Viliami Schaumkel will not be playing for the Vintage High again. The first-ever Vine Valley Athletic League football Player of the Year will be suiting up for San Jose City College this fall.
League Lineman of the Year Luis Arroyo is a preferred walk-on at UC Davis, while VVAL Defensive Player of the Year Colton Fisher, fellow towering defensive end Dre Holmes and All-VVAL First Team wide receiver and jack-of-all-trades Michael Webber will be suiting up for Santa Rosa City College.
The Crushers couldn’t have snapped their 32-year playoff-victory drought without them last year, trouncing No. 9 James Logan 36-0 and stunning No. 1 Antioch 24-21 in a double-overtime as the No. 8 seed in the North Coast Section Division 1 playoffs.
“Viliami is probably going to start at ‘Mike’ (middle linebacker) for San Jose City, Luis is going to get his shot at Davis, and Colton And Dre are doing great things at Santa Rosa JC and the coaches have really fallen in love with them,” Vintage head coach Dylan Leach said at the Napa Valley Register’s annual prep football media day at Memorial Stadium on July 31.
“We’re always excited to have guys move on, whether it’s at a JC or wherever they get a chance to go on. It’s about this game of football, and getting able to play and kind of try to fulfill the dream that we all had as a as a young kid. Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to go see them play.”
The Crushers also couldn’t have had their best season in more than three decades without their young but cerebral quarterback, Jacob Aaron, as was evident when injuries kept him – and five other starters – out of a 14-3 semifinal loss at No. 4 San Ramon Valley that ended their 10-game win streak and 10-3 season.
But Aaron is back for his junior year, along with senior and third-year varsity center Jack Odell, the only one of Vintage’s nine All-VVAL First Team selections who didn’t graduate. Also back are last year’s second-leading rusher behind Schaumkel, senior Mauricio “Mo” Castro; senior and returning All-VVAL Second Team safety Cutler Low; and senior tight end Kyle Dandini.
“Kyle is one of our iron-horse kind of guys. He’s here every day to learn and is super coachable, a great kid,” defensive coordinator Kyle Archer – a 2009 Vintage alumnus – said of Dandini. “And a lot of people know about Mo (Castro) because he had a ton of big runs.”
None was more memorable than a 59-yard kickoff return by Castro that set up the field goal against San Ramon Valley.
“I’m also the special teams coach, so that was one of my favorite moments of the year,” Archer said with a smile. “But most of all, Mo’s a great kid.
“Cutler started at receiver and safety last year, so he’s a leader on both sides of the ball, and Jack has been starting at center ever since he was a sophomore, so this is his third year. He wears No. 55 and I wore No. 55, so we share a kinship over that.”
Odell isn’t too worried about being the only returning starter up front.
“What we kind of think of on the offensive line is being bigger, faster and stronger and having the will to compete, and we have great coaches that push us hard to be able to get us to where we need to be to be able to fight every single down,” he said. “So I’m feeling we’ll be prepared for every battle and we’re gonna fight.
“Our other starters were definitely in the rotation in games last year, and when needed them on scout offense in practice. Playing on scout-O will eventually pay off for you when the seniors leave. Just look where they’re at now.”
With the season Vintage had, especially in VVAL play where they won by an average score of 49-8 and pulled off the horses early, the reserves got almost as much playing time as the starters.
“When we play hard and fast and physical, guys get rotated in and get their shot to go play just as hard, fast and physical as everybody else,” Odell said.
Dandini said the Crushers aren’t satisfied with having been part of the first Vintage team in 32 years to win a playoff game.
“We’re always looking to improve,” Dandini said. “The year before last, after we went to the first round of playoffs and lost and Coach Leach said ‘I want go further next year’ and we went to the third round and lost. So this year we’re looking to go even further than that. After last year, Coach Leach said we were ‘one game away from being legends’ and that’s what we’re trying to do this year.”
“I feel like this year there will be a lot passing, especially with Jacob Aaron back at quarterback. He’s become a lot better, a better leader, and we’ve got a great group of receivers.”
Dandini is also in the middle of a linebacking corps that will include Bryce Eade, Pedja Zivkovic, Dylan Smith, Ian Avalos, Nick Schuttish, Noah Gulbransen and Ernie Avina. On the defensive line are the likes of Dominic Smith, Dylan Danniel and Matt Hanes on line, while the most experienced defenders will be in the secondary – with Bill Chaidez, Low and Aaron returning at safety. The cornerbacks include Harrison Barrett, Anthony Martinez, Sam Neal, Reid McCaffrey, Robert Rojas and Adam Wesner. Barrett, who also punts, has the highest GPA on the team.
Low, who carries a 4.3 GPA, look to not only get interceptions but catch passes from his own quarterback.
“We’ve been working on some passing sets and we have a couple of receivers that are pretty talented coming up from the JV squad, like Reid McCaffrey and Sam Neal. We have some fast, good receivers, so we’re looking to open up the field.”
After struggling to just get to the playoffs as members of the Sac-Joaquin Section and Monticello Empire League for so many years, and now coming off a dominant season, there are now high expectations for Vintage football.
“We’ve obviously been on an upward trend since our playoff loss two years back and we expectation to make it even farther this year, but I think we can live up to it with our coaching,” Low said. “We’re not the most athletic team. We don’t have a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end that can carry us, but our coaching staff is going to push us to be the best we can be. They’ve done that the past two years, so I think we’re going to be really good this year.”
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Castro said he learned from Schaumkel while sharing the backfield with him last year.
“I’ll definitely be going after it, trying to get every rep I can, trying to better every mistake I made last year,” he said. “I learned from the seniors, like Viliami. He was a big influence for me. I’m just hoping to get a lot of carries this year and a lot of yards, on kick returns, too.”
Leach said Castro may even be on the other end of kickoffs, though Leach said main kicker Tate Salese is good from at least 42 yards out on field goals.
Several players came up from the 9-0-1 junior varsity team for a three-game postseason that dragged on for five weeks due to delays caused by drifting smoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise. But that just meant even more playoff experience for the JV pull-ups.
“They ended up having about a month of practices with the varsity, even though some of those were in the gym,” Archer said. “But that allowed us to like have our young guys learn all the drills and really learn the schemes. So I think that’s gonna help us a lot this year, as well.”
“We had 23 extra practices,” Leach said, “so it was a real good situation for us.”
Along with Archer, Leach’s staff includes line coaches Dennis Raines and Andrew Hall, strength training and defensive line coach Chris Yepson, defensive backs coach and scout coordinator Preston Garcia, middle linebackers coach David Hunt, and receivers coach Bob Rosenstiel.
Vintage hopes to dominate the line of scrimmage again this season. But Archer, a 2009 Vintage alumnus, said it won’t be automatic.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘concerned’ about our line,” he said. “We lost pretty much all of our starters on the D-line and some linebackers, but we have a great group of kids. They’ve been super committed to the weight room, they’re super coachable and they’re there every day, so we feel very good with where we’re at and we’re super excited.”
Leach, a 1992 Vintage graduate, assisted at Vintage and Napa High before coming back to Vintage to be head coach in 2017.
“My first team here had a work ethic that really set the tone and the year after that we lost in the first round of the playoffs and went 7-4, and we’ve just been building off that,” he said. “Last year’s group was special in that they understood the importance of the offseason and the importance of work ethic. So they’ve set a good foundation, and these guys are just following suit.
“The benefit of being in Year 4 of a program is the kids we get coming up to the varsity already have the fundamentals and already know the terminology, so we can just we can take that and either expand on it or refine it.”
Then there’s that continuity a great program can have, even after losing three all-league players of the year to graduation.
“A lot of the guys who will be starting this year played a lot last year, full second halves against a lot of teams. We pulled the starters in the second quarter of probably seven games, so we have a lot of experience coming back,” Leach said. “But it’s all new, an opportunity for kids to come in and create their own legacy. The sign of a good program is consistency, and that’s what we’re striving for.”
Protecting Aaron and opening holes for Castro will be, along with Odell, Danniel and Smith, the likes of Avery Hall, Jose Alfaro, Louie Canepa, Wyatt Chaidez, Connor Smith, Nate Perry, Ricky Carvalho, Connor Cole and Jayden DeGarmo.
Leach enjoys coaching Aaron, who after two years as the school’s top golfer has no trouble taking a team on his shoulders.
“He’s proven himself as a leader he’s proven himself on the field,” Leach said. “We have a great rapport when we talk football, and he’s not afraid to put his knowledge on the line. Sometimes there are points where a kid sees something and wants to do something and you either have to let them learn the hard way or you have to say ‘Yep, that’s exactly what we want to do,’ and so I love having Jacob in that position.”
Ready to fill in for Aaron are fellow junior Bill Chaidez, who called the JV signals last year, and seniors Billy Birdsall and Jeremy Bradley, who was the JV starter two and three years ago.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust to what you have and where your strengths are every year,” Leach said.
“Any coach that comes in and says ‘We’re going to run this (system)’ is not utilizing the players he has.”
But with a backfield led by the speedy Castro and physical Zivkovic, don’t expect the Crushers to chuck up the ball too much more than in the past.
“Mo Castro will see significant carries and catches, and Pedja is an absolute beast with the ball in his hands; his vision is great,” Leach said. “We have guys like Dylan Smith coming up from the JV who is just a really tough-nosed kid. We’re excited about Bryce Eade, too. I think last year we had six backs with over 350 yards, and that’s not easy to do.”
The varsity won’t have a Schaumkel this year, but the JV will. Like Viliami, Mosaati “Mo” Schaumkel also has Pittsburgh Steelers great Troy Polamalu’s hairdo and wears No. 43.
“He’ll be great for us,” Leach said. “But he’s in the future.”