STOCKTON – The remaining Rams don’t feel jaded over watching
a section championship slip through their grasp. Instead,
they agree, the heartbreak comes from knowing they could’ve
The St. Mary’s football team came a touchdown away from its
third Sac-Joaquin Section banner, in a 21-14 loss to
Sacramento-Grant in the Division II final last December at
Sacramento State. It was a wild affair in the rain and cold,
including a momentary scuffle between the teams and a
nullified near touchdown catch for then-sophomore Dewey
Yet, St. Mary’s was also stuffed on 4th-and-goal at the
Grant 1, and earned a 1st and goal from the Pacers' 6-yard
line with a chance to tie or take the lead in the game’s
final minute only to fail.
So the only finger-pointing is right back at the green and
“It makes us want to get back to sections that much more,”
senior wide receiver Ontario Johnson said. “Because we feel
like the only reason the game ended that way, was because we
let it end that way.”
Johnson, though he saw playing time in 2014, is one of
several new faces thrust into leadership roles. St. Mary’s
graduated 16 of its 22 starters, including 10 of 11 on
That, 14th-year coach Tony Franks said, is part of the
“That’s kind of the fun of it,” said Franks, a two-time
section champion with St. Mary’s. “I think the players
understand some of the things that we did last year – the
coaches certainly do. It’s just a matter of getting a bunch
of repetitions and going over and over it.”
Senior lineman David Corralejo is the lone returning starter
on defense, though junior A.J. Husary saw time on the line
with him. New to the mix this year are ends Cole Norgaard
and Gerald Ohan. Popo Aumavae, a standout offensive lineman,
will see time on the defensive line, too.
The linebacking corps brings in senior Mike Relloque in the
middle, with seniors Roy Harwell and Nick Herrera, junior
Shawn Villegas and sophomore Harrison Heath, who can be an
outside ’backer or a strong safety. In the secondary,
Johnson, Heath and senior Chris Leonardini plug in at
safety. Seniors Brandon Sanders and Alex Cedas are due to be
starting cornerbacks, while junior Keaton Hampton, a
starting wide receiver, will try his hand on defense.
Sanders, for one, learned plenty from watching Record
All-Area defensive backs Javonte Norman, Kodi Thruston and
Lazarus Ford operate last year.
“Be aggressive, don’t be scared. Always have that mindset of
‘be the better person,’” Sanders said.
The 2014 Rams were certain of their quarterback heading into
the season. And it paid off, as senior Noah Righetti
delivered 32 touchdown passes as The Record’s All-Area
Player of the Year. This time around, it’s a triumvirate of
hopefuls in senior Tommy Alegre, junior Jake Dunniway and
sophomore Marcus Aponte.
All three are viable starters, Franks said, and the decision
wasn't yet made as of the first week of fall camp.
“All three of those young men are talented young men, and
all three of them will make excellent starters,” Franks
said. “It’s been a heck of a competition and it will
continue to be.”
Senior Brandon Zaunbrecher and sophomore Dusty Frampton are
the top two tailbacks. Zaunbrecher showed flashes of
brilliance with limited touches last year, and Frampton
shined as a freshman on St. Mary’s sophomore team.
“I think both of those guys are tenacious,” Franks said.
Hampton, Johnson and Cotton are the trio of wideouts for the
yet-to-be-named quarterback to throw to. Cotton, 5-foot-4,
was 145 pounds as a junior but has put on muscle, and if
possible, seems faster, Franks said.
As much as anyone, Cotton has reason to fume over the
section finals. Photographs revealed on social media during
and after the game showed Cotton touching the pylon on the
touchdown that was called back.
Yet, that flame is already stoked by football, Franks said.
No need for grudge-holding.
“He’s just got that fire. He would’ve done that regardless
of how the Grant game ended up,” Franks said. “He wants to
be great. And he’s willing to work at it.”
Eric Williams, Class of 1980,
seasons in the NFL and started at defensive tackle
for the 1991 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins