Led By A Trio Of Multi-Purpose Stars, Oak Ridge Football Is Off To Its Best Start In Years •
Story by IKE DODSON | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH
Though he’s just 6 feet and 170 pounds, dual-threat Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills quarterback sensation Marco Baldocchino is impossible to miss.
But fans can’t pat themselves on the back for knowing the signal caller of the No. 3 team in the SportStars NorCal Top 20 without understanding the wingmen most responsible for his prolific success.
Baldocchino is being recruited by Azuza Pacific, West Point, Cal Poly, University of Arizona and Colorado State, and his numbers are gaudy (78 for 121 passing, 1,662 offensive yards, 17 touchdowns) across six games, but his excellence is emboldened by another 10 players each snap.
Two of them — Justin Poerio (6-0, 180) and Austin Jarrard (6-3, 220) — are his aerial engineers.
The savvy seniors are such rare talents that, despite a deep roster competing in the Sierra Foothill League — often mentioned among the toughest leagues in Northern California — both are designated for a two-way workload. Poerio is also arguably one of the better kickers in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section.
Their likeness only extends to their productivity.
Poerio is a possession receiver who runs precise routes with speed, quickness and sure hands. He has 34 catches for 506 yards and four touchdowns. Jarrard has the hulking frame of a tight end, but he has good acceleration and expertly lofts his body between defenders and the quarterback to bring down jump balls in traffic. His ability to see the field and make plays has accounted for 20 catches for 348 yards and three scores — one per week since Sept. 15.
The threat of Oak Ridge’s aerial assault gives opposing defenses a lot to fret about when the pair bolts downfield, and that opens holes for a Trojan rushing attack mostly comprised of Baldocchino’s own jaunts upfield.
“I tell people all the time that if they look at my highlight film, or come to practice, you see that these guys make it easy for me,” Baldocchino said. “You have Poerio here, a guy that’s shifty, has great hands and will break you down in a route; and then you have AJ with a big, lengthy body that you can throw it up to.
“It just really makes my job easy.”
Baldocchino doesn’t earn a paycheck. The guy who does, Eric Cavaliere, can attest to the comfort his big three provides.
“We have a lot of confidence in those guys,” the Oak Ridge coach said. “They are future college football players.
“You get a lot of confidence playing with guys like that — who make big plays and give me and the offensive coordinator courage to go for it on fourth down.”
The playmakers, a strong offensive line and running back Davin Simmons (429 yards, eight TDs), have allowed Oak Ridge’s spread offense to catch fire.
The Trojan defense is anchored by box defenders Nate Otto (6-1, 205), Hayden Nabors (6-3, 215) and Sam Sanders (6-1, 205), while Poerio (four interceptions) has made huge plays in the secondary. He had two interceptions in a landmark win over perennial Nevada state-power Reed-Sparks on Sept. 15.
Jarrard is the team leader in sacks. He had five against Reed and another against Burbank-Sacramento.
“Going both ways gets tiring, but you have to do what you can to help the team,” Jarrard said. “It is so fun being out there and helping my team out.”
Playing teams like Reed will allow undefeated Oak Ridge (6-0) to complete in one of the toughest schedules in Northern California this year. Despite that, the Trojans are enjoying the hottest start to a season in over 15 years.
In fact, even when Oak Ridge won section titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004 under coach Chris Jones, they didn’t start 6-0. The 2002 team went 12-1, losing to Grant-Sacramento (13-12) in nonleague action before edging Granite Bay (20-17) for the school’s second blue banner. The 2003 Trojans (12-1) fell 29-28 to Cordova-Rancho Cordova in Week 6 of that season, but came back to shellack the then-undefeated Lancers 34-0 in the section finals. A year later, Oak Ridge went 11-2, falling to Del Oro-Loomis and Grant across the first three weeks before a 10-game winning streak and 34-27 vengeance over Del Oro in the section finale.
The 2017 squad is still chasing the school’s first SFL title since joining the conference with Folsom in 2014. The Bulldogs, No. 2 in the NorCal Top 20 behind De La Salle-Concord, have never lost an SFL game since the league was created for the 2014 realignment cycle.
Folsom’s league winning streak actually stands at 31 games and goes back two-plus years into the now-defunct Delta River League. Folsom’s last league loss was a 48-34 defeat to Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove on Oct. 28, 2011. That Pleasant Grove team was led by current San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead and practice squad tight end Cole Hikutini, among others.
To unseat the champs, Oak Ridge will have to first take care of business against NorCal Top 20 No. 18 Granite Bay (5-1) on Oct. 13. Granite Bay slipped 35-14 to Folsom on Sept. 29 and utilized a bye week to prepare for Oak Ridge at home. The Grizzlies have one of the best offensive lines in the section and a stout, playmaking defense. Both Oak Ridge and Granite Bay beat Vacaville by one point in nonleague play.
“Every week is a big game in this league,” Cavaliere said. “Home game, away game — it doesn’t matter — it makes you so much better.
“If you show up and don’t play well, you lose. It keeps you on your toes, and that’s how it should be.”