Two games into the 2021 high school football season, Amador Valley coach Danny Jones and Foothill headman Greg Haubner would be hard-pressed to ask for much more from their teams.
Both Pleasanton teams have started 2-0. Amador thumped Milpitas 37-7, then came and blanked Bear Creek 55-0 in the second week. Foothill opened with a 38-12 win over Castro Valley, then backed it up by rolling to a 43-0 lead before pulling the starters and finishing with a 43-27 final over College Park.
It is not a surprise to either coach as both entered the season with high expectations and following a five-game, non-league schedule will enter the East Bay Athletic League season looking for big things.
EBAL is split into two divisions -- the Mountain and the Valley. The Mountain is the more competitive division, made up of the teams with the top records over a two-year term.
This year the Mountain consists of Amador, California, Clayton Valley, De La Salle, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley.
The Valley has Dougherty Valley, Dublin, Foothill, Granada and Livermore. After next season, adjustments will be made as to which teams comprise the two divisions.
For Jones and the Dons, it is the first season for his team to take on the talent-laden Mountain Division.
"In 2019 we told our team we wanted to win the Valley and move to the Mountain," Jones explained. "We talked about it all the time and we went out and did it. We now believe we can do it."
It is a daunting task, but if there was ever a right time, it's now for the Dons.
"This is a team with all the right parts," Jones said.
For starters, this is the biggest, toughest Amador team Jones will send out and it all starts with the offensive line.
Left tackle Ryan Brace (6-foot-2, 210 pounds, senior), and left guard Hayden Roberts (6-1, 260, Sr.) lead the way.
"The left side is as good as I have had," Jones said. "They are big, strong and move well."
Add in center Dominic Varner (5-10, 170, Sr.), right guard Landry Cooper (5-10, 238, Jr.) and left tackle Luke Longmire (6-0, 235, Sr.), and you have a first rate line.
"This by far the biggest we've had in my time," Jones said of the line. "And we have depth as well, which is something we have never had."
It gets better from there.
The Dons add a pair of monster tight ends.
Brad Nassar (6-5, 235, Jr.) already has an offer from the University of Washington, and James Rothstein (6-5, 232, Jr.) is a force. Both are punishing blockers, with Nassar a big time threat as a receiver.
Oh, but there's more. Fullback Kai Burgermeister (6-1, 210, Sr.) may be in class of his own.
"He is the best player I have ever coached," Jones said emphatically. "He can catch, block, and run. Honestly, I think he is the best fullback in the country. He is already the offensive MVP for us, and he is just as good as an inside linebacker."
At running back Jones has a four-player group rotating. Miles Tucker (6-0, 185, Jr.), Jackson Ogolin (5-11, 170, Sr.), Marcus Hoerz (5-9, 210, Sr.), and Braden Whitworth (5-9, 165, Jr.) handle the ball.
"All four of them can run the ball," Jones said. "Hoerz is the thunder runner, the rest are all speedy."
Ogolin also starts at receiver, and is joined by Mateo Castillo (6-4, 195, Sr.) and Brian Walrath (5-10, 155, Sr.) at the wideout spots.
Triggering the offense is senior quarterback EJ Thomsen (5-11, 165). He does everything Jones asks out of a quarterback and does it well.
"He is a phenomenal leader, and an elite athlete," Jones said of Thomsen. "He is very elusive, great with the ball in his hands, and can throw well on the run."
As you can imagine, with the size and physicality of the offense, the Amador defense figures to be equally as tough.
"Our front seven is our strength," Jones said in arguably the understatement of the year.
Nassar and Brace are the defensive ends and have been a huge problem for opponents the first two weeks. Against Bear Creek, Nassar had four sacks.
"They are going to have start using two guys to block him," Jones said.
Roberts and Hoerz are the interior lineman.
"They are very active and get a great push in the middle," the coach added. "The difference this year is we are super deep, and we are able to rotate guys. We like to keep them fresh and there is not a lot of drop off."
The inside linebacker spots are manned by Burgermeister and Kevin Albright (5-11, 210, Jr.). The duo is complimented by outside backers Brady Lederer (6-0, 188, Jr.) and Alex Wellman (6-0, 150, Sr.).
The defensive backfield is keyed by Ogolin at safety. The corners are Walrath and sophomore Nate Jetter (6-2, 165).
"He's a very good athlete," Jones said of Jetter.
The kicking game will be handled by Riley Balch (5-11, 155, Jr.), whom Jones says will be a Division I college football kicker.
All in all, for jumping into the fire of the Mountain Division, Jones has the tools to be in every game.
"Being huge and physical will be an advantage," Jones said. "We are very excited for the challenge."
When they were in the Mountain Division, Foothill was the hunter. Now in the Valley, they are the hunted.
"There is no doubt -- we have a target on our back," Haubner said. "The Valley is very good this year. Dublin and Livermore are both very good teams."
While Foothill does not possess the size of Amador, the talent is right there, step for step at the skill positions.
Leading the way at quarterback is senior Nick Walsh (6-0, 165, Sr.). Walsh got the call late in his sophomore year to the Foothill varsity and has been the starter since.
"His very first varsity game was when we put him out there in the Amador game," Haubner said. "He is really coming into his own now."
He is an accomplished baseball player as well, so the athletic ability is there. More importantly, his football acumen is off the charts.
"He is the best decision-maker I have had at quarterback," Haubner said. "He is also a tenacious competitor."
As is the key for any team, the protection the offensive line affords for Walsh will be the key.
For the first time since he has taken over the Foothill program, Haubner finally has some size up front. Not Amador big, but big for Foothill.
"Two years ago, I think I had one guy weigh over 200 pounds," Haubner said.
Leading the way left tackle Brandon Sousa (6-4, 270, Sr.), one of the top linemen in the EBAL. "He is big and athletic," Haubner said of Sousa.
Jackson Braden (6-2, 250, Jr.) handles the other tackle spot. Three guys have been rotating at the guard spots. Jake Patterson (5-11, 180, So.), Josh Taylor (5-10, 200, So.), and Rory Grady (6-2, 250) are all getting time at guard.
Ethan Hoffman (5-8, 170) is holding down the center spot.
The tight ends are solid as well, with Noah Lombardi (5-11, 185, Sr.) and Kade Millard (6-2, 200, Jr.).
The skill positions are solid for the Falcons, giving Walsh options to move the chains.
Running back has been a three-headed monster for the Falcons. Jackson Chandler (5-10, 165, So.), Tony Schillaci (6-0, 200, Sr.) and Trevor Barros (5-10, 175, Sr.) have been splitting the carries.
The receivers are a talented trio led by one of the EBAL's top all-around players in Kenny Olson (6-2, 200, Sr.). Connor Perez (5-10, 170, Sr.) and freshman Chris Lawson (5-11, 155) have the skills to make big plays.
Haubner is impressed with all three.
"Kenny looks like the Terminator," the coach said. "Connor is a leader by example for the team, and Lawson -- it's unbelievable what he can do as a freshman."
On defense, as is the case with most teams, the Falcons will rely on their offensive starters, but it will be key to rotate some players in.
"We absolutely need those guys all the time on offense," Haubner explained. "But you can't play them all the time on defense. If you do, then you have guys that are gassed at the end of the game."
Millard and Schillaci are set at defensive end, with Sousa and Hoffman holding down the interior spots. Connor Bailey (6-1, 235, Sr.), JP McKeag (6-0, 200, Jr.) and Braden will spend time rotating on the line.
The linebackers are a work in progress at this point with Lombardi, Patterson and Chase Dinkle (5-10, 155) holding down the spots at this point.
The secondary is set with Chandler and Payton McMillan (5-10, 170, Sr.) playing safety. Perez, Lawson and Luke Haviley (5-10, 165, Jr.) are taking care of the corners.
The kicking game is very good as is usually the case at Foothill. Adam Harbourne had a 43-yard field goal in week one, then added 41-yarder against College Park. Anthony Tahir is the punter and had a 55-yard punt against College Park.
Despite opening 2-0, Haubner is cautious as the meat of the schedule starts this week with Vanden.
"I am worried with every team we play the rest of the way," Haubner said. "We know we need to improve. With the schedule we have left, we could finish 2-8 or even 3-7."