Young Nucleus Of Talented Skill Players Has Bishop O’Dowd Thinking Big Things For 2021; PLUS: Liberty’s Nate Bell: The Dual Threat QB In The Shadows •
This is the first of 20 installments to our Return To Fall Series — a daily component to our 2021 NorCal Football Preview coverage.
Dave Perry is ready for a do-over. After close to two decades as an assistant coach in multiple programs, the Bishop O’Dowd football coach took over his first varsity program only to see his first season delayed before ultimately lasting just five spring weeks.
That team went 4-1 and finished 20th in our Final NorCal Top 30 Rankings. The team’s only loss was a 21-13 loss to a San Ramon Valley-Danville team that finished No. 11. And now Perry couldn’t be more excited to press reset as the traditional 10-game fall season returns.
And why is that?
“It’s not really a football answer, but this group really does love each other,” Perry said while surveying conditioning workouts on Aug. 5. “The teams that love each other are the ones most likely to play best when it’s crunch time.”
We’ll help with the football answer, too. The Dragons’ talent is quite plentiful — especially on defense and at the offensive skill positions.
It all starts on the defensive side of the ball for the Dragons. A unit that surrendered just 23 points in its four wins last spring may be even stronger now.
Linemen Julian Wilson and Alijah Brown team up with inside linebacker Ty Jones, all seniors, to anchor O’Dowd’s front seven. The secondary will feature All-NorCal senior cornerback Isaac Greene, 6-foot-2 junior safety BJ Jones and promising freshman corner Makari Kenion.
“Our defense is really lights out right now,” Perry said. “They are playing so well together. It’s definitely a unit that is going to give teams some fits.”
Points are still required to win, however, and Perry has some guys who can score some. Senior all-purpose back Matt White will certainly be one of those guys. White is a true double threat in the backfield. In five spring games he rushed for 398 yards (6.2 per carry), caught 20 passes for 207 yards and scored eight total touchdowns.
The team’s receiver group features Greene and a promosing sophomore duo of Kyon Loud and Daniel Harper. Getting them the ball will be senior quarterback Michael Dixon.
Dixon is replacing recently graduated three-year starter Jesse Madden, but Perry doesn’t expect a big learning curve.
“He’ll have a great year,” the coach said. “I keep telling him one of my goals for him is to be a Top 5 North Coast Section QB. He’s capable of it. He knows the offense and has finally started to take command out there.”
The offense has every chance to be as good as the defense, but will hinge on the development of a revamped offensive line. Senior Aidan Madden (Jesse’s cousin) is the line’s lone returning starter at the position he played last season. Brown is moving from a tackle spot to play tight end this year.
There will be no easing into things for the Dragons, as Perry built a daunting nonleague schedule that begins with Liberty-Brentwood on Aug. 27, followed by San Ramon Valley (9/3), El Cerrito (9/10) and St. Mary’s-Stockton (9/17). Those four teams combined to go 16-3 last spring.
“We found out over the summer (in 7-on-7s) that our guys played their best against the best competition,” Perry said. “We saw dudes step up. So I feel good about having scheduled those teams.”
Perry is definitely ready for the second act of his head coaching debut. His team may just be ready too.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: The Bell Tolls For Nate
That Bishop O’Dowd defense that Perry is so high on? Well its first task on Aug. 27 will be to contain Liberty junior quarterback Nate Bell.
NorCal has two of the most talked about dual-threat QBs from the 2023 class: Pittsburg’s Jaden Rashada and Lincoln-Stockton’s Kenyon Nelson. Rashada, a 4-star recruit, and Nelson (3-star) both hold Power 5 offers. Bell isn’t getting that type of attention, but he’s no less dynamic with the ball in his hands.
Bell’s spring season saw him complete 66 percent of his passes for 856 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. He also rushed for 219 yards and six more scores.
His breakout game came in the spring finale against cross-town rival Heritage. That night he threw for 167 yards and a TD while also rushing for 137 and three more TDs.
“He can do everything,” Lions recently-graduated running back Jaylin Thompson said after that game. “The sky is the limit for that dude.”
Bell will need to build a rapport with a new set of starting receivers, but he should get help in the backfield from returning running back Deovion Hill. Hill led the Lions in rushing with 398 yards on the ground and a 6.7 yards-per-carry average last spring.
FROM THE FB PREVIEW VAULT: Shaq Thompson Cover (Aug. 2011)
In our June 2020 10th Anniversary issue, senior contributor Jim McCue shared his memories of the first Sac-Joaquin Football Preview cover shoot, which featured current Carolina Panthers linebacker, Shaq Thompson:
SportStars first Sac-Joaquin Edition of its Football Preview came in the fall of 2011. The area’s marquee player at the time was Grant-Sacramento star Shaq Thompson, a super-athletic multisport (baseball) star who would be wearing the Pacers’ coveted No. 1 jersey.
Thompson, who now plays for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers at linebacker, was a two-way phenom that could beat you at quarterback, running back, cornerback or safety.
My first memory of Shaq was meeting him after practice to learn that he did not get the message to have his game uniform for our photo shoot. But I could not even begin to be mad at a high school senior that was as soft-spoken and polite as he was athletic.
Photographer James Leash and I took the hiccup in stride and were not disappointed with what Thompson gave us. Shaq patiently answered every question and gave us every pose and action shot we asked for. Following him that season — a season in which he was slowed by injury — and beyond has been a pleasure. It was made all the more special knowing that my first football preview cover feature subject would star in college and be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
WHO’S GOT NEXT?
This year’s Bay Area and Sac-Joaquin regional Football Preview covers will feature a program that has never been on the front of our Preview issue before.
You can help decide which program that is by taking part in our cover votes through noon on Aug. 9.
Bay Area finalists: Clayton Valley-Concord, Heritage-Brentwood, Vintage-Napa, Marin Catholic-Kentfield and Serra-San Mateo. VOTE NOW!
Sac-Joaquin finalists: Cosumnes Oaks-Elk Grove, Monterey Trail-Elk Grove, Vacaville, Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills and Lincoln-Stockton. VOTE NOW!
COMING IN TOMORROW’S RETURN TO FALL RELEASE: A look at Benicia football along with a new player spotlight and more!