Despite Roster Turnover And Coaching Staff Tweaks, The Clayton Valley Ugly Eagles Have Multiple Titles To Defend — And Remain Very Much A Threat To Do So •
Nobody has to tell Nick Tisa what happened in the final game of Clayton Valley High’s last full football season.
“I’ve been coaching 16 years and I’ve only missed one game,” Tisa said. “And I missed that game because my daughter was being born.”
That game was the 2019 CIF 2-AA State Bowl championship game, which the Ugly Eagles won 10-7 in true grind-it-out, “ugly” fashion over Aquinas-San Bernardino. Ivy Tisa will be two years old this December, and after the pandemic wiped out the 2020 postseason, Clayton Valley will still be the defending 2-AA champions when the North Coast Section season opens on Aug. 27.
As for Nick Tisa, this season will mark his first as a co-head coach in the program. He’s sharing duties with 10-year Clayton Valley football coach Tim Murphy.
Tisa, who had a six-year tenure coaching Dougherty Valley-San Ramon before moving to the Concord campus in 2018, is already practicing the coaching art of setting low expectations.
“We lost a lot of returning starters on both sides of the ball,” the new co-coach said at an Aug. 12 practice. “We’re pretty young. … Our entire O-line hardly got any playing time last spring.”
A noble effort, but we’re not buying. The rest of Northern California likely isn’t either.
Any idea what the last Ugly Eagles team described as “raw and inexperienced” ended up doing? That’s right! They won the 2-AA State Bowl crown.
So much has happened since that state bowl championship. High school sports came to an abrupt stop and needed almost a full 12 months before it could restart again. The seniors on this Ugly Eagles team carry a much different perspective than they might have in the fall of 2020 had they returned as celebrated state bowl champs.
“Just coming back to school, and then going from school to practice, it’s just a blessing,” senior quarterback Brenden Bush said. “It’s really good to be back.”
Who exactly is back?
Clayton Valley football has 11 returning starters from the spring season in which it finished 4-2. And yes, the offensive line will have a lot of fresh faces outside of senior Slater Mather. But the team is fairly loaded at the skill positions.
That starts with Brenden Bush. Bush is in his third year of varsity, and second year as a starter. His skill set and talent has actually led to a partial divergence from Clayton Valley’s typical power run offense.
“When Brenden came here his freshman year was when Coach Murphy started talking about having to go spread. He was one of the best QBs we’d seen as a freshman,” Tisa said.
Bush split time with senior Jake Kern a year ago and had a good amount of success. In a 17-14 win at San Ramon Valley-Danville that clinched an East Bay Athletic League-Mountain Division title last spring, Bush was 4-for-4 for 43 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed once for a 12-yard pickup.
After a strong summer of 7-on-7 that took him all the way to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Bush returned to fall camp with confidence and ready to embrace his leadership role on the Ugly Eagles.
“He’s matured as a leader and quarterback tremendously,” Murphy said. “He progresses through his reads well and he’s faster than he gives himself credit for. Some QBs are three reads and sack. Brenden is a two read and let’s run guy.”
Murphy won’t be calling the plays anymore. He’ll be ceding that responsibility to offensive coordinator Scott Chrisco.
“That’s going to be the tough one,” Murphy said with a laugh. “I’ve never not called plays, but the goal is definitely for me not to step in. I’ll still be there on the sideline helping break things down on video, though.”
And while Murphy won’t be calling plays, Clayton Valley will still run plenty of power. That part of the offense will be led by three-year tailback Rahsaan Woodland II.
Woodland was the team’s secondary ball carried behind Omari Taylor a year ago, averaging more than six yards a carry. He’ll be joined in the backfield by three-year two-way player Tariq Adams, up and coming sophomore Micah Avery, and fellow senior Jordan Barbadillo once he returns from a broken collarbone suffered at a camp in early June.
Bush will have talent to throw to as well, including his twin brother Alex Bush.
“I’ve been playing with him all my life, so I know every movement and all of his timing,” Brenden Bush said. “We just gel really well. That’s what I’m trying to do with the other receivers.”
Bush mentioned a number of newer players that have impressed him this camp, including juniors Casey Forrester, Cody Demartini, Miguel Alvarado and Joey Mourad. He also mentioned senior Helfrick Leighton, a baseball player who’s just in his second year of football.
Tisa, who has been the defensive backs coach and spent games up in the coaches booth, will return to the sideline and work primarily with the defense on game nights. His top defensive returners include Adams, a hard-hitting linebacker that Murphy calls a “violent leader and throwback kid,” senior defensive end Amari Comier and DL/LB Jared Palega.
“I feel very confident about this group,” Brenden Bush added. “Our senior group has been through a lot together and we’re really working on building a strong team chemistry so we can finish off strong.”
Tisa is especially fond of the senior group. It’s the class that were freshmen the year he joined the coaching staff.
“I grew up in the program with them,” Tisa said. “I feel like I’ve really gone on this journey with them. … And it’s a group that really believes in playing for the brand of Ugly Eagles football.”
Bush was asked what playing for the Ugly Eagles brand meant to him, and how he communicates it to the underclassmen.
“We work hard. Nothing is given,” the quarterback said. “We come out there and it’s all fun and games until we hit the field. What I try to stress to others is ‘Do your job.’ At Clayton Valley we all do our job and that’s why we have so much success. We might not have the best guys, but we just all do our job and come up on top.”
Over his first nine seasons, Murphy’s Clayton Valley football teams have been pretty good at doing just that: Doing their jobs. Whether he’s had experienced rosters, or not, the Ugly Eagles program has proven to be a model of consistency to the tune of an 88-20 overall record and four NCS Div. II titles. The most recent came in 2019 and led to the state bowl run.
The veteran coach may be taking more of an executive role in 2021, but he has every confidence that Tisa can maintain that success.
“He really cares about the kids,” Murphy said of his new co-coach. “He’s really into building a team atmosphere. When he got here, anything I directed or asked him to do he did it and never tried to veer away from the system. That’s going to be huge — because the system works.”
Ugly Eagles football isn’t changing anytime soon. Which means despite some new faces — both on the field and along the sidelines — there’s a better than average chance Clayton Valley football will be playing in late November again. And, perhaps December too.
Let’s just say the date for Ivy Tisa’s birthday party will be circled in pencil.