Napa High had 49 varsity football players when Askari Adams joined the coaching staff as defensive coordinator in the fall of 2019.
After an offseason stretched from the usual nine months to 15 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grizzlies had just 27 players this past spring. The promise of at least 10 games helped increase that number by a few this fall, but not by much, and that’s just fine with Askari Adams.
The second-year head coach had “interim” in front of his title when he took over for Richie Wessman two summers ago. It was removed this summer, making him the happiest coach around and giving the program a returning head coach for the first time since Troy Mott ended his 11-year tenure by resigning after the 2016 season. Adams is the Grizzlies’ fourth head coach since.
“We are thrilled to have Coach Adams continue as head coach of the Napa High football program,” Principal Ean Ainsworth said in a statement recently. “Askari has a wealth of experience. We are looking forward to having him continue to build a positive and dynamic culture within our program.”
One of the feathers in Adams’ cap has been Napa High having much more success than any other Vine Valley Athletic League opponent against Vintage, which is 18-0 in the league since it was founded. Adams, who has remained defensive coordinator while taking over as head coach, doesn’t take a lot of credit it for it. But he did say his staff has done a good job getting the most out of their smaller rosters the last two seasons.
“It doesn’t matter what I come up with, they have to execute it,” he said of a defense that held Vintage more than 15 points under its scoring average this spring and lost just 26-20 in 2019. “I’ve been blessed the last two years to have kids that may not be the biggest or the fastest guys but will run through a wall for you. I’ve been around (the country as a coach), but I’ve had good kids. That’s why I wanted to stay at Napa, because these kids are so gung-ho about football and they want to do better.
“One of the things I like about coaching is finding that thing that gets the kids, that motivates them. Every kid is different. We had a kid last year who I could just yell and yell and yell at and it would fire him up. Then there are other kids who, if I yell at them, it doesn’t affect them. That’s the process we’re going through right now. What motivates these kids? You find out quick what kids can take it and the ones that can’t.”
After teaching at Silverado Middle School, Adams was given a position at Napa High this year and therefore has more time to get to know his players.
“I learned when I was playing at Penn State, when you get on a kid, you’ve got to say things that will pick them up. You’ve got to find something. They’re not doing everything wrong,” he said. “So if I get on a kid, I make sure I find something positive. That’s what I want this coaching staff to do, not be a staff that sits back like things are all hunky dory. No, I want them to get on a kid with something that will pick them up.
“That’s why you see me on Friday nights when our team does something big, like we get a three-and-out or we get a turnover, I’m the first one out there high-fiving and shoulder bumping. When I’m not yelling at you, that’s when you need to worry, because I’m not talking to you,” he laughed, “because that means we’ve got some work to do.”
He gets help from seniors such as Thomas Hatton, Christoph Horton, Raul Castellanos and Robert Perry.
Castellanos started at cornerback last year and will add wide receiver to his duties this season.
“Raul improved every week last spring,” Adams said. “He's a solid corner with confidence. He's going to be the key person in our secondary this year. I'm expecting a big year from him at corner as well as wide receiver. This will be his first year at wideout, but you wouldn't know by the way he's stepped into the position. Raul is a player that we count on to help lead his to a successful year.”
Castellanos is relieved he gets a full season before he graduates.
“Last spring, it felt like we were practicing but weren’t going to end up with a season, but thankfully we were able to at least get five games out of it. I feel good about our chances this season,” he said. “All these players want to win and that’s the whole goal for the season, to just win every game and make the playoffs. I’m just trying to get better every day, trying to be a better teammate and help as much as I can to win games.”
In his third year with the program, having played a few games of varsity special teams at the start of his sophomore season, is dynamic senior offensive lineman Rob Perry.
“Robert goes 100% every play — 100%, whether it’s sprints, workouts — and he makes the guys laugh and feel comfortable.”
Perry has been playing since he was 13.
“I feel like the young guys are picking it up clearly, from the first day to now. A lot of them are stepping up this year and that’s a good thing cause they’re going to be juniors and seniors like us,” he said. “At the end of the day, if I mess up, it’s on me. I’m just trying to stay healthy and work hard, on and off the field.”
Senior two-sport standout Thomas Hatton returns at defensive end for a third varsity season and adds right tackle on offense to his duties this season.
“I’m really glad we’re going to have a full season this year and that this new Delta strain doesn’t really mess it up because there are a lot of new kids that are going to hopefully develop nicely,” he said. “I’ve been trying to teach a couple of guys who have potential. I’ve tried to get some of my friends to come out and they won’t be having it. But the kids out here are motivated and having a good time doing it.
“Hopefully playoffs happen and we can make it and go pretty far. I’ve been trying to get stronger and quicker and work on my footwork because I’m not necessarily the biggest D-lineman. I’ve got to do the best I can to make the best of what I have.”
Said Adams, “I’ll take Hatton over anybody at defensive end any day.”
One of the VVAL’s top wrestlers at 220 pounds, the 5-foot-10 Hatton said the sport helps him stay low and tackle better on the gridiron. He’s also glad Adams is back.
“It’s great to have that stability and to be able to know that nothing’s going to change on us and we’re going to have the same plays and be able to get used to them,” he said. “I know a lot of guys out here want to win pretty bad, and we’ve had time to bond more than last season.”
Senior tight end Christoph Horton is another multi-sport athlete, having also played basketball, soccer and baseball and run track. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Horton said his parents wouldn’t let him play football until he was a freshman, and now he’s verbally committed to play Division I football for New Mexico State, having put on 40 to 45 pounds of muscle.
“I’m really looking forward to the season so I can show what I can do, fully,” he said. “Last year we only had five games and the year before Brock (Bowers, currently at Georgia on a scholarship) was here, so this year I get to show what I can do. I’ve been working mostly on my new tight end position, getting my hand in the dirt, because the last three years I played receiver.”
He’s excited to have junior quarterback Anthony Tubridy back for his third varsity season, as well.
“He’s made a lot of progress. I’m excited for this year for me and him,” Horton said of Tubridy. “I hope to average a couple of touchdowns a game and have 1,000 multi-purpose yards this season.”
“If we work harder and condition more, I feel we can do some damage on the field,” said Horton, who plans to major in business or engineering at New Mexico after committing in June. “I had an unofficial visit a few weeks before I committed and I loved the campus, loved the coaches. They made me feel like home right away. And how they use their tight ends is a perfect fit for me especially since they’re going to have me as a hybrid tight end instead of a more inline tight end.”
Adams said Horton runs the 40-yard dash in the high 4.5- to low 4.6-second range and leads with his actions.
“We’ll have him lining up on the line, line up in the slot, but we’re not going to hand off the ball to him,” the coach said. “When you have someone like that, you want to get him the ball immediately and let him use his size. That’s a bonus for us. Christoph’s been working his butt off this whole offseason and compared to where he was last year, it’s like night and day. He committed to New Mexico and is happy to have that under his belt.
“Nobody else has committed. In fact, we’ve got a lot of kids getting their first experience in pads.”
He said Andrew Jobe, Carlos Mata, Gio Contreras, Yovanni Palma and Castellanos will also see touches.
Senior middle linebacker Oscar Sotelo is back to do punting, kickoffs, extra points and field goals.
As far as coaches, Kavell Jenkins is the run game coordinator, Gil Ramirez is the passing game coordinator, Juan Martinez coaches linebackers, Johnny Pelfini coaches the secondary and is the JV head coach, Pat McConville coaches the JV defensive line and helps on varsity, and Pat O’Brien and Ron Walston helping with the JV.
“From Day 1, I haven’t been worried about how many kids we’d have out for football. What I care about, what this staff cares about, is if the guys we have out are dedicated and want to play Napa Football,” Adams said. “The kids that we have are the kids who have been there since Day 1. That’s half the battle: getting kids to show up each day. I feel we have the right 30 kids, and I’d go to battle with them any day.”
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