In football, the stars turn the most heads, make the most plays and cause the most grief for opponents.
The Sac-Joaquin Section Division I and II championship games on Saturday at Sacramento State offer a smattering of college-bound prospects of skill, speed, bulk and ferocity, but they are greatly outnumbered by the unsung performers. And it will be the efforts of those under-the-radar players that figure to turn these games.
In Division I, top-seeded Folsom (13-0) is in a championship game for a record eighth consecutive season, seeking their sixth banner this decade. The Bulldogs face defending champion St. Mary’s of Stockton at 1:45 p.m., and the 7:45 p.m. D-II nightcap features Granite Bay against Del Oro in what has been one of the section’s most spirited rivalries.
The best players for Folsom include junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett and junior receiver Joe Ngata, both fielding heavy recruiting interest as game breakers.
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And then there’s Tanner Ward, all 5-foot-8 of ballistic missile and muscle as a blitzing safety and fast-closing stopper in the secondary.
The senior, a 4.1 student, epitomizes a lot of players at this level, eager to keep this season going and their football careers active. He is not a national recruit but, “he’s a great player who’s had a phenomenal year for us,” coach Kris Richardson said. “You need guys like Tanner Ward.”
Ward leads Folsom with 105 tackles, 40 more than the next man on the roster. He hits the weights with the same fervor as his more acclaimed teammates, and he supplements his conditioning by using tires, whether hitting them or dragging them on the school’s blue turf in the winter. Ward defended the benefit of sound sleep, which has been a staple to the health of Folsom’s players over the years.
“Rest,” Ward said with a laugh. “I love my rest. We all do. Some teams say you’ve got to go 24/7, full bore all the time. You don’t. Listen to your body. We do physical therapy, do the ice baths and sit and talk.”
As for his future, Ward said, “I know colleges look at my 5-8 size, but I can play, and I know that at my size, I appreciate all players. I don’t underestimate anyone.”
Ward will have his sights on St. Mary’s running back Dusty Frampton, a senior headed to Cal Poly. Frampton ravaged the Bulldogs in last year’s final for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in a 56-25 Rams win.
Granite Bay (11-2), the top seed in D-II, is in the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season and targets its sixth championship – and first for coach Jeff Evans. He grew up in the Bay Area and marvels at the talent of this section, right down to the role players.
The Grizzlies include burly fullback/linebacker Evan Tattersall and lineman Will Craig, both national recruits headed to Cal on scholarship, but where would the Grizzlies be without unacclaimed cogs such as Jade Foddrill?
The 6-1, 180-pound senior quarterback passed for a modest 1,802 yards and 14 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Foddrill has rushed for only 170 yards, but 93 came against Del Oro on Sept. 22, including a touchdown, in a 28-21 victory.
Foddrill is like a lot of his teammates in that he grew up in the Junior Grizzlies program, eager to slip on a silver helmet at the high school ranks, hopeful of catching a recruiter’s eye at any level.
And like a true team captain, Foddrill defends his team’s reputation. Four teammates had to sit out a D-II semifinal win over 12-0 Del Campo for their roles during a skirmish the previous week against Antelope. Foddrill tossed the winning score to Matt Barron for a 9-7 victory.
“That’s not us, and it’s uncommon for us,” he said of rowdy behavior.
Foddrill is also a fan of Granite Bay’s spirited student section known as “The Tribe,” which will duel Del Oro’s equally fun-to-watch “Black Hole.”
“Great rooting sections,” Foddrill said. “They take it as serious as we do in football and that’s what makes it special.”
Golden in Loomis, again
Del Oro is in a section championship for the 17th time in 25 years, and it seeks its 12th banner, including sixth this decade.
The program has gone 26-2 in section play since 2010 and has achieved largely on the backs of athletes competing in their final games, or who go to small colleges. This is not a football factory but it does churn out grinders such as Brice Edwards.
The senior running back emerged as one of the team’s key figures, and he delivered a key play in a D-II semifinal win against Central Catholic. When the Golden Eagles’ unsung quarterback, Carson Jarratt, connected with an unsung receiver, Johnny Guzman, for a 97-yard touchdown strike, Edwards blocked two players to make it possible, leading to a 23-12 victory.
“Brice is under the radar,” first-year coach Jeff Walters said. “It’s what he does when no one’s watching. On that 97-yard touchdown, it was Brice who picked up the blitzing safeties.”
Edwards isn’t the only one who faces doubt. The entire program does. Walters replaced Casey Taylor, who enjoyed a highly successful 15 seasons in Loomis before heading to new challenges at Capital Christian.
Del Oro needed a Week 10 victory just to get into the playoffs at 5-5 but is now 3-0 in the tournament.
“We heard it,” Walters said. “ ‘Let’s see if Del Oro can do it again. Is this still D.O.?’ People slammed the door on us, but we got back to our DNA of Del Oro football, where everyone contributes. Everyone.”
Sac-Joaquin Section Championships
Division I: No. 1 Folsom vs. No. 3. St. Mary’s, Saturday, 1:45 p.m., at Sacramento State
Division II: No. 1 Granite Bay vs. No. 7 Del Oro, Saturday, 7:45 p.m., at Sacramento State
Division III: No. 1 Oakdale vs. No. 2 Manteca, Friday, 7 p.m., at Lincoln High School-Stockton