Pajaro Valley High football team practices hard leading up to its season opener at Ripon Christian on Aug. 25 at 7:30pm. (Raul Ebio - The Pajaronian)

Unity is typically a key ingredient for any successful season whether it’s a winning record or a championship run in the postseason.

It’s a trait that Pajaro Valley High senior Neo Moreno is trying to instill into the football team for the upcoming 2023 season.

So far, the standout Grizzly is already noticing an attitude change that has become much more positive and there’s also a sense of motivation missing from last year.

Moreno said it’s all thanks to having a truly committed group of upperclassmen who are always present both physically and mentally at all times. 

“We come as a unit and we destroy things, and it’s a good team,” Moreno said. “Everyone comes together as a team.”

In 2022, the Grizzlies finished with a 2-8 overall record and they placed 5th in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia Division with a 2-4 record in league play.

PV head coach Casey Neligh was promoted from the team’s defensive coordinator after just one season. The first-year skipper will bring his intense, yet fiery coaching style to a program in need of a spark.

The Grizzlies will kick off the upcoming season at Ripon Christian on Friday at 7:30pm. 

The senior class will be led by Oscar Ramirez and Moreno, who will be a force to be reckoned with come gametime. 

“Our teammates have been pretty physical since we’ve been hitting hard and when we went to the [jamboree] we kind of showed everybody how big we are as a team,” Moreno said. 

PV participated last week at the Alvarez High School Jamboree, going up against Rancho San Juan and Seaside high schools. 

PV junior Brian Flores got his first taste of action at the varsity level. He said the atmosphere was electric, especially being around his senior teammates who were also pumped to get back on the field.  

“I’m aiming to bring the Belgard Kup and put up a [league championship] banner, and get to the playoffs,” he said. 

PV has never won a league title and it is 2-15 all-time against cross-town rival Watsonville High in the battle for the annual Belgard Kup.

The illustrious 5-quart white ceramic coffee mug has been on display in the trophy case at Harkins Slough Road just two times since 2007, in what was the second meeting between the two teams but the first involving the Kup.

In 2022, the Grizzlies lost to the Wildcatz, 22-17, and they haven’t won the Belgard Kup since 2016. Both teams will play at Watsonville High on Sept. 1 at 7:30pm.  

“We kind of did everything we needed to, just the little mistakes that we could have fixed but this year is probably the year where we’re going to fix those mistakes,” said Moreno, who played in last year’s loss. 

Moreno said at last week’s jamboree he saw nothing but shocked faces from opposing coaches and players, who didn’t expect anything from the Grizzlies. 

“We showed up and we knocked people down, it was pretty good,” he said. 

Moreno credited the linemen for doing a great job in the trenches and liked what he saw from the skill position players including juniors Aron Bernabe, Caleb Duarte and Eddie Mendoza.

The trio of Grizzlies find themselves playing in much bigger roles this season. 

“What impresses me about this group of guys is how much they communicate to each other,” Neligh said. “These men are a bunch of ‘Energy Givers.’”

The Grizzlies’ first-year skipper said the offensive lineman in the county are currently the best version of themselves and each team is currently undefeated, which means it’s a fresh start for everyone competing for a league crown. 

“Every coach has the perfect system installed for their group,” Neligh said. “Now all that is left is gametime.”

Flores said in order to stay up to speed he’ll have to hit the film room more than anything and study the playbook just like he would a school textbook. 

“But overall, the team’s really stacked,” he said. “We learned quickly over the summer and we implemented it during the [jamboree] and left shocked faces, they didn’t expect PV to come out like that.”

PV will again compete in the PCAL Santa Lucia Division against familiar foes in Gonzales, Greenfield, Harbor, Marina, San Lorenzo Valley and reigning league champion Stevenson.

“We have high expectations of everyone honestly,” Moreno said. “We have to get everyone’s full potential out on the field, even if you’re injured you still have to show up. If you come back from an injury you have to ball out still, you have to stay mentally in shape so nothing really bad happens.”

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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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