School's back in session, the days are still warm, with the nights cooling off a bit. It's fall and that can only mean one thing -- it's time for high school football.
For the teams from Amador Valley and Foothill high schools, it is the first time things are close to being back to normal in a couple of years as COVID impacts continue to slow down.
Expect the stands to be packed, the bands playing -- well at least for the first half -- and the community of Pleasanton living for what has been known as "Friday Night Lights".
And as usual, both the Dons and the Falcons have plenty of reasons to look forward to this season.
For the Dons it is all about redemption after an 0-4 league campaign where they were right in every game. Amador seemed to hit obstacles at every turn, including losing 10 starters to COVID for a game against Monte Vista.
In the Mountain Division of the East Bay Athletic League, there is little to no room for error. Instead of being downtrodden from last year, there is a sense of resolve around Amador.
"We know we are right there," Amador coach Danny Jones said. "We feel good that we can win -- that we can compete with all the teams. We just have to take them one game at a time."
For Foothill, it's all about defending the EBAL Valley Division title won last year and doing so after losing multiple all-league players to graduation.
"This is old-school football," Foothill coach Greg Haubner said. "We must show up every single game. All the teams are better this year than they were last season. It's a loaded schedule."
In looking closer at Amador, there is a mission laid out in front of them, and it's vital to have a solid foundation, especially up front. That's exactly what the Dons bring to the table.
"This is the best group we have on the team," Jones said of his offensive line. "It's the most depth I've ever had at that spot."
Take a run through the starters and see why Jones feels that way.
At the tackles, the Dons feature AJ Johnson (6-foot-3, 265 pounds), Marcus Delucia (6-2, 230), with Tyler Barhite (6-2, 250) and Landry Cooper (6-0, 259 -- 3-year starter) at guard. The center Chase Mattos (6-1, 235), is a player Jones referred to as "a stud".
If that's not enough, the line gets bigger, stronger and meaner with the tight end set of Brady Nassar (6-5, 245) and James Rothstein (6-6, 245). Nassar is a University of Colorado commit, with Rothstein weighing his choices between Air Force, Army, Idaho and other potential schools.
Running back will be by committee, with the top three at this point being Jake Goldsworthy, Jake Kramer and Miles Tucker. The fullback spot resides with Brady Lederer.
The wideouts are very capable with Nate Jetter, a junior that started on the Amador defense as a sophomore, and senior Aaron Greth.
The starting quarterback is senior Ryan Cannon, with sophomore Jack Duncan looking to get some time on the field as well.
On defense, many of the same names will be counted on to lead the way.
Nassar and Rothstein will anchor the defensive line at the end spots with a group of 10 guys rotating inside, giving the Dons a huge luxury of depth.
Among the inside players will be Gio Kovacs (6-2, 270), a junior that may be able to occupy two blockers.
"It's nice knowing we can rotate a lot of guys through to help keep other guys fresh," Jones said.
The inside linebackers are Tucker and Kevin Albright, a three-year starter for Amador. On the outside, Lederer and Roman Gates have the starting spots. In the defensive backfield, Jetter returns as a starter and will be at the safety spot. Julius Ramos and Kramer will be holding down the corners, completing a unit that is a little light for the Dons.
"Usually we have 30 receivers/defensive backs and this year we have eight," Jones said.
Riley Balch is back for the third straight year to handle the kicking and punting duties for the Dons.
For Haubner, his Falcons have a multitude of spots to fill, including one at quarterback where three-year starter and Valley MVP Nick Walsh has moved on to college.
Trying to fill in Walsh's shoes will be junior Erik Olsen (6-3, 190). Olsen picked up the game just two years ago and has been rapidly improving each year.
"He is coming along really well," Haubner said.
Helping Olsen out will be some incredibly talented skill players led by sophomore Chris Lawson. Last year as a freshman, Lawson was a first-team selection at receiver -- yes, as a freshman.
Joining Lawson outside will be Luke Haviley, Conor Baesemann and sophomore Michael O'Donohue.
The running backs feature returning players Jackson Chandler, Samear Lattier and Diego Nibungo. Chandler has speed but can also pound the ball between the tackles.
The offensive line starts with an elite tight end in Kade Millard (6-3, 215) and rolls along with tackles Jackson Braden (6-2, 255) and John Leyvas (6-0, 240). The guards are Rory Grady (6-2, 280) and Ryley Flynn (6-1, 245). Josh Taylor (5-10, 210) is a junior that Haubner described as quick, tough, and strong.
The defense features several of the same names, led by the line featuring Millard. The son of former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Keith Millard when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, Kade gets an added boost of having his dad on the Foothill staff.
"Having Keith there, working on all parts of the defense really simplifies stuff for the players," Haubner said.
Grady and Taylor also figure prominently on the line.
The four linebackers are all juniors, but all have experience. Lattier, Chandler, Jake Patterson and Graham Zander are an athletic group that figures to make their fair share of plays.
"Those are all capable kids -- I am very happy with them," Haubner said.
The defensive backs are also solid and led by Lawson, who is every bit as talented on defense as he is on offense. Haviley mans the other corner and Baesemann is set at free safety.
Despite losing a ton of talent, the Falcons have plenty throughout both sides of the ball -- that is if they stay healthy.
"We have to stay healthy," Haubner said. "I cannot overstate that enough -- we must stay healthy. Our starting groups on both sides of the ball are just fine."
How the season is starting
The two teams opened their seasons last Friday in different directions.
Foothill came out strong on the road, knocking off Castro Valley 49-6. Amador traveled to El Cerrito and fell 7-3 to a highly regarded Gauchos program.
This Friday, Foothill has its home opener against College Park, which will be making their season debut. Amador hits the road again traveling to Bear Creek (Stockton), a team that has started the season 0-2.