After A Year Of Waiting, Daniel Medley Is Healthy And San Ramon Valley Is A Team That’s Realized Its Full Potential •
Story by MIKE WOOD | Photos by SAMUEL STRINGER
San Ramon Valley High running back Daniel Medley was poised for another big game, but in the second quarter against Dublin, he bolted to the sideline in obvious pain after a shoulder injury.
The frustration etched on the senior’s face was undeniable.
Medley had become all too accustomed to being a spectator last season, as he never played a down after tearing his ACL during spring ball. And he didn’t want to repeat that experience.
For most of this season, Medley has been healthy and a big contributor to the Danville program’s 9-0 start. With his 15 touchdowns, 831 rushing yards and another 243 in the air, he has brought balance to a Wolves offense that had primarily been a passing juggernaut behind accomplished quarterback Clark Baker.
The early end to Medley’s outing against Dublin brought back not-to-fond memories.
“To be honest, sitting from the sidelines is a completely different view. It’s a completely different perspective,” Medley said. “It was a time I really didn’t enjoy. It just motivated me to work on, keep up the physical therapy.”
This time, the injury — “I popped my shoulder back out” — was just enough for him to sit out the remainder of the Wolves’ 63-24 victory over the Gaels. Medley was back the next week in a 42-10 win over crosstown rival Monte Vista, as his 114 rushing yards marked the fourth time in six games he’d crashed triple digits. He’s seized the opportunity to fulfill the promise of his sophomore year, when he ran for 609 yards and five touchdowns.
In a game in which players get hurt and others step in and step up, he’s forged a unique bond with injured Wolves wide receiver Robbie Funkhouser. Much like Medley a year earlier, Funkhouser’s 2017 season ended pretty much before it started, with an ACL tear in the Wolves’ opener with Tracy.
It was a big loss, as Funkhouser last year totaled 862 yards in receiving yards and eight touchdowns. But with Medley powering a run game to complement the passing attack led by Baker, the Wolves have totaled 57 touchdowns, tied for second-most in the North Coast Section through Oct. 28.
When Medley was injured in the Dublin game, there was Funkhouser encouraging him.
“We both connect perfectly on that (topic),” Medley said. “He did exactly what I did last year. So if he needs anything, he comes up to me for advice. … He came over to me and said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be all right. You’re back next week, it’s just a little setback.’”
The loss of Funkhouser impacted his teammates right away.
“It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever had to go through, seeing one of my teammates go down like that,” said senior wide receiver Matt Gillespie. “I love Rob, he’s one of my favorite people on this team, but I knew as soon as it happened that me and Michael Winaker were going to have to step up and catch passes from Clark and do everything that Rob couldn’t, and just fill in for the production.
“You can pencil that guy in for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns a year; that’s how productive he is. But we’ve done a pretty good job this year and tried to emulate some of the things he does on the field. And make up for it with some different play-calling.”
Medley’s presence has led to a more proficient passing game. Baker has thrown for 1,884 yards through nine games, with 28 touchdowns, just two interceptions, a .749 completion percentage and a 151.1 passer rating.
“Having him at running back means he’s the guy that defenses we’re playing against have to gameplan for,” Baker said. “One more thing they have to worry about and be distracted from our passing game. And not only is he big in the run game, but he’s also a passing threat. He has the ability to line up in the slot or outside at receiver. He’s just like a Christian McCaffrey type, in that he can do damage there.”
The Wolves are firing on all cylinders as they hit the biggest dates on their schedule. After beating rival Monte Vista and before embarking on the NCS playoffs, SRV awaited a huge regular-season finale on Nov. 3 at powerhouse De La Salle-Concord. A year ago, the Wolves nearly became the first Northern California team to beat the Spartans in a quarter-century, falling just short 28-27. For many, the effort was a foreshadowing of the Wolves’ success to come.
“It was a little sneak peek, I’d say,” said Medley. “I watched that from the sideline and I could just see the determination. You could tell they were just fighting for it.”
This year, Gillespie, who has 32 catches for 698 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Winaker (23 catches for 395 yards and six touchdowns) have stepped up at wide receiver.
“Robbie went down, and obviously that was a big blow to our offense,” offensive tackle Blake McDonald said. “But we’ve had a a bunch of guys step up. Matt Gillespie — he’s having a great season. Same with Michael Winaker. They are both just filling that gap. They are putting up numbers that we need.”
Teamwork comes naturally to this group, Wolves coach Aaron Becker said.
“What sets these guys apart is they get along well with each other,” Becker said. “They like hanging out together in the locker room, in the weight room, in the film room. So it’s not a lot to ask to ask of them to do those things when you like who you are playing with.”
That camaraderie is propelled by leadership from players like McDonald. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive tackle will take his game to UCLA next season. But right now, he is all Wolves, all the time.
“He’s just got that attitude, that just comes with certain people who really love the game,” Medley said. “He knows what type of impact he has on the game and also on his teammates.”
“What Blake brings is tenacity,” Baker said. “Defenses can tell from the very first play in the trenches that we are going to dominate you, and that is something our team has prided itself on this year. That we are going to be able to run the ball down your throat. And Blake definitely helps set that tone, along with the rest of the O-Line.”
Added Gillespie: “He’s a great leader on this team. And you can tell he’s not looking toward UCLA right now; he’s focused on San Ramon Valley football. He loves playing in high school and I’m sure he’s going to be amazing when he gets there, to the college game.”
And there is Baker, the competitor. He’s got the bloodlines, as older brother Zack, now at Johns Hopkins, quarterbacked the Wolves in 2013-14. Clark Baker started four games as a sophomore and threw for over 2,700 as the full-time starter in 2016.
“He’s the type of guy who gets on you, especially in those practices when you are lackadaisical,” Medley said. “Sometimes when you don’t have the best opponent coming up, you catch yourself slacking off. He’s the type of guy who says ‘Hey, I understand, but this is how we get better. This is how we succeed.’ He’s the guy who gets on you for that and I respect him for that.”
“Clark is a student of the game, he’s passionate for the game,” Becker said. “He’s a good kid who comes from a great family. He’s highly competitive and wants to win at everything. Aside from the fact he throws a good football, he’s a competitor.”
There seems to be no shortage of competitive fire within the Wolves program these days. And for any Wolves who might lack it, Medley and Funkhouser will gladly remind the players what they’re taking for granted.