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September 18, 2021

Mariners return to take on the league’s best teams | PCAL Gabilan football

Aptos will rely on speed, team commitment to win this upcoming season

APTOS—It seems almost unbelievable how the Aptos High football team managed to get through a Covid-19 shortened spring season filled with ever-changing restrictions.

Senior starting quarterback Nick Forbes says he’s just relieved that they’re finally going back to a full-time schedule that won’t be full of restrictions, including not being able to get on the field or putting on shoulder pads this early in the season.

There are some minor restrictions such as wearing a mask in the weight room but Forbes said he gets the sense that it’s business as usual on campus.

“It just feels normal again, it’s nice,” he said.

Aptos, as several prep football teams are, is coming off a bizarre shortened season that ended in April and forced them to compete in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League for the first time since the 2016-17 season. They finished with a 5-0 overall record in the “A” Division, which included a forfeit win against San Lorenzo Valley High.

The Mariners were allowed to leave the Pacific Coast Athletic League for one season so that they could play against schools within Santa Cruz County because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Forbes admitted that a quick turnaround after the shortened season had a small effect on him coming in. He said that he wore down faster when they first started conditioning, but now he’s more than ready with the season just right around the corner.

“I’m just super fired up to get back going. I think all of us got our energy back, we’re all ready to go,” he said.

The Mariners will kick off the season against Mills High of Millbrae on Aug. 27 at 7pm.

Forbes and the rest of the team took it easy in the summer, pacing themselves and not going full speed until receiving their shoulder pads last week.

“We just slowly built up because we were going for 18 months straight, so [the coaches] wanted to give us a little break,” he said. 

Randy Blankenship, who is entering his 12th season as head coach, said he likes how committed the players are to the program, so far.

“I think they’re a bunch of good kids and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” he said. “You need to have your seniors buy-in and right now our best players are the hardest workers.”

Forbes believes the offense is more dynamic than ever. He said they’re known for being a run-heavy team, yet he hopes they can be a bit more balanced with a mix of rushing, pass and pass-option plays.

“We’re just clicking now and more versatile than ever, and more dangerous than ever, I think,” he said.

Blankenship said they’re going to do whatever the defense allows them to do and they’ll continue to talk about more of the offensive strategy as the season progresses.

Forbes faced nine-man defensive fronts in the spring and 2019-20 seasons, but still had trouble connecting with open receivers, Blankenship said. Both are hopeful that won’t be the case this year.

“He’s better now,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship added that the third-year starting quarterback attended football camps and combines that he believes will help him build confidence. 

“If he’ll just let the game come to him then he should have a really good year,” Blankenship said. “He’s fast, he’s got a strong arm and he’s had a really good summer.”

Blankenship said that Forbes is one of several players with speed. The includes senior receivers Rio Cruz, Vito Riccabona and Kale Lampman and senior backs Seamus Carey and junior Caden Prichard.

Blankenship said the linemen on both sides of the ball are a little rusty, but they’ve been making progress every day.

Forbes said that every defensive player hustles to the ball.

“There’s never a guy that is not in on a tackle,” he said.

Riccabona has stood out at the safety position, flying to the ball carrier and at times laying the wood for a big hit.

The Mariners recently went to the De La Salle Passing League tournament where Riccabona went up against the No. 1 junior recruit for dual purpose quarterbacks, Jaden Rashada of Pittsburg High.

He intercepted two of Rashada’s passes in the first two series and the defense dropped two others that resulted in incomplete passes.

“We could’ve had four picks against that kid, and he’s a good kid,” Blankenship said of Rashada, who stands 6-feet, 4-inches and weighs 179 pounds, and is rated as the nation’s No. 6 quarterback prospect and the No. 5 player in the state’s 2023 class. 

Forbes mentioned that Aptos might not always be the biggest team on the field, but the team-first culture built at the program over the past decade breeds success.

“It’s offense and defense, everyone just wants to play for each other and back each other up,” he said.

Forbes, who was called up to the varsity team as a sophomore, watched how the upperclassmen before him took over as leaders. What he learned is that being vocal can help build energy when they might need it most.

“It’s more off the field, too,” he said. “The mentality of going into football, how you’re treating your offseason training, not taking any time off and it’s about staying in shape, going all the time.”

This year they’ll return to compete in the PCAL Gabilan Division, which is the top tier of the four divisions within the league.

Forbes said there’s definitely a different mindset going into this season, as they’ll have to face teams such as Salinas High, San Benito High, Palma High, Seaside High, Alvarez High, Christopher High, Alisal High and Monte Vista Christian School

But after last year’s nightmare, it looks like Forbes and company will be able to overcome just about any obstacle thrown their way.

“We’re always going hard at every game, but we just know it’s going to be a little more demanding and a longer season, too,” he said.

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