With A Confident Young Coach And A Talented Roster, Cosumnes Oaks Football Is Ready To Take On All Comers — And It Doesn’t Care If You Think That’s Crazy •
Two words sum up the Cosumnes Oaks football program this year: attitude and effort.
You might also add crazy.
Led by fiery young coach Andrew Bettencourt, the Elk Grove high school has one of the top up-and-coming teams in 2020. Behind talented, dual-threat quarterback Anthony Grigsby Jr., a slew of dangerous pass-catchers, and a defense loaded with playmakers, Cosumnes Oaks is primed for interesting preseason matchups and a possible run at the Delta League title.
The team has scheduled one of the toughest preseason slates in the section and is led by a young coach who’s not afraid of a challenge.
“If we want to be the best, there’s only one way to do that and that’s to take them on,” Bettencourt said.
Last season, Bettencourt and his new staff replaced Derick Milgrim, who went 33-24 in five years with the program. The last Capital Valley Conference championship came in 2014.
Bettencourt and Co. led the program to the playoffs in their first season with an 8-4 overall record and a 4-2 mark in league play. The Wolfpack beat Granite Bay in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs before losing to eventual Div. II-champion Elk Grove — a team it beat earlier in the season.
Bettencourt says prior to his arrival, the Cosumnes Oaks football program consistently lost five or six of their best players every year to other, higher-rated programs.
“All of sudden, we came in and turned the program upside down and it became fun for kids,” Bettencourt explained. “You watch our film, you watch our practices and it’s a party, but it’s also respectful. We live by the term civilized savages.”
After his playing career, Bettencourt returned to his alma mater Christian Brothers-Sacramento and spent two seasons under head coach Dan Carmazzi, who ended his career in 2017 with the third-most victories in the region with 258.
Born and raised in Elk Grove, Bettencourt constantly heard the rumors surrounding the Cosumnes Oaks football program and its deficiencies. So he decided to take the head coaching role, making it his goal to give his student-athletes more chances to be successful.
“If you want to turn the program around, you do it in three categories: Your energy, your effort and your execution,” Bettencourt said. “To me, culture is a cliché term. I was tired of seeing kids not getting their chance in other programs. I wanted to create a program that was all about them. We’re here to put them in a position to succeed.”
FAST TRACK FOR QUARTERBACKS
Bettencourt, 32, became the Wolfpack head coach with only three years of high school football coaching experience. But at the time of his hire, his conversations with Cosumnes Oaks athletic director George Smith revolved around his training of the area’s top young quarterbacks at Valor Passing Academy.
“Honestly, I wasn’t interested in becoming a head coach,” Bettencourt admitted. “I was always looking at options in the area and athletic directors reached out to me because I was the guy who trained all of their athletes.
“Many will say that I’m not qualified, but I also coached in Europe. I helped develop youth programs and developed athletes out there. When I look at coaching, ultimately you’re a developer.”
Bettencourt excelled as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Christian Brothers. And he’s trained some big-armed QBs.
Bettencourt worked with the likes of Tyler Vander Waal, who graduated from Christian Brothers in 2016 with a scholarship to play at the University of Wyoming (now at Idaho State). He also worked with current University of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, Old Dominion’s Stone Smartt, UC Davis’ Gunner Faulk, UTEP quarterback Calvin Brownholtz, Christian Brothers’ Jacob Stewart, who went to Tennessee, and last year’s starting quarterback at Folsom High, Jake Reithmeier. Reithmeier is now at the University of San Diego.
Bettencourt’s experience playing the position at the collegiate and professional level has translated to eye-popping numbers for his pupils.
“When you look at the top guys in the section every year, we’re sitting with two or three in that top five,” Bettencourt said. “And that’s not necessarily me. That’s the coaches at school, the program, their previous quarterback coaches and ultimately the kids being dedicated to their craft.”
LUCKY NO. 7
Throw Anthony Grigsby Jr. on that list also. Bettencourt worked with the junior signal caller last season and he threw for 2,713 yards and 30 touchdowns. Grigsby will be back under center for Cosumnes Oaks in 2021.
“He’s an incredible young man. He’s very expressive and knows how to communicate, and those are good traits,” Bettencourt said. “The best part about it, he’s young and he’s willing to learn. The biggest jump I’ve seen from last year to this year is he’s asking good questions… He learned how to challenge himself and be a worker.”
Bettencourt says to be a good quarterback, there’s more than meets the eye. It’s not just about what happens under the lights on Friday nights. Rather, good quarterbacks have to include a variety of workouts including speed training, positional training, weight lifting and timing with receivers. Then they have to recover, eat well and study the game through film review or meetings with coaches.
Grigsby starts training at 5 a.m. some mornings, and has added extra throwing sessions with receivers. He really wants to improve his speed, athleticism and accuracy.
“He’s got an incredible arm, and sometimes with that, people will rely on it, but he’s done a great job of adapting,” Bettencourt said. “Last year, we came in and told him we didn’t want to change his throwing, but to tighten up his mechanics to make him more efficient. And he took to it.”
This season will be the first time Grigsby has had the same offensive coordinator and playbook for a second-straight year. In his first few Cosumnes Oaks football seasons, he had three different systems to run. At times that resulted in more “backyard football,” as coach Bettencourt termed it.
“A lot of people don’t realize that he can run, but he’s incredibly fast,” Bettencourt said of Grigsby. “We just controlled him because that’s the magic potion. You have to know when to run him and he has to learn to trust his eyes.”
Grigsby says he has a better handle on the Wolfpack’s run and shoot offense now, and can read defenses better and faster. That should lead to more efficiency in the pocket this season.
“Coach (Bettencourt) has helped prepare me. He’s a real quarterback coach and knows what he’s talking about,” Grigsby said. “He finds things that I can work on and improve and gives me examples, and he’s helped my mental game too. I can read defenses a lot better and make my reads faster.”
Bettencourt says the run-and-shoot offense takes advantage of high-to-low reads, and allows the quarterback to attack defenses with vertical routes.
“You know, we’re different,” he added. “I don’t teach low-to-high—that’s elementary school to me. We’re progressive and read high-to-low because we’ll never be late on a deep ball. That’s why it’s called a check-down.”
Grigsby says he has weapons all over the field this season, from the running backs, to receivers and tight ends. He says the team will be able to make substitutions every play this year if they wanted to, and he would be confident in their ability to make a big play.
“We have the guys to complement his ability to throw the ball,” Bettencourt said.
Out wide, Austin Taylor is the only senior, but could be on the verge of a big season thanks to his chemistry with Grigsby. Julius Jordan adds a big, physical element to the group and doubles as a safety, while Damon Carter got a lot of praise from his coach as another big target.
“He’s (Carter) an incredible receiver. In terms of his moves and similarities, he reminds me of an AJ Green,” Bettencourt said. “He’s long, athletic, plays above the rim, and he makes catches with his hands instead of letting the ball get into his body.”
Returning running back Christian Ridgway, a powerful runner with great speed, will make sure it’s not just on Grigsby’s shoulders. Last year, he perfected the sweep on his way to 1,454 rushing yards and nine scores. Bettencourt is also excited about Bradshaw Christian transfer Elijah Christian who will see time at wingback.
“I’ve got a seven-man depth chart at receiver, and it’s a luxury,” Bettencourt acknowledged.
At tight end, the 6-foot-5 Mikaiah Stephenson, who missed most of last year with an injury, will be back to work alongside 6-foot-2 Moses Oladejo and give the team two capable pass-catching targets in the middle of the field.
Oladejo, who recently committed to Cal, will double as a linebacker on defense. He’ll work alongside senior Isaiah Bobbitt-Byars, who played all over the second level of the Wolfpack defense last year.
Bobbitt-Byars led the team with 111 tackles, while adding nine sacks and a pair of interceptions. He’s also been one of the team’s leaders this offseason, motivating his teammates to take advantage of extra time prior to the season and avenge last year’s playoff loss.
“We’ve been working — ever since last year when we lost in the playoffs,” Bobbitt-Byars said. “Just working, working, working. We always say, ‘Only we can control what we can control.’ I know some teams we play this year have more advantages than us, so coaches have been preaching for us to work hard every day. Our attitude and effort will win us games this year.”
Cosumnes Oaks football boasts five student-athletes this year with Div. I offers and three with Div. II offers.
“Our goal is to get these kids to college and to put these kids on a platform to be seen by recruiters,” Bettencourt said. “I think that’s why kids like us. We’re not here to win games, that’ll happen. We’re here literally to get you ready to go to college.”
Bettencourt built his staff with experience in mind. He has coaches on staff that played at San Diego State, UC Davis, USC, Sacramento State, Missouri Western, Fresno State and Minot State. One such coach is former Elk Grove star Antuan Simmons, one of the top cornerbacks in the country when he committed to USC in the 1990’s. His professional experience included NFL Europe and the Arena Football League.
PROTOCOLS & PARTNERSHIPS
In July, when the CIF first announced the season’s postponement to January, teams were allowed COVID-safe pod workouts. But Cosumnes Oaks has been the target of multiple formal complaints this fall. Bettencourt said there were more than 40 alleged rules or safety violations. All were unfounded.
“It’s been non-stop,” Bettencourt said. “I got calls asking if I was running practices in a park with full pads and all our kids, and I was like, ‘No, I’m in Utah right now.’ But it is what it is.”
As the so-called new staff on the block, Cosumnes Oaks coaches have ruffled feathers in their league and section for doing things their way. Civilized savages, remember?
“I don’t go to grab pizza and beers with coaches in the area,” Bettencourt admitted. “We’ve got different circles, and those aren’t guys from my time.”
But Bettencourt has made some new friends as well. He’s struck a relationship with Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson well from their scheduling talks.
Mater Dei is the crown jewel to a preseason schedule that is arguably the toughest in all of NorCal.
“We had a hard time filling that third game, and you want to measure your team against good teams,” Bettencourt noted. “So when (Mater Dei) posted that they had an opening, I called them out on Twitter. … When I spoke with them, I told them, ‘We’re not your average Joe trying to take on the big wigs.’ This is a measuring stick game for us.”
Of course, that game is in serious peril. The newest wave of COVID-19 infections forced the state health department to push back its youth sports reopening guidelines. It now seems almost certain most schools won’t be able to start regular practices on the proposed date of Dec. 7. That would obviously put a lot of January games in doubt.
If Cosumnes Oaks does play its full nonleague slate, it will also include the defending SJS champions from Div. I (Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills), Div. II (Elk Grove) and Div. III (Manteca). They also added Div. I-runner up Monterey Trail-Elk Grove for good measure.
“We’re taking on the best because I want our kids to push themselves,” Bettencourt added. “And there’s no complaints (from our kids). They know this is what it takes to win a title.”
One thing is for certain, there won’t be a lack of confidence.