By GERARDO RECINOS
The Alhambra Bulldogs are not rebuilding. You look at that statement, back at the team’s current roster, then to the 2014 roster and it seems a hard pill to swallow.
How can a team that lost its starting quarterback (both of them), best outside receiver, and their entire linebacker corps not be rebuilding?
It all starts with the linemen – those big strong guys who almost never get any recognition. Well, that’s going to change this year.
After only losing Kieran Parhar to graduation, all-league center Jason Parilla will anchor an offensive line full of returning players.
“That’s a potential strength,” said coach Alan Hern. “We’ve gotten past that point of, ‘Hey, you guys have a lot of potential,’ to the point where they need to start performing.”
The linemen for the Bulldogs were a strength all last season, but ran into a brick wall when they came up against a dominating group from Acalanes who clearly outmatched them.
They’ll be tasked with the responsibility of protecting senior quarterback Zach Elliott, who will be stepping in after receiving minimal reps as the third signal-caller on the depth chart last season. The last time Elliott was the starting quarterback was in his sophomore year on junior varsity.
“We are big across the front, and we have good running backs and [Zach] is a good running quarterback who also has a very strong arm,” said Hern. “Throughout the summer we were very effective in passing league, we did well in pass protection.”
It helps when you can bring in a duo of brothers who will be big targets for Elliott to aim for. Returning all-league tight end Josh Abraham is poised to have another big year, while his brother Jeremy, a sophomore, is in the same position his brother was in three years ago: a young kid with a bright future, and plenty of playing time on the horizon.
Along with the younger Abraham brother, a couple of players who have only just started their football career will be welcome weapons in the Bulldog attack. Both Matt Beck and Josh Ramirez were playing JV last season, only due to their lack of experience, said Hern.
Beck is an elusive athletic back, while Ramirez was one of the players who impressed Hern the most in the team’s scrimmage against Will C. Wood-Vacaville.
“Comparing the teams, this team will be at least as good as that team (last year’s team) on offense,” Hern said confidently.
Defensively it becomes even harder to fill in the place of guys like Greg Rossi, who was an all-league linebacker; Grant Hill at corner, or Grant Hill at wide receiver for that matter, or in just about any capacity on the field at all.
Ramirez and Damon Leonard will be playing both ways, with the two receivers at defensive back as well, with McCart and Jackson Norried, another receiver, rounding out the secondary.
The landscape of the Diablo Foothill Athletic League has changed mightily in only one year. Undefeated state champion Campolindo will be great again next year, with Cal baseball commit Max Flower coming back at receiver, and Yale commit Sterling Strother leading the line, but from that point on, it’s looking like a battle royale to see who will fill in the second and third place slots.
“They’re the best team around, and they just seem to replace the guys who have left,” said Hern.
Acalanes lost three-star recruit Brady Aiello, who is now an Oregon Duck, while Las Lomas will look to Joe Wood, the latest in the quarterbacking brothers, following in the footsteps of graduated brothers Adam and Ben.
Alhambra should fall into the triple threat match up with those two schools, with Miramonte right behind them, looking to overtake whichever team slips up.
“Between us and Acalanes, and Miramonte, it kind of depends on who gels and plays well together,” Hern said.
Hern complimented Miramonte’s skill players, and their passing ability, but felt that when it came to the trenches they could outplay the Matadors.
The Alhambra coach made it known he didn’t consider Dublin or Dougherty to be pushovers. Every game in the DFAL is a challenge, and they’ll always be competitive.
“It’s hard to win in this league. You have to play well every week in this league,” said Hern.
“We would like to get deeper into it (the playoffs). Miramonte did it a couple of years ago with a strong group of seniors,” he said, likening the run to what he would like to do with his own strong group of seniors.