Aptos High senior Matt Hood will return as the starting quarterback for the Mariners' football team in the upcoming 2023 season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Aptos High football team is expected to have about 50 players suit up for the upcoming season. 

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it but one thing among the group is the senior class, which missed the entire freshman year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was kind of a screwed up situation,” said Aptos head coach Randy Blankenship. “So, we’re trying to make sure they have a great senior year for them. They’ve got to take ownership and things like that, but they’ve been working and committing really well.”

Aptos returns as the defending co-champion of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division, going 5-1 in league play and finishing with a 9-3 overall record. The season ended with a loss to St. Ignatius in the Central Coast Section Division II semifinals. 

Blankenship—who has led the Mariners to four CCS titles—said the goal in 2023 is to win the league title all by themselves. Yet, year-after-year there are still doubters who tell him otherwise.

“As I’ve been told, the three powerhouses in our league—Salinas, Palma and Hollister—are unbeatable and we’re not supposed to be able to compete with them,” he said. “That’s what other people think, we’re going to do our best like we have every year…Our kids, they believe in each other. They do love each other and I’ll take that over talent any day.” 

Leading the way under center is senior quarterback Matt Hood, who completed 37-of-73 pass attempts for 788 yards passing, eight touchdowns and four interceptions in 2022. 

“I wouldn’t trade [Hood] for any quarterback in California,” Blankenship said. “He’s highly competitive, he has a whole lot of confidence and the game is really slow for him.” 

Blankenship mentioned that he gave Hood more responsibility than almost any quarterback he’s had in the past, yet he’ll still have plenty of help from his teammates who can bounce to the outside.

Among those are seniors Jordan Torres and Phoenix Ghiglione along with junior Casey MacConnell, a trio of Mariners looking to be marquee backs in the Wing-T offense. 

The starters on the offensive line made their return including senior guard Alex Campbell, who will be one of the anchors for the Mariners. 

“Go as far as we possibly can, don’t lose a game at all,” he said. “Go hard everyday, show up and have that hit ‘em hard run the ball offense that Aptos has always had.”

Blankenship said he’s excited to have a tight end for the first time in three years with Tyler Silverman making the transition from tackle.

The stalwarts on defense include seniors Andrew Silva and Lawrence Ingram IV, who said it was great to get back where they left off.

“I’ve been with a lot of teams and one thing that I haven’t experienced is that bond, that brotherhood that we have all together,” Ingram said. “I love it and it’s different than anything else. I really think it’s going to help a lot.”

Joining them is sophomore linebacker Gavin McDonald, who was called up last season during the Mariners’ CCS playoff run.

“I can’t believe I’ve got [McDonald] up on the varsity,” Blankenship said. “It would be surprising if he doesn’t start or play a whole lot.”

Blankenship said he isn’t keen on having a ton of returners coming back the following season because sometimes those same players rest on their laurels, thinking they might be better than the next man up. 

“We’re struggling with that a little bit because there’s so much confidence in our line,” he said.

The longtime head coach pointed out that their scout defense, also known as “The Wild Bunch,” have been the bright stars in camp, thus far. 

Blankenship said they created a lot of value for themselves and some players he wasn’t expecting to be able to help stopped the offense on several occasions. 

There were signs from the backups that told Blankenship they don’t want to ride the bench, which could breed some competition within the depth chart.

“I was just tickled to death that some of these guys that basically almost scratched off the list stepped up tonight,” he said. “We got a long way to go but we’ve got pieces that if we can just start picking things up better and just dropping our pads, and getting off the ball better, we’ll be OK.”

Aptos will have a quartet of cornerbacks that will challenge each other for the starting spot, while the backfield is taken care of by a trio of safeties that will fly to the ball.

The linebacker positions have been the biggest question mark but some guys made plays during practice, Blankenship said. 

The Mariners will again compete in the PCAL Gabilan Division going up against familiar foes in Alvarez, Hollister, Palma and Salinas. 

They’ll also square off against Monterey and Soquel for the first time in league play since 2016 when both Aptos and Soquel were members of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.

The Mariners officially begin the season Aug. 25 against Oakdale High, which will make the trek from near Modesto to Aptos. Kickoff is slated for 7pm. 

“We want to leave with no regrets,” Ingram said. “That last game, no matter if it’s a win or a loss, we want to be able to be there and be like we did what we could do. We gave it our all and we got to be proud of ourselves at the end of the day.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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