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No.1 De La Salle Readies For Rams | RETURN TO FALL Football Preview Series No. 19 No.1 De La Salle Readies For Rams | RETURN TO FALL Football Preview Series No. 19
With A Mix Of New Faces And Experienced Ones, De La Salle Football Preps For Challenging Opener; PLUS Staff NCS Season Predictions • This... No.1 De La Salle Readies For Rams | RETURN TO FALL Football Preview Series No. 19

With A Mix Of New Faces And Experienced Ones, De La Salle Football Preps For Challenging Opener; PLUS Staff NCS Season Predictions •

This is the nineteenth of 20 installments to our Return To Fall Series — a daily component to our 2021 NorCal Football Preview coverage.

“No! Everybody freeze!”

De La Salle football coach Justin Alumbaugh’s frustrated order from the Owen Owens Field turf on Monday afternoon was likely heard up the hill in parts of the Concord school’s main campus.

“There are three ways they create space out of this set,” he barked at the Spartans linebackers and defensive backs. “It doesn’t do us any good if we only know two of them.” 

The “they” in that statement are the Rams of St. Mary’s-Stockton. Their offense scored 27 points in an eight-point loss at De La Salle during last spring’s shortened season, and it will have a number of its key players back on the field when the Spartans visit on Friday for both teams’ fall opener. It’s a matchup of Northern California’s No. 1 and No. 6 teams.

Alumbaugh’s concern about space is tied directly to St. Mary’s senior receiver Jadyn Marshall. The UCLA-bound football and track star had his best game of the spring against De La Salle, catching seven passes for 117 yards that included a 50-yard touchdown grab.

“St. Mary’s volunteers to play us every year and they give us a great battle,” Alumbaugh said by phone Tuesday morning. “That’s what I’m expecting. And I’m expecting them to get No. 2 the ball in space. You’ve got to know how they’re trying to get him the ball, and then scheme-wise come up with ways to shut that down.”

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Alumbaugh has the benefit of a few elite players lining up on his side as well. First and foremost — and someone who will play a key role in the last line of defense against Marshall — is senior safety and all-purpose back Zeke Berry

Berry is also a Pac-12 commit after pledging to Arizona in late July. He will lead a defense that also includes returning senior linebacker Damonie Perkins and defensive ends Brodie Tagaloa and Cooper Flanagan. The latter duo will be looked on to get after Rams returning quarterback Cruz Herrera

De La Salle Football, Zeke Berry, Concord
Zeke Berry listens to instructions during the Spartans’ practice on Aug. 23. (Chace Bryson photos)

“We didn’t do a good job of that last year (against St. Mary’s),” Alumbaugh said. “We didn’t collapse the pocket quick enough.”

As is always the case within the program, especially at this time of year, physicality is goal No. 1. Alumbaugh was encouraged by the group’s performance in the Aug. 20 scrimmage at Pittsburg.

“Our physicality up front is developing to a place that we like, though we’re not where we ultimately need to be,” the coach said. “Still, it’s going in that direction and that’s definitely a positive.

“Most importantly, it’s a good group of kids. They’ve been fun to work with. They like being out there.”

De La Salle Football, Luke Dermon, Justin Alumbaugh
New Spartans quarterback Luke Dermon looks for an open receiver as coach Justin Alumbaugh looks on from behind.

The battle won’t just be fought on the defensive side of the ball when De La Salle visits Stockton. The Spartans will be showcasing a lot of new talent on offense, most notably their first new starting quarterback since 2018. 

Luke Dermon will be behind center to open the season. While lacrosse will be his collegiate sport, the senior has adjusted well to his new role. 

“He’s a blast to coach,” Alumbaugh said. “He’s got a little humor, a little edge to him. … A good athlete, and smart too, he can make all the throws and makes good decisions too.”

As far as running backs go, the coaches have liked what they’ve seen from junior Charles Greer. Seniors Zeke Barber and AJ Bianchina will see some carries along with Perkins and Berry as well. All five guys will often be following the lead of junior left guard Derek Thompson. Tagaloa and Flanagan are both being recruited as tight ends and will play key roles in both run blocking and the passing game.

Alumbaugh noted a few other names that could have impacts early. Those include junior Journey McKoy at cornerback and receiver, senior JJ Tofeano who will get work on both lines, and sophomore linebacker Marley Alapati

De La Salle Football, Derek Thompson
Junior Derek Thompson picked up a scholarship offer from Nevada this summer.

Nothing is totally back to normal, but there’s a different level of anticipation among the Spartans as they get ready for their first real action. 

“There’s excitement, for sure,” Alumbaugh said. “ I told them Monday that fans were going to be allowed (at St. Mary’s) and they were fired up.”

SportStars’ North Coast Section Predictions | Fall Football 2021

Chace Bryson

Best (Non-De La Salle) Bowl Bet: Pittsburg
Best Team Not In Our Top 20: Benicia
Bay Valley Champ: Pittsburg
Diablo-Foothill Champ: Campolindo
East Bay-Mountain Champ: San Ramon Valley-Danville
MVAL/WACC-Foothill Champ: Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland
Top Offensive Player: Matt White (Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland)
Top Defensive Player: Zeke Berry (De La Salle-Concord)
One Longshot Prediction: A first-year coach (not counting spring) will win a section title in their first full season.

Ike Dodson

Best Non-DLS Bowl Bet: Pittsburg
Best Team Not In Our Top20: Benicia
Bay Valley Champ: Pittsburg
Diablo-Foothill Champ: Benicia
East Bay-Mountain Champ: Clayton Valley-Concord
MVAL/WACC-Foothill Champ: San Leandro
Top Offensive Player: Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg)
Top Defensive Player: Zeke Berry (De La Salle)
One Longshot Prediction: Pittsburg rebounds from NCS Open Championship loss to De La Salle, secures Division I title and rides momentum all the way to a state bowl crown.

Ben Enos

Best Non-DLS Bowl Bet: Pittsburg
Best Team Not In Our Top 20: Benicia
Bay Valley Champ: Pittsburg
Diablo-Foothill Champ: Benicia
East Bay-Mountain Champ: Clayton Valley
MVAL/WACC Foothill Champ: Bishop O’Dowd
Top Offensive Player: Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg)
Top Defensive Player: Zeke Berry (De La Salle)
One Longshot Prediction: The NCS will send at least four schools to state bowl games.

Jaden Rashada, Pittsburg, Quarterback
Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg, QB, Jr.)

Jim McCue

Best Non-DLS Bowl Bet: Benicia
Best Team Not In Our Top20: Liberty-Brentwood
Bay Valley Champ: Pittsburg
Diablo-Foothill Champ: Campolindo
East Bay-Mountain Champ: Clayton Valley
MVAL/WACC-Foothill Champ: Bishop O’Dowd
Top Offensive Player: Dylan Smith (Vintage-Napa)
Top Defensive Player: Isaac Greene (Bishop O’Dowd)
One Longshot Prediction: Benicia misses out on league title, but gets hot in the postseason to claim a section title.

Steven Wilson

Best Non-DLS Bowl Bet: Pittsburg
Best Team Not In Our Top20: Benicia
Bay Valley Champ: Pittsburg
Diablo-Foothill Champ: Benicia 
East Bay-Mountain Champ: Clayton Valley-Concord
MVAL/WACC-Foothill Champ: Bishop O’Dowd 
Top Offensive Player: Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg)
Top Defensive Player: Zeke Berry (De La Salle)
One Longshot Prediction: Pittsburg’s four-star dual-threat quarterback Jaden Rashada accounts for 27 touchdowns and carries Pirates to a 9-1 regular season record. 

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Chace Bryson

Chace Bryson is the managing editor of SportStars Magazine. Reach him at Chace@SportStarsMag.com

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