility. That needs to be at the forefront of what we do.”

– Darren Sabedra

DLS: LEGENDARY COACHES ENTER SCHOOL’S HOF

Jim Caviezel as Bob Ladouceur (center right) and Michael Chiklis as Terry Eidson (center left) in 'When the Game Stands Tall.' (Tracy Bennett/Sony Pictures)Jim Caviezel as Bob Ladouceur (center right) and Michael Chiklis as Terry Eidson (center left) in the 2014 movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.” (Tracy Bennett/Sony Pictures) 

Football coaches Bob Ladouceur and Terry Eidson were among the inductees honored on Sunday at the De La Salle athletic Hall of Fame ceremony.

Listening to both men give their speeches, courtesy of DLS’s Internet stream, one thing struck me after having watched Walsh teach a player about sportsmanship the previous day.

The values that Ladouceur and Eidson taught for decades have carried on through the players they molded. Walsh starred at De La Salle three decades ago.

Of course, DLS won a ton under head coach Ladouceur and defensive and special teams coordinator Eidson, highlighted by a national-record 151-game winning streak that started in 1992 and ended in 2004 and the 2014 movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.”

CONCORD, CA - DECEMBER 5: De La Salle football head coach Justin Alumbaugh, right, and former coach Bob Ladouceur talk with varsity football players while looking over game film during lunch at the school in Concord, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh, right, and former coach Bob Ladouceur talk with varsity players while looking over game film during lunch at the school in Concord, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

But as Eidson said Sunday, De La Salle football was not about any streak.

“Lad and I never set any lofty goals,” said Eidson, who also coached golf and baseball and was at one time the athletic director at the school. “We did not have a five- or a 10-year plan. We barely had a daily practice plan. It was always one play at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time.”

De La Salle football coach Terry Eidson is photographed before their game against Serra at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)De La Salle football coach Terry Eidson is photographed before a game against Serra at De La Salle High School on Sept. 2, 2016. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Ladouceur, Eidson added, didn’t even mention the streak to the team until the Spartans approached the then-national record of 72 consecutive victories.

“He said, ‘All right, the streak’s at 72, and I am tired of hearing about it. Let’s just break the damn thing and move on,’” said Eidson, who has returned this fall to coach special teams. “That was the last time he mentioned it. Spartan football was never about the wins and, yes, we won a lot. It was always about the journey.

“For me, it was always about the effort of being accountable to one another. It was about the man next to you and giving of yourself for the sake of others. Yes, it was only a game, but it was a game that could teach you so many life lessons, and that’s why I loved it.”

– Darren Sabedra

CALIFORNIA: “ONE WE LET GET AWAY”

3: SAN RAMON - California quarterback Jayden Macedo (2) and teammate Jayden Shah (80) celebrate after a Macedo touchdown pass in the first quarter. California and Granada played in a high school football game at California high school in San Ramon, Calif. on Friday, Sept. 29 2023. (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)California quarterback Jayden Macedo (2) and teammate Jayden Shah (80) celebrate after a Macedo touchdown pass in the first quarter against visiting Granada on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

To this point, California’s defining game of the season hasn’t been one of its four victories. It’s the team’s 38-35 loss at Pittsburg on Sept. 18, a defeat coach Danny Calcagno calls the “one that we let get away.”

His players haven’t forgotten.

“We took that loss very personally because we had that win and we lost it,” senior running back Devan Love said. “We won’t forget that, and we’ve kept that chip on our shoulder.”

California led 14-0 in the first half and 35-31 with five minutes to go.

Since the defeat, the Grizzlies have been razor-focused, beating previously undefeated Milpitas 48-6 and Granada 41-17.

California has a bye this weekend and then will start EBAL Mountain play on Oct. 13 at Monte Vista.

Nobody will be taking the Grizzlies lightly.

“I feel like we’ve proven ourselves to people who have doubted us,” running back Sayyidi Abdul-Kareem said.

– Joseph Dycus

SANTA TERESA: SAINTS READY TO MARCH IN?

From three losses to open the season to three consecutive victories, including a win on Thursday over Leland in a Blossom Valley Athletic League Mt. Hamilton Division opener, Santa Teresa is feeling better going into its bye this week.

But veteran coach Steve Papin knows there are areas that still need polishing for the Saints to have a strong finish, most notably penalties and the offensive line.

“I personally think we can play with anybody in our league,” Papin said. “It’s just cutting down the penalties and we have to get better up front on offense. I think that’s our Achilles’ heel. Up front, we don’t take over at the line of scrimmage. In order for us to be in those games, up front we’re going to have to have some success.”

After this week’s bye, Santa Teresa travels to Mt. Hamilton favorite Christopher on Oct. 12. The following week, the Saints visit the team picked to finish second, Live Oak.

The top four Mt. Hamilton teams qualify for the playoffs. But Papin doesn’t just want to finish fourth. He wants his team to have at least a .500 record, a mark he believes is deserving of being in the postseason.

ST will have to win two of its final four games for that to happen. After Christopher and Live Oak – neither of which have lost a game, by the way – the Saints close with Lincoln-San Jose and rival Oak Grove.

– Darren Sabedra

PROSPECT: SENIORS TRYING TO FINISH ON HIGH NOTE

When Prospect’s Kieran Friss took the handoff against Hill’s short-yarage defense and punched in a touchdown in a 45-0 victory on Thursday, it underscored the senior’s drive to get back on the field.

The running back had rehabbed from multiple knee injuries that robbed him of his junior year and the first few weeks this season.

Finally, Friss got a chance to touch the ball and took advantage of the opportunity.

“We didn’t tell Andrew Hill what was happening, so that was a legitimate touchdown,” Prospect coach Rick Esparza said after his team improved to 4-1. “We put him in there, and they were in a goal-line defense, and we had to go block and he had to go run it in.”

Friss has company on the trainer’s table.

Teammate Cody Villarreal also has been trying to work his way back from injury. The two players, Esparza said, exemplify a senior class that was “sick and tired of losing” after going 0-10 last season.

The two injured seniors are heavily involved in practices and give instructions to the scout team defense during the week.

“They are basically extensions of the coaching staff to everyone else,” Esparza said. “They love their teammates, they love the football program and they want to see us succeed.”

Esparza acknowledged that moving down to the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s “C” league, the West Valley, has helped the turnaround. But he added that the team’s seniors, including quarterback Tommy Lewit and lineman Aaron Diaz, made sure the Saratoga school wouldn’t underestimate the competition.

“They didn’t care about what the (league) placement was,” Esparza said. “They had the mindset of, ‘We’re going to turn this thing around for our senior year, and it’s not going to be anything like what we went through last year. We want to compete for a championship.’”

To that end, it appears they’re on their way.

– Joseph Dycus

PEEK AHEAD TO WEEK 7

Friday

Burlingame (2-3) at Mountain View (3-2), 7 p.m.: The loser could have a hard time earning one of PAL Bay’s five automatic playoff spots.

Monte Vista (3-2) at Foothill (1-4), 7 p.m.: Monte Vista coach Johnny Millard faces his alma mater for the first time.

Sacred Heart Prep (3-2) at Los Gatos (3-2), 7 p.m.: When these teams played last season in Atherton, SHP won 10-7.

Wilcox (3-2) at Menlo-Atherton (2-3), 7 p.m.: The past three matchups between these teams have been decided by one score.

St. Ignatius (3-2) at St. Francis (2-3), 7 p.m.: SI won a thriller on Friday over Bellarmine. St. Francis aiming to bounce back from lopsided loss at Serra.

San Ramon Valley (5-0) at Clayton Valley (2-3), 7 p.m.: Clayton Valley has won the past three games between the teams, including 42-28 last season.

— Darren Sabedra

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