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August 26, 2009 > HAAL '09 football preview

HAAL '09 football preview

By Gary van den Heuvel

The Hayward Area Athletic League (HAAL) football season kicks off in a couple of weeks with two avowed powerhouses, the San Leandro Pirates and the Bishop O'Dowd Dragons, leading a talented pack of teams that want to knock them from their lofty perch.

San Leandro is the two-time defending HAAL champion, and they haven't lost a league game since the 2006 season. Despite the departure of last year's quarterback and top two receivers, the Pirates offense will return with last year's second-leading scorer in the HAAL.

Running back George Roberson, who is still just a junior, scored 124 points on nine touchdowns and two, two-point conversions to go along with his 877 rushing yards and 7 yards-per-rush average. Senior tight end Lenny Jones looks to have another big season on the receiving corps; last year his 22 receptions netted 475 yards and nine touchdowns. The Pirates are also returning their leading tackler from '08, linebacker Brian Morales.

Bishop O'Dowd has been the runner-up to San Leandro the previous two seasons, going 6-1 in the HAAL both years (O'Dowd went 10-2 overall in '08, compared to San Leandro's overall mark of 7-4). The Dragons expect to run rampant, with the return of senior running back Mario Brown. Brown led the league last year in yards (1,462), touchdowns (21, with 20 of them coming on the ground), and points scored (126).

Senior quarterback Matt Balich, after completing 55 percent of his passes in seven games last year, will be back and should continue to improve with experience. O'Dowd's strong defense - tops in the HAAL in '08 - should continue to be sturdy. The Dragons' leading tackler (senior linebacker Chris Martin) and sack leader (junior defensive end Chad Washington) will be back to anchor O'Dowd's defenders.

The Hayward Farmers finished a very competitive 5-2 in league (6-4 overall), good enough for third place, but coach Bill Bishop's squad has some big holes to fill on offense. The graduations of running backs Dominique Jackson and Brian Jones (who between them accounted for over 1,700 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns and over 9 yards per carry) and number-one receiver Malcolm Martin will be felt. Hayward will have senior quarterback Andre Alberty returning to his starting position as well as a squad of running backs (seniors Juan Galvan, Don Griffin, Carl Yates, Jarin Purvis and D.J. Neils) vying to replace Jackson and Jones.

For a team that was last in the HAAL in points scored (8.6 per game) and points allowed (31.7), the Mt. Eden Monarchs' relatively respectable league record of 3-4 (3-7 overall) - their wins coming against Castro Valley, San Lorenzo, and Tennyson - might be considered a surprise. Unfortunately, what little offense the Monarchs had in '08 came courtesy of the legs of the graduated Joshua Jackai, who ran for 1,227 yards (second in the league behind O'Dowd's Brown) and nine touchdowns. Senior quarterback Wil Gutierrez will attempt to be the catalyst for Mt. Eden in '09.

Tennyson's Farmers started the '08 season auspiciously, winning their first three games. But reality hit hard when the league season began. Sandwiched in the middle of their six HAAL losses was Tennyson's 28-21 upset win over Arroyo, who finished fourth. Tennyson's 1-6 league record landed them in the cellar.

On the bright side, the Farmers' leading rusher, senior Thomas Ner Jr., is back. Ner averaged 6 yards per carry for 461 yards and six touchdowns last year. With the graduation of quarterback Max Carmona, Tennyson coach Terry Smith will be looking at senior Kyle Johnson as his field general, with sophomore Lafaele Siliako the projected backup. Ner is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, last year catching 19 passes and scoring three touchdowns on receptions. Tennyson has lost last year's two receiving leaders (Mario Williams and Brian Prentiss) to graduation, so expect a busy year from Ner.

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