Upward-Moving Cougars Tackle New League, Season – Lake County Record-Bee
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series featuring Lake County high school football teams as they prepare for the 2022 season.
UPPER LAKE — Although the Upper Lake team on the court this season is just as talented as last year’s team that won the North Central League III championship, the Cougars are really going to deserve it if their goal is to repeat it.
“It’s going to be a lot harder to win the league this year,” Upper Lake head coach Vince Moran said of the upcoming 2022 season.
Upper Lake rides in a revamped NCL II that also includes South Fork, a holdover from the Cougars’ NCL III era, as well as Calistoga, Branson School of Ross, Stuart Hall San Francisco, Cornerstone Christian of Antioch, and California School for the Deaf of Fremont.
It’s definitely a step up for the Cougars, who are playing 8-a-side football for the eighth and final year in a row. Beginning in 2023, Upper Lake returns to 11-a-side football by joining the NCL I, a league he competed in successfully in the 1980s and 1990s before the program’s fortunes began to deteriorate with growing rosters. smaller each year and the losses that come with it. followed.
Upper Lake could barely field enough players in 2014, its final year as an 11-man club, and moved to an eight-man club in 2015. But with the Northshore youth football program on the rise and the number of the ever-growing high school team. – 31 players out the first week of the season – the Cougars, starting in the 2023 season, will again come up against other schools in Lake County.
Of course, that still leaves this season, Upper Lake’s last as an eight-man club, and in a new league to boot.
“We’re exactly where we were last year in terms of talent,” Moran said of assessing his 2022 roster, which has better team speed almost everywhere you look and, more importantly, four players from return from the All-League as a senior. Joey Franklin (back/lineback/linebacker), junior Will Henry (back/lineback/defensive end), senior Daylin Hamby (receiver/defensive back) and sophomore quarterback Jerod Rosales.
“We have the talent, but the level of (league) competition for us is increasing dramatically,” Moran said of the new NCL II look. Branson went 10-0 last season, including a pair of wins over a Stuart Hall team that ended the Upper Lake season with a 12-0 win in the Section Eight playoff semifinals. from the north coast. Calistoga finished third last season in the former NCL IV behind Branson and Stuart Hall.
“A tougher schedule means we’ll be better prepared come playoff time,” said Moran, who just as quickly recovered and said, “I’m probably getting ahead of myself talking about playoffs. playoffs.”
Upper Lake had originally scheduled nine games (out of a maximum of 10 allowed), but a season opener on August 26 against Maxwell, which would have been an 11-man contest, was canceled. Unless the Cougars win a game or two by then, they won’t play their season opener until Sept. 9 at home against Roseland University Prep in Santa Rosa. In fact, Upper Lake is set to play its first three home games this season, including a non-league game on Sept. 16 against Tomales and its first NCL II game on Sept. 23 against California School for the Deaf.
The Cougars also have two games scheduled for Saturday, both league road contests — against Stuart Hall (Oct. 1) and Branson (Nov. 5, regular season finale).
Of the 31 players absent for soccer in the first week of practice, more than half were either freshmen (13) or sophomores (five). The 13 finals are made up of six juniors and seven seniors. Since the eight-man teams do not field separate junior varsity clubs, all 31 Cougars are eligible to play on game day.
Many of those youngsters made an impact last season, none more so than quarterback Rosales, who entered the starting lineup as a rookie mid-season and proved to be a cool customer, standing in the pocket even under a heavy pass rush.
“Jerod is the kind of kid who will do whatever it takes,” Moran said.
Delaney Allison, a sophomore who played sparingly last season, also expects to see a lot more playing time in 2022 as a key member of the Cougars’ offensive backfield and also on defense in the secondary.
Along with their four returning All-Leaguers, other Cougars veterans include junior running back/defensive end Nick Foster and senior offensive and defensive lineman Luke Summerfield, who will also handle punting duties.
Out of season
Several Cougars made big improvements in the offseason, including junior Gabe Burris, an offensive and defensive lineman.
“Night and day what it looked like last year,” Moran said. “I rely on him for our line.”
Senior Adrian Killough, also a two-way lineman, has also improved significantly since the 2021 season and should be a much bigger factor for the Cougars this season, according to Moran.
With an influx of new talent and the improvement of other players from last season, Moran has more flexibility with his line and will make use of it by sometimes playing Henry and Franklin in the backfield although they may still see some light. action up front.
Working at fullback, Franklin has been looking good so far, according to Moran.
“He cuts and reads blocks. It looks quite natural there.
While the Cougars lost key personnel at graduation, including All-Leaguers Bradley Sneathen (back/linebacker), Cody Banks (winger/secondary) and Elijah Alvarez (receiver/secondary), Moran said the Cougars had the skill and the depth to overcome it. .
On offense, Hamby as a wide receiver and Allison as an all-around player (back and receiver) should provide some tempting targets for quarterback Rosales.
“He’s taken a big leap from last year,” Moran said of Allison. “He’s so much bigger, more explosive and mature.”
Upper Lake also has Mikel Compton (running back) to help on offense. As a freshman, Compton played well last year for Westshore College Youth Soccer Club in Lakeport.
“A really natural runner,” Moran said. “I’m pretty excited for him.”
“Our offense is really stacked, especially in the skill positions, and with a lot more speed than a year ago,” Moran said. “The depth of the line is a bit sketchy, but I think it will be fine and we have options.”
The line candidates in addition to Burruss and Killough are sophomores Frankie Kavanaugh and Jonathan Barnes, freshmen Nathan Boomer, Tyler Collins and Jimmy Sanchez.
Franklin inherits Sneathen’s job at middle linebacker in Upper Lake’s defensive scheme while Henry will be another defensive anchor at the end. Another big addition for the Cougars is Benjamin Beecher, a junior playing football for the first time in high school. The younger brother of former Upper Lake star Ward Beecher, Benjamin Beecher should see plenty of action on defense at linebacker and on offense at running back.
“He hasn’t played since eighth grade (COVID-19 wiped out his freshman season in 2020), but he’s one of the best athletes in the county,” Moran said. “He’s really quick.”
Moran said there’s no shortage of defensive line candidates and the Cougars should be tough.
Allison and All-Leaguer Hamby are named cornerbacks. The team is still auditioning for starting security.
“It’s our biggest need right now, but we certainly have the bodies to meet it. It’s going to be competitive for this job.
The influx of a large and motivated freshman class speaks well for the future of Upper Lake football, according to Moran.
“The freshmen have been there all summer,” he said of the voluntary offseason workouts.
Players such as Billy Stillman (receiver/linebacker), Dylan Aragon (running back/linebacker), Landon Robinson (receiver/safety) and Blake Sneed (running back/cornerback) are just a few of the names to watch, according to Upper Lake’s head coach.
Upper Lake was left without a proper weight room for several years after the old one – located just north of the school gymnasium – was condemned and demolished. A new one is expected to open in the next few months and Moran can’t wait.
“Our (temporary) weight room has been busy over the summer, people have been showing up and the news is going to make us a much better team,” he said.
“It’s going to be tough, but we expect to compete for another league championship,” Moran said. “Kids think they can do that.”
At the start of last season, there was a lot of uncertainty because of what happened the year before (no football season because of COVID), according to Moran. This is not the case this year.
“We feel really good where we are,” he said.