American Canyon High School has the highest of goals and expectations going into the 2017 football season.
The Wolves would like to see all of the time, work and energy that they have put into the program during the spring and summer months result in something big and special, such as a Solano County Athletic Conference championship.
They have been going at it hard – both in the weight room and on the practice field.
“We’re looking athletic, like we normally do,” head coach Larry Singer said at Napa Valley Publishing Media Day in July at Napa Memorial Stadium. “The boys are focused, they’re determined.
“One of the goals the boys set for themselves was to win the league championship outright. Hopefully we can follow through on that and hang a banner at the end of the year.”
Competing for league titles is customary for American Canyon.
Singer was named as the Coach of the Year on the All-Napa County team after leading American Canyon to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals last season. The Wolves won their fifth straight Solano County Athletic Conference title and went 11-2 overall, losing only to Vanden in a league game, 24-21, and Christian Brothers-Sacramento in the playoffs, 29-0.
A lot of experienced and super-talented players graduated off last year’s team. But the Wolves are still very strong with key returnees, including LaVar Seay, Lucas Gramlick, Kama Aalona and Brenden Johnson.
“They want to prove that last year was not just the players that we had, but that it is the team mentality of what we do and how we coach our kids,” said Singer, who is also the Wolves’ co-defensive coordinator. “We’re looking forward to seeing what they can get done.
“I think we have a great opportunity to be as good, if not better, than we were last year. I think we have a talented football team. We have a lot of talented skill players. We have strong, solid kids. We definitely have opportunities. “The boys are working hard to get better. And I think our defense has gotten better.”
A run-first team, American Canyon was dominant with its rushing offense last year, generating 4,875 yards and 70 touchdowns. The Wolves, who run triple option out of flex bone base offense, averaged 375 yards rushing per game and 10.6 yards rushing per play. They averaged 46.8 points per game. There were seven games when they scored 54 or more points.
American Canyon also averaged 441.5 yards in total offense per game.
The big-play, high-scoring offense carried the Wolves deep into the playoffs.
American Canyon received honorable mention recognition in the CalHiSports.com final Division III state rankings. The Wolves were No. 21 in the final Sac-Joaquin Section Top 25 rankings from CalHiSports.com.
New to the coaching staff is Kirk Anderson, who is the Wolves’ co-defensive coordinator and will teach P.E. Anderson was on the Napa High staff for the last three years.
Anderson is a 1998 Napa High graduate who played quarterback for two years for the Indians. He also played at Butte College of Oroville and the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.
In two years at Butte, he led the Roadrunners to an 18-4 record, appearances in two postseason bowl games, and Northern California, state and national rankings while throwing 33 touchdown passes.
Anderson made a smooth transition to the University of Mary, leading the Marauders to a No. 3 ranking in the country at one point.
He played one year in the National Indoor Football League, then went into coaching. He returned to California and graduated from Sacramento State with a degree in kinesiology.
Anderson was previously an assistant at Napa from 2002-2006 and was also an assistant at Burbank-Sacramento, Rio Americano-Sacramento and Bella Vista-Fair Oaks. He was head coach at Mira Loma-Sacramento for two years (2012-2013).
“He has helped me tremendously just understanding defense and making adjustments where we need to and how to take away what the offense is going to try to do,” said Singer. “He is a tremendous asset to have for us. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can get done defensively with his knowledge and insight that he brings to the table.”
Assistant coaches Chris Yepson, Joe Beachum, Chris Rapacon, Lenny McCormick and Bailey Gardner are also on the staff.
Gramlick, Seay, Johnson and Alona are the team captains.
“The starters on last year’s team, they know what it’s like to reach for your goals and fall just short – to play for a section championship, to try to go undefeated, to drop the game at Vanden during the regular season, and then lose a very bitter game at home in the playoffs,” explained Yepson, the Wolves’ offensive coordinator.
“The one thing that this group has done is work extremely hard in the weight room. This group lifts hard every day. They grind every day. They don’t miss practice. We have great leadership from our captains. We have great leaders that work every single day.”
Seay makes the move from wide receiver to quarterback. He has experience at the position, as he was the quarterback on the junior varsity team as a freshman and sophomore.
Seay, who is also an outside linebacker, is one of the top players in Napa County. Seay had 12 sacks and 33 tackles at outside linebacker while scoring three defensive touchdowns last year. He was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year last season as a junior.
He also stood out at wide receiver, catching 20 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns and running for 175 yards on 13 carries and scoring four TDs.
“He was happy to make the transition this year and wanted to be that leader on the team,” said Singer. “We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Seay is an athletic and physical player, a playmaker who has excellent speed and can help the Wolves by rushing the ball.
“First and foremost, he’s big and strong,” said Singer. “He’s one of the harder workers we have in the weight room. But also, for his size, he is fast. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s hard to bring down.”
Seay’s time will be limited on defense, said Singer.
“We have a lot of quarterback-driven run, where we want the ball in his hands a lot and him going north-south,” said Yepson. “That’s our job as coaches, to make sure we get that done.”
Seay looks at himself as a dual threat quarterback – a runner and a passer – who can make plays and keep drives going. He also wants to be a leader.
“I have to be confident playing the position,” he said. “I try to be that leader for our team. I have to make sure that I stay composed during the game and cheer my teammates on.”
Kama Aalona and Brenden Johnson return as running backs.
Aalona was named as the Newcomer of the Year on the All-County team after starring on both sides of the ball as a junior. He had 941 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, caught 13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown, and returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns.
As a safety, he had 30 tackles. He was selected Second Team All-SCAC.
Johnson had 266 yards rushing and scored three TDs.
“Our offense is designed that we can put the ball in a lot of different playmaker’s hands,” said Singer.
“We’re run-heavy,” said Yepson. “Anybody who watches any of our films can understand that we are a run-first team. It’s heavy true triple-option that allows us use our speed and our agility and get a lot of quickness on the field. We have had a lot of success with the offense. American Canyon’s had a lot of success with triple option over the years, from split-back veer and out of flex bone. It just allows us, as a team with heavy skill-position players, to put those guys on the field and in good opportunities to make big plays happen, on any given down – not just on certain plays that are called.”
The projected starters are Lucas Gramlick, left tackle; Liam Suspene, left guard; Kekoa Wilson, center; Jacob Mitchell, right guard; Shawn Sto Domingo, right tackle; Erick Stewart and Fisher Siegel, receivers; Kama Alona and Brandon Seay, slot backs; Brenden Johnson, dive back; and LaVar Seay, quarterback.
David Urrutia is also in contention for an offensive line spot.
“We’re not the hugest offensive line,” said Yepson. “That’s the great thing about running triple option – you don’t have to be big. You just have to be explosive and have great technique, and it’s what these guys have. We want guys who play low, have leverage, and who can grind for 48 straight minutes.”
Gramlick has an offer already from Fresno State and has drawn interest from two other colleges, Duke and Nevada.
“It’s a good offensive line. We really work hard,” said Gramlick. “We’ve got the rushing component. I’m confident in our O-line this year.”
The Wolves will be in a base 3-4 defense.
The projected starters are Gramlick and Jacob Mitchell, defensive ends; Angel Cazares, nose guard; Adrian Anicete and Alec Hoover, outside linebackers; Hunter Snyder and Alfredo Calderon, middle linebackers; Brendon Johnson and Brandon Seay, cornerbacks; and Kama Aalona and Erick Stewart, safeties.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be pretty solid,” said Singer.
Jose Lopez is the kicker and LaVar Seay is the punter.
American Canyon opens the season at home on Aug. 25 against Woodland. Additional nonleague games follow, all at home, against Vintage (Sept. 1), Inderkum-Sacramento (Sept. 8), Wood (Sept. 15), and Mission-San Francisco (Sept. 22).
From there, it’s on to a five-game schedule in the SCAC.