SportStars Magazine

Northern Section Lights: NS Football’s Four Big Questions

Northern Section football, Sutter

There’s Plenty To Watch For In the Northern Section This Football Season — We Take A Look At Some Of The Biggest Storylines To Follow •

Some things are automatic for Northern Section football. Linemen will grow humongous, section officials will refuse to start football early and someone will be “the next Aaron Rodgers.”

The rest is a mystery.

Below is a look at the big questions for the biggest section in California — though its enrollment caps at Division II.

Is the reign of Sutter finally over?

Probably not, despite the departure of the top six yard and point producers on last year’s 12-2 Northern Section champion and NorCal runner-up.

The Huskies always reload. Coach Ryan Reynolds refuses to call it rebuilding.

The last time Sutter was bludgeoned by graduation like this, in 2015, the team rallied to win three straight playoff games. That team went 9-5, and avenged a loss to Orland by beating the Trojans 38-7 in the Div. III finale.

 

“Our players grow up running our system,” Reynolds said. “Our youth teams run our offense and defense. There is not a lot of reteaching, just refinement.”

It’s worked.

Northern Section football, Sutter, Robert Warner

Senior Robert Warner should be part of an experienced Huskies offensive line in 2018. (Michael Turner photo)

Sutter has won 29 of its last 33 games, falling only to three state champions (one from Utah) and one state runner-up. The program has claimed the last four NS Div. 3 titles and leads the section with 12 banners.

The potent Sutter offense lost three-year varsity quarterback talent Tyler Reynolds (Dordt College), but the 2018 Huskies are highly unlikely to attempt replacing his production — 2,587 yards, 74 percent completion percentage, 24 touchdowns, three interceptions.

Expect Sutter to rally behind three returning starters on the offensive line and go to work replacing running backs Trevor Facey (UC Davis) and Bryce Kunkle (Bethel University), who combined for 3,288 yards and 37 touchdowns last year. The Huskies rolled up nearly 5,400 rushing yards in 2017.

The top candidate to possess the rock is senior Dillon Brown (5-7, 146), who lined up for limited success at wingback and halfback in Reynolds’ multiple-set, hybrid Wing-T offense with run-pass options.

“(Brown) is bigger and stronger after hitting the weight room,” Reynolds said. “He has great field vision and he’s pretty elusive in the open field.”

Expect to see Brown fill voids opened by left tackle Paul O’Brien, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 270-pound gridder that Reynolds calls a “next-level guy.” Reynolds said the offensive line, as a unit, excelled this summer.

Junior Cory McIntyre (5-7, 135), will keep the run-pass option alive at Sutter after success with the JV program last year. Coach Reynolds said McIntyre is an intelligent decision-maker who throws well on the run.

The Sutter defense revolves around big-time talent.

Leading tackler/linebacker Jeff Fitzgerald (6-0, 175) directs a unit that includes three-year varsity defensive tackle Travis Tedder (5-11, 220) second-year junior defensive end Max Gibson (6-1, 205), outside linebacker Ryan Olivera (5-11, 180), defensive back Zac Hancock (5-11, 145) and defensive back Kyle Macey (5-9, 160). Hancock and Gibson qualified for the state wrestling tournament in March.

A stout defense is vital as the offense develops skill players early in the season. Sutter has no cupcakes on the preseason docket, and opens with NCS Div. 3 runner-up Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa (10-3) Aug. 24. The Huskies also play NS Div. 2 favorite Chico (8-4) Sept. 14, and face Butte View League upstart Gridley in the league opener Oct. 13.

“We want to weather the storm and get better week by week before we hit league,” coach Reynolds said. “We have a brutal preseason.”

Who will rule Division II?

Don’t expect Shasta-Redding to channel its inner Sutter, despite dominating Northern Section football last year.

Northern Section football, Chico, Ty Thomas

Chico High quarterback Ty Thomas hopes to help make the Panthers a serious Div. II threat in 2018. (Michael Turner photo)

No team in Div. II has developed a comparably dynastic system, though Enterprise-Redding and Pleasant Valley-Chico have enjoyed section three-peats (Enterprise 2012-2014 and Pleasant Valley 1992-1994).

Shasta lost its quarterback, four top runners and returns only one catch from its receiving corps. Non-seniors accounted for only 304 of Shasta’s 6,717 offensive yards last year. Only two of Shasta’s top 11 tacklers from 2017 are back. Neither of them were one of Shasta’s four All-Section selections.

Shasta’s JV team went 3-2 in the Eastern League, but lost to the two teams most likely to replace Shasta in a NorCal bowl bid — Chico and Pleasant Valley.

Chico Enterprise-Record sports writer Sharon Martin expects a new king of the North.

“DII is up for grabs,” she said. “Shasta will have to rebuild, and that leaves the division wide open.”

Chico and PV have senior quarterbacks and some other pretty decent returners.

Martin said PV kicker/punter Caden Crumm, second-team All-Section in 2017, has NFL ambitions. He could make a difference in tight games. He booted 6 of 7 field goals last year, including a 44-yarder.

Is Gridley on the rise?

All signs point to yes.

Former Southern California coach, Matt Kemmis, is on the cusp of something special after he and his wife, Kimberley, both took teaching jobs in the Gridley Unified School District last March.

Northern Section football, Gridley

Gridley coach Matt Kemmis talks to his players after a 43-7 win over Willows in the Bulldogs’ 2017 season opener. (Twitter: GHSbulldogFB)

Kemmis, the 2017 Northern Section Medium School Coach of the Year and Appeal-Democrat Coach of the Year, revitalized the program after 10 straight losing seasons and a brutalizing 25-78 stanza across that stretch.

He’s vowed to establish a consistency in a program that has seen a bevy of coaching changes.

“I feel like last season we were able to build a foundation and enjoy a little bit of success, and now we are ready to take another step,” Kemmis said. “This was a big adventure for my wife and me, and it’s the best decision we have ever made. Gridley is a really neat place to live. The quality of life here is excellent.”

The Bulldogs’ success will depend on the legs of feature back Jorge Moran (5-7, 180). He split carries and finished just shy of 1,000 yards last season. He could threaten the 2,000-yard mark this year if he stays healthy.

“He’s primed to have a really good season,” Kemmis said. “He is an incredibly hard worker, has a positive attitude, and he’s set high goals for himself.”

Kemmis also touted left tackle George Baker (6-5, 265), receiver-turned-quarterback Davis Martisitch (5-7, 165), and tight end Wyatt Dreesman (6-1, 205).

Who is the next Aaron Rodgers?

Northern Section football, Pleasant Valley, Tanner Hughes

Senior Tanner Hughes starts at QB for Pleasant Valley-Chico — which means comparisons to famous Vikings alum, Aaron Rodgers. (Michael Turner photo)

You can’t throw a football through a tire in Chico without earning a comparison to town legend, Pleasant Valley alum and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“People are always trying to find the next Rodgers,” Martin said with a laugh. “I think Kyle Lindquist (Fresno State), who led PV to a state championship (in 2016), is probably the closest I have seen.”

Martin said she wouldn’t compare current PV star QB Tanner Hughes to Rodgers, though others have. “I think accuracy is his drawback,” she explained.

Hughes threw for 1,816 yards and 16 scores last year, but was intercepted 12 times and completed only 49 percent of his throws. At 6-4, 215, he has the necessary size, but will need to develop as a passer.

Martin spoke highly of Chico QB Ty Thomas (6-4, 195), who managed a 60 percent completion rating, with 1,007 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions last year and ran for 420 yards and six scores.

Neither Hughes nor Thomas is likely to give out a “Discount Double-Check,” but both could snatch some Northern Section glory.

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