After a quality spring season that saw the Justin-Siena football team go 3-3 overall and nearly upend American Canyon a second straight year, the Braves look for their well-bonded group to take the next step forward.
Justin-Siena has a new quarterback, but returns enough versatile weapons to make some noise come playoff time.
“We decided after last season, which was really a year about just being able to get on the field and play, that we wanted to recommit ourselves to the endeavor of trying to be a championship program,” said head coach Brandon LaRocco, now in his sixth season at the helm. “So I think we asked more of the kids this offseason than we ever have since I took over.
“We lost some kids because of it, frankly. The kids that have stuck with us and have been showing up and working. I’m just super excited to see where those 33 guys are at. We have a really strong group of (16) seniors and I love how close they are as a group.”
The Braves continue to march in the right direction and should be able to duke it out against just about any opponent in the Vine Valley Athletic League meat grinder except Vintage, which is 18-0 in the VVAL over the league’s three years of existence.
With a full preseason slate ahead, Justin-Siena will quickly be able to see how it stacks up against non-VVAL sides. The Braves will be tested early with a three-hour-plus road trip up north to the power-running program of Fortuna in Humboldt County.
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“We've had a good summer and we have a core group of guys that have been really committed to working their tails off this year, showing up on a regular basis and working hard,” LaRocco said. “We have been on a tight timetable this year and had a quick turnaround, which has been good and bad. These guys remember a lot of stuff because we just finished doing it, but there’s been no break, really. So it’s been a challenge, probably more for the coach than the kids.”
Zach Zurowski has taken the reins of the offense from the Braves’ prolific pocket passer of the last two seasons, 2021 graduate Hudson Beers. Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Tyler Streblow has been a bit of a quarterback whisperer over the years, as the 2004 Justin-Siena graduate has worked with a string of high-quality quarterbacks over the last six seasons. Zurowski will have only one year as the starter, but he was the junior varsity quarterback his sophomore season and will bring a new skill set to the Braves’ potent attack.
“My eyes are gonna be on Zach this year,” LaRocco said. “He’s been working his butt off with Coach Streblow. He’s been here early every day working on his mechanics, learning the system, learning how to make the right reads and using the language, so I’m really excited to see what he can do. I think he’s a different kind of quarterback than Hudson. He was a good junior varsity quarterback and he brings a lot of different stuff to the table and he is a really strong, really athletic kid. He might be the strongest kid on our team, pound for pound.”
Justin-Siena returns its leading receiver from last season in senior Caden Parlett, who is also the Braves' top returning rusher. Also carrying the ball will be junior Roman Williams, the younger brother of Marshall University wide receiver and 2020 Justin-Siena alumnus Miles Williams.
Parlett was recently named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-Redwood Empire Preseason team as a two-way player selection. The senior found a home in the slot in the Braves’ spread offense this past spring season and was one of the top receivers in the North Coast Section.
“I’ve played football for like 12 years and I’ve never been more excited for a season, just the build-up to this year, and I’ve got all my very close friends playing on the team,” he said. “We’re a super-close group of guys and I am so very excited to see what we’re gonna do this year.”
The 5-foot-7 Parlett picked up 26 catches for 327 yards in six games as a junior and found the end zone three times. The Braves have also found success using the quick-twitch athlete in jet sweeps to get him in open space.
“It’s pretty exciting being in the slot, because people a lot of the time don’t expect big plays out of shorter routes,” Parlett said. “Hudson and I probably connected on 15 completed slates last year and it would always break out and go for more than anybody would expect. Zach and I spent a lot of time together this offseason between last season and now. I didn’t do track and field this year because of the short turnaround, so every day after school we’re out here getting that connection. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
Parlett will also be a third-year varsity starter at defensive back, part of a unit LaRocco called one of the most athletic secondaries he has had during his time with the Braves.
Another three-year varsity starter in the secondary will be senior Miles Martin, a physical tackler who will see time on both sides of the ball.
“I’m excited to be able to play knowing I can trust the secondary around me,” Martin said. “That goes a long way in the secondary knowing that the guy next to you is going to do his job, and you can really focus on doing your own job. So that kind of aspect makes me excited about the season, for how successful we're going to be and how much I trust my guys around me.
"I’d say the mindset this year is ‘No excuses.’ There were a lot of variables out of our control last year, but this year we have our group of guys. Everyone on our team is committed and has been showing up at 6 a.m. workouts. The expectations are a section championship. We have the guys to do it. We’ve just got to go out and execute.”
Justin-Siena over the years has been known to have a smaller offensive line. While there are no Redwood trees suiting up at Dodd Stadium this season, the Braves will have a larger line on average this year. Strong line play of both sides of the ball will be paramount if the Braves hope to achieve some of their lofty goals for the season.
“Our offensive line has a lot of heart and a little more size than last year,” LaRocco said. “I think we have pretty good depth at the position. We should have 11 guys who could start or step in for us as starters in some capacity. It’s a really big step for us.”
Returning two-way lineman Giancarlo Guerrero, a 195-pound senior, isn’t worried about being outsized up front.
“Props to the coaches that we can (block bigger guys),” he said. “Going up against bigger guys, it kinda feels like you have a chip on your shoulder, like when I play basketball. I am the power forward or center even though I am only 6 feet. I like going up against the bigger guys and I take pride in it, so it’s pretty much the same here.
“It feels amazing just having this summer (to get ready). I feel like I have been able to develop more and learn the plays and techniques.”
Robert Sangiacomo was a key contributor last season on defense and will also be a versatile weapon at the tight end position as a senior this season.
“Last spring was a short season and we had no playoffs, so I am just excited to hopefully have a full season and also playing more on offense,” said the three-sport athlete, who also plays basketball and baseball. “Last year I was mainly used on defense, but I’ll play a lot more offense, which will be nice.
“A section championship would be really sweet. Justin-Siena hasn’t had one in a while, so that’d be nice if we could be the team to continue that legacy. Almost every single one of our coaches has brought a ring back to Justin-Siena from the section and as a team we want to bring a ring back here.”
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