PETALUMA — Eleven senior football players from the Napa Valley put on the pads one last time as high school students Saturday at Petaluma High’s Ellison Field as they partook in the sixth annual Tri-County All-Star Game.
While their Gray Team was thwarted by the White Team, 35-7, players representing Napa, Vintage, Justin-Siena and American Canyon high schools enjoyed themselves and the bonds they made with their new teammates.
“Today was really fun. We had a chance to just mess around with the guys we’ve played this year and years prior,” said right guard Joseph Mendoza, the sole representative from American Canyon. “I got to meet a few guys I haven’t met before and made some new friends, and it feels good to be out here representing my school.”
Marcus Lex, a New Technology High student who played for Napa High, echoed that sentiment.
“This was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing football,” he said. “The competition is a lot higher. There’s no such thing as second string and everyone is good in their own right.
“I think I’ve built friendships that I never would have made and I’m happy about that.”
Players on the Gray Team roster also included Vintage’s Viliami Schaumkel, Luis Arroyo and Zach Daniels, Napa High’s Chase LaRue, Gavin Zimmerman and Diego Olvera, and Justin-Siena’s Luigi Albano-Dito, Zach Keefer and Michael Fitzgerald.
Schaumkel led the Gray Team with 84 yards on 16 carries. But it was another Crusher who was the Napa Valley’s most valuable player in this one.
Lined up mostly at defensive end, Daniels was credited with one sack and four tackles. But he also contributed offensively with one carry for 3 yards and added a surprisingly nifty kick return that went for 20 yards.
“I’ve never returned anything in my life,” Daniels said with a smile across his face. “I was just looking for an open space and tried to get some good yardage to help my team out.”
With Vintage head coach Dylan Leach in attendance, Daniels showed why kept asking for the ball during his final season with the Crushers.
“Zach got an opportunity on that kick return, which was cool for him,” Leach said. “He’s been wanting those touches and I never gave them to him, so he’s upset with me. But that was great to see and I’m sure he’s happy about it.”
Daniels’ opportunity on offense came as part of a three-back set, with Schaumkel to his left and LaRue to his right.
With Arroyo at left tackle, Lex at center, Mendoza at right guard and Zimmerman at right tackle, Gray Team head coach Denis Brunk’s three-back power-set was a showcase of hard-nosed Napa Valley bully-ball.
“We love the O- and D-linemen from Napa. They’re just a great group of kids who just work hard and get it done,” said Brunk, who stepped down as Casa Grande head coach before accepting an assistant position with UC Davis.
The White Team raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and led 28-0 by halftime behind strong showings from Analy quarterback Nic Visser (13-of-17 passing, 140 yards, one touchdown), Montgomery receiver BJ Johnson (six catches, 91 yards, one touchdown) and Cardinal Newman tight end Jake Woods (six catches, 64 yards, one touchdown).
The Gray Team avoided a shutout when Casa Grande’s Jadon Bosarge threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Sir Francis Drake receiver Sage Kleiman early in the third quarter. But they were unable to capitalize on the momentum and were offensively stagnant for most of the game.
LaRue shared running back duties with Schaumkel, but received just four carries for 6 yards.
Olvera lined up as a receiver and gave the Gray Team one of their eight first downs with a 14-yard reception.
Keefer also got in on the stat action with a strong showing at defensive end that included four tackles and a few big hits.
Although the players representing the Napa Valley were unable to come together and claim a victory, they enjoyed their time and opportunity to strap up the pads and knock some heads one last time.
“I loved it. It was all fun,” Daniels said. “Us coming together as a community to play football is what it’s all about. I really enjoyed my last game.”
“If you get offered to do this, play,” Lex advised future all-star invitees. “It’s a lot of fun.”