The Pacific Coast Athletic League, a massive super league made up of 33 schools in the southern portion of the Central Coast Section, is coming next school year and I’m excited to see its impact on each program.
By far the largest league in the CCS, the PCAL has been touted as somewhat of a magical remedy for programs that are struggling with student-athlete participation, especially for football.
But will the implementation of the new league help those teams boost their numbers and rebuild their programs? In theory, yes. In practice, however, it’s tough to say.
I do believe that games will be more competitive across the board but I’m not sure if that will mean higher numbers when it comes to football. I think that competitive balance is just one slice of a much bigger pie when looking at the waning numbers in student-athletes on the gridiron.
Still, if the league can create a more leveled playing field, I’m all for it.
When the league was first introduced earlier this year, my mind was running wild thinking about where each football program would be placed. Now that the 2017 season is all-but over — a handful of teams are still alive in the Central Coast Section playoffs — the picture of what the PCAL’s four divisions will look like next season is a little clearer.
Taking into account a program’s record, its finish in league, what it is losing to graduation, what it’ll have back, whether it fielded junior varsity and freshman teams and the school’s overall enrollment, here’s what I believe the high school football landscape should look like next school year:
The top four finishers in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan division aren’t going anywhere next year and I don’t think they ever should. Salinas High, Aptos High, San Benito High and Palma High are without a doubt the top four football programs the Monterey Bay has to offer and all of them are set up nicely to succeed next season in the PCAL’s Gabilan division.
Sure, all four are going to lose some pretty big difference makers — Salinas probably being hit the hardest with the graduation of quarterback Brett Reade, running back Richard Cerda, linebacker Drew Schuler and safety Kelly Mcdermott, among others — but all four have shown their resiliency over the past decade.
The only one of those four that might have a case to move down in the future is Aptos, which has an enrollment of just a little more than 1,400 students. In comparison, Salinas has more than 2,500 students and San Benito is near the 2,900-mark. Palma has only 700 students but is a private all-boys school, meaning it has about the same number of student-athletes to choose from as Aptos.
Still, Aptos is a special case because of its student participation in athletics, which has steadily been around the 70-percent range over the last decade. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Plus, head coach Randy Blankenship might coach into his 90s — kidding… or am I?
On the other end of the spectrum, Pajaro Valley High, Harbor High, Greenfield High, Gonzales High and Soquel High should all be locks for the PCAL’s Santa Lucia division, which will be a “C”-rated league.
P.V. and Harbor each finished with just one win this season, while Greenfield and Gonzales had three victories and Soquel totaled four.
All five of these programs have struggled with numbers over the years and none of them fielded freshman teams this season, having to move up their first-year players to frosh-soph or junior varsity squads.
This is where the PCAL is supposed to make its biggest impact but I don’t know if it will. The theory is this: having a chance at winning more games and possibly competing for a league title will convince more kids to play football. That might work at the varsity level but how, if at all, will that impact the lower levels? I suppose that having more juniors and sophomores willing to play football will allow those numbers to trickle down to the lower levels but I’m not sure if they’d be willing to play junior varsity when all of their friends are the main attraction on Friday night. Also, it means that coaches would have to restrain themselves from moving up sophomores to the varsity level and think in the long run instead of the short term.
Mo’ factors, mo’ problems — that’s a Notorious B.I.G. reference for those of you born in the 2000s.
PROGRAMS ON THE RISE
After those nine locks it starts to get interesting.
Alisal High ran through the bottom half of the MBL-Pacific division but I don’t believe they should be moved up to the PCAL’s Gabilan division. The Trojans were just 6-4 overall in the regular season and they’re losing a gigantic senior class, which includes do-it-all quarterback Andrew Marquez. I don’t think that they will dominate either of the PCAL’s “B” divisions, which will be called Mission and Cypress, like Gilroy High dominated the Pacific this season.
Watsonville High, Monterey High and San Lorenzo Valley High are all teams that seem to be right on the edge of a breakthrough. Watsonville posted its first winning season since 2009, its junior varsity won a league title and 29 varsity players will be back next season, including running back Matthew Barcelo and both inside backers, Esteban Reyes and Carlos Ortiz. Monterey had just three wins this year but the Toreadores have e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e coming back and their junior varsity team went 7-3. The majority of S.L.V.’s playmakers were young and the Cougars’ junior varsity squad also had seven wins.
St. Francis High is one team that I believe is poised to do some big things next year. The Sharks will lose only nine players, they breezed through the Mission Trail Athletic League Coastal division and they won eight games. Numbers are always going to hinder their potential — the school only has about 250 students — but they do not belong in a “C” league next year.
And now the fun begins.
In my book, there are roughly seven teams that could fill in the final three or four spots in the PCAL’s Gabilan division. Because the league has an uneven number of football teams (29) there’s some flexibility with the size of each division. I would imagine that each division would have at least seven teams and one of the four would carry eight.
I’ve never been in attendance for a realignment meeting but I’ve heard that most of the time a coach or athletic director is never arguing for his or her team to move up, rather they state their case to stay down.
So here’s my quick “we don’t belong in the Gabilan” argument for each team on the bubble:
• Gilroy High: Look, I know we just kicked everyone’s butt in the Pacific division and ran the table in the regular season but you don’t understand how important our senior class was to all this. We’re going to graduate 27 kids. We’re losing our entire defense, all of our receivers, our best outside rusher and our junior varsity team only went 5-5. All I’m asking is to not only look at Joseph Barnes’ numbers and our record and move us up because of that. It takes more than just one guy to win in the Gabilan.
• Christopher High: We finished third in the Pacific division and that’s more than enough to keep us down in a “B” league. I understand that we have a lot of our offense back next season but we’re losing some of our best defenders, like Payton Mitchell. You guys have moved us up before and it didn’t work then; we went 0-6 each of the last two years for crying out loud!
• Seaside High: We just don’t have the numbers that we’ve had in the past. You’re talking about us like we’re a school the size of Salinas. We barely have more than 1,100 students. Losing those 500 or so students to Marina High has been tough. I get that we made the playoffs but look at the results against the top teams in the MBL-Gablian division; we went 0-4. On top of all that, we’re losing 1,400 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns with the graduation of Demarcus Hawkins. A few years back, I would say that we belong in an “A” league but now we just don’t have the bodies.
• Soledad High: We lost to Seaside. That alone should tell you guys that we’re not ready for an “A” league. I know we didn’t have our quarterback against the Spartans but we won’t have him either next year. Robbie Santa Ana is going to graduate and so is our best running back, Emanuel Ortega. I know what we’ve done over the last couple years is impressive — winning a CCS title and back-to-back league championships — but that was against other teams from “B” leagues. That’s where we belong.
• Monte Vista Christian: The size of our school and our record in the MBL-Gabilan division should be enough to keep us down. We had a special class of athletes when we moved up three years ago. We don’t have that every single year. Our quarterback, Sean White, and 20 other seniors are going to be gone next year and our junior varsity team won just one game this season. Oh, and we’re bringing in a brand new coaching staff next season, too.
• Carmel High: We shouldn’t even be in the conversation to move up. We finished second in our league, we lost to two “B”-league teams in the preseason and we didn’t even make the playoffs. Let’s not forget that we are a school of 800 kids.
• Scotts Valley High: We’re going to lose 90 percent of our offense to graduation. There’s no way we should move up. Ryan Conte, Anthony Locatelli, Carson Spence and Kyle Raymond are all going to be gone next year. Plus, we’ve got 800 kids and we haven’t won a league title since 2009. Give us a chance to be successful.
So who takes the remaining spots in the PCAL’s Gabilan division? Well there’s two things we have to consider: who can compete with the division’s top four and will it be sustainable past one season?
My first pick would have to be Gilroy. There’s no doubt the Mustangs will lose plenty at the end of this season but head coach Jubenal Rodriguez has built up the program to a more than respectable spot over his first three years. Plus, it would be pretty hard to convince a group of coaches to keep your program down in a “B” division after possibly posting a perfect 13-0 record and winning both a league and CCS title — my money is on the Mustangs to do just that.
I might catch some heat for this next pick but I would move Carmel up to the Gabilan division. I know they didn’t make the playoffs. I know they didn’t win their league. I know they’re a school on the smaller side. But look at their championship pedigree. They’ve won eight games or more in every season since 2008 except this year and they’ve played in three CCS championship games in that time.
Also, the Padres have every one of their offensive and defensive playmakers back, including sophomore Dakota Mornhinweg, who had to sit out the better half of this year after transferring from Stevenson but impressively ran for 10 touchdowns and caught another in Carmel’s dominant four-game win streak to close the season — they won by an average margin of 45.5 points. They also have receiver Rashaan Ward, quarterback Kai Lee, defensive back Zach DeZee and running back Luke Melcher all returning. They have too much talent to be left down.
They did lose to Gilroy, Soledad, Scotts Valley and Christopher but all of those losses came before the Padres inserted Mornhinweg into the lineup.
If we’re starting from scratch, then Christopher should be in the Gabilan. I almost feel bad moving the Cougars up, because they’ve traditionally struggled in an “A” league and because they finished third in a “B” league this season. But the more I look at this team, the more I believe they have a chance to be something special next season.
They’re 9-2 heading into the CCS D-IV semifinals, have an impressive win over Live Oak High, which is in the CCS Open Division III semis, and all of their offensive weapons are either juniors or sophomores. Quarterback Ben Sanford, running back Tyler Davis, tight ends Jason Scirigione and Cooper Ahola and receiver Joseph Cupp all have one year to go.
I get that they’ve only won two games over three seasons in an “A” league. But when they were moved up in the past, the cupboard was dry. That’s not the case this time around. Additionally, Christopher is the largest of all seven schools that could potentially be in the Gabilan. That has to count for something.
I can hear the critiques already so let me explain myself.
Soledad is a league champ but the Aztecs are losing too much to move up. Their star QB is going to be gone and so is their top runner. The MBL made this mistake several times. Just because a team won the division does not mean it should be bumped up. There has to be a solid overall case for the promotion.
Seaside moves down for the same reasons. The Spartans were mismatched in the MBL-Gabilan this season after being forced to move up following an MBL-Pacific division title. Making the playoffs was a nice accomplishment for the Spartans but they were blown out by a young Palma team in the first round. Seaside is losing its two best players in Hawkins and safety/receiver/running back/quarterback Daniel Sayre along with 21 others.
M.V.C. and Scotts Valley also don’t belong in an “A” division with the amount of change they will undergo over the next few weeks. The Mustangs are losing White’s 2,390 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, as well as Cody Paresa’s 1,235 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. The Watsonville-based private school also has a coaching vacancy to fill after letting go of Bruce Dini.
Scotts Valley, meanwhile, is graduating all of its offensive firepower, save for quarterback Kyle Rajala. The senior class is small — just seven players — but it has been the heart of a scrappy Falcons’ team.
There are two intriguing cases that are on the borderline of a “B” and a “C” league.
North Monterey County High won just two games this season and finished the year on a three-game losing streak in the MBL-Pacific division. But do they deserve to move down to a “C” league? I would say no. They beat up on P.V. and Marina in their two victories and they started several juniors this season, including their quarterback Joseph Bertao.
Santa Cruz High is also an interesting team that could make a case for a spot in either division. The Cardinals did win the MTAL-C but they did lose to Marina High and they’re going to graduate nearly all of their statistical leaders. I think you have to at least consider the possibility of leaving them down but I would ultimately move them up, simply because I can’t see another team in the proposed “C” division that could take their place in a “B” division and do any better than them.
North Salinas High and Alvarez High will be happy to be back in a “B” division after struggling mightily this season.
King City High is a natural fit for a “B” division and should join them.
Pacific Grove High, Stevenson and Marina all fill out the remaining spots of the eight-team Santa Lucia division, which is probably the most balanced of all four in the PCAL.
High school sports are always tough to predict because, well, they’re high school sports. So much can change from one season to another. A kid that is supposed to be a difference maker can decide to not play, they could move out of the area or so on and so forth.
It’s fun to ponder what the league will look like and it’ll be interesting to see what the finished product is when the fall season comes to an end. I, of course, have no sway on the decisions the coaches and athletic directors of the PCAL make when they meet to align the league. But what I do have is a platform to say this: leave the egos aside, protect your kids but be honest with your team’s ability and understand that no matter what happens there are going to be four teams that will finish last next season.
PACIFIC COAST ATHLETIC LEAGUE PREDICTION
GABILAN DIVISION (A)
>> Aptos High
>> Carmel High
>> Gilroy High
>> Palma High
>> Salinas High
>> San Benito High
MISSION DIVISION (B)
>> Monte Vista Christian
>> North Monterey County High
>> Santa Cruz High
>> San Lorenzo Valley High
>> Scotts Valley High
>> St. Francis High
>> Watsonville High
CYPRESS DIVISION (B)
>> Alisal High
>> Alvarez High
>> King City High
>> Monterey High
>> North Salinas High
>> Seaside High
>> Soledad High
SANTA LUCIA DIVISION (C)
>> Gonzales High
>> Greenfield High
>> Harbor High
>> Marina High
>> Pajaro Valley High
>> Pacific Grove High
>> Soquel High