High school football 2023: Five storylines as Bay Area teams begin practice

The long off-season of conditioning, camps, and endless drills is over for thousands of high school football players across the Bay Area.

It is now time to put the planning into action.

Practice for the new season begins on Friday for schools in the Central Coast Section, which spans from San Francisco to King City.

On Monday, the North Coast Section, which includes East Bay schools, begins.

Teams in both sections will have about three weeks to prepare for the season’s opening weekend, which will be Aug. 24-26.

Following 10 games over 11 regular-season weeks, dozens of schools will advance to the playoffs, which will run through November and culminate in state championship games across multiple divisions on Dec. 8-9.

Beginning Monday, the Bay Area News Group will preview each league in its vast coverage area – schools in leagues primarily based in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties – and honor all-BANG preseason players in multiple position groups.

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Now, to get you thinking about what’s to come in the coming months, here are five storylines to look out for as practices begin:

Is Serra still the best team in Northern California?

We’ll soon find out. The San Mateo powerhouse, led by tireless coach Patrick Walsh, who is now in his 23rd season, has represented Northern California in the past two Open Division state championship games and has a roster that can do so again. Many notable players are returning, including QB Maealiuaki Smith and LBs Jabari Mann, Danny Niu, and Marley Alapati. But, as with last season, the first two games will be crucial. Serra begins the season at home against Folsom on August 26 and De La Salle on September 2, the same opponents it defeated on the road to begin last season. If the Padres win both games again, they will be the overwhelming favorites to represent the North in the Open championship game on December 9. But if they falter in one or both of those games, De La Salle, Folsom, or someone else could replace Serra as NorCal’s representative in the top championship game. On September 22, De La Salle will pay a visit to Folsom.

Will anyone from the NCS be able to defeat DLS?

The final of De La Salle’s football unbeaten streaks continues, now in its 32nd season and spanning 265 games. Since Pittsburg defeated the Spartans 35-27 in a section final in 1991, the Concord private school has gone 264-0-1 against North Coast Section opponents. Only a 17-17 tie in 2004 prevented that record from becoming 265-0. De La Salle’s 2023 schedule includes four regular-season games against teams from its own section (the NCS) – at San Ramon Valley on Oct. 13 and Monte Vista on Oct. 27, as well as at home against Foothill on Oct. 20 and Clayton Valley on Nov. 3 – followed by potentially two NCS playoff games. Given the Spartans’ decades of dominance, we’re going to set the bar pretty low for De La Salle to lose to an NCS team this season. While we like what San Ramon Valley brings back, including last season’s Bay Area News Group player of the year, QB Luke Baker, and first-team all-BANG LB Marco Jones, and Clayton Valley never backs down against its Concord rival, De La Salle still has the upper hand in its own backyard.

Will Campo be able to compete in Division I?

Kevin Macy, longtime Campolindo coach, referred to last year’s team as “two names and the no-names.” It was a nod to the program’s reliance on wide receiver Robbie Mascheroni (18 touchdowns) and quarterback Dashiell Weaver (43 total touchdowns) to create magic on the way to a runner-up finish in the North Coast Section Division II. It will be difficult to reach those heights again, as both graduated in the spring. After years of success in Divisions II and III, Moraga has been promoted to Division I due to the section’s competitive equity model. Campolindo will face traditional powers such as De La Salle and Pittsburg there. Of course, this has no bearing on the regular season, in which Campo has not lost a league game since 2011. “This year’s team will have no top-line names, but the hope is to have more depth.” Macy stated. Seniors James Giordani, Scott Lyon, and Tim Daugherty weren’t exactly unknowns on the reigning Diablo Athletic League Foothill champions. All played important roles on last year’s team and should thrive with new opportunities. But expecting them to compete with the best teams in the East Bay in their first year of D-I playoff football doesn’t seem realistic. So expect another great regular season, but a postseason exit for the Cougars earlier than usual.

Will Riordan – yes, Riordan – compete for the WCAL championship?

If your answer is anything other than “yes,” it’s clear you haven’t been paying attention to the high-level transfers the Crusaders have brought in since last season’s 3-7 finish. It all starts with four-star junior wideout Chris Lawson, who brings 14 touchdowns from Foothill to a passing attack that also includes three-star Menlo-Atherton transfer Cynai Thomas and three-star senior Tyrone Jackson. And that’s just the passing game, which features Michael Mitchell Jr., the reigning West Catholic Athletic League freshman of the year, at quarterback. Coach Adhir Ravipati has also strengthened the offensive line, bringing in Peter Langi from Mater Dei-Santa Ana and Tommy Tofi from Sheldon-Elk Grove as part of a reworked group that includes four three-star recruits. The Crusaders should win their first game since 2015 (9-4). Serra remains the favorite to win the Central Coast Section Open Division again, but it would not be surprising if Riordan made the one-year leap from second to first. The season opener against Sacred Heart Prep and a non-league game against St. Bonaventure-Ventura on Sept. 9 should reveal whether or not the Crusaders have what it takes to beat the best in the WCAL.

Watching the new CCS power division will be entertaining

One year after the Peninsula and Santa Clara Valley football leagues merged in the name of competitive equity, the decision-makers made changes that should put multiple games on the must-see list. Los Gatos, Wilcox, Menlo-Atherton, and Sacred Heart Prep have joined Burlingame and Mountain View in the Bay Division. This is a departure from last season, when Los Gatos and Wilcox outmatched De Anza Division opponents. Los Gatos and Wilcox could now have three or four competitive league games instead of just one. We’ve already marked October 6 on our calendar. Wilcox will play at M-A that night, and Sacred Heart Prep will play at Los Gatos. The league schedule concludes on November 3rd, when Los Gatos hosts M-A. “No matter if you’re really good or really bad, you just like to be in competitive games, and we just weren’t in those,” Wilcox coach Paul Rosa said last winter. “I think this is the way it should have been done, and most people agreed.”

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