Deer Valley is only three years removed from its last playoff appearance, when the Wolverines came four points shy of a Bay Valley Athletic League title and advanced to the North Coast Section Division I semifinals.
But it might seem like longer for the current players in the program, since Deer Valley has failed to win a league game over the last two years, despite a winning record each year outside of league play.
The challenge in front of the Wolverines and second-year head coach Robert Hubbard is clear, with a daunting non-league schedule and a continually improving league. On top of that, graduation hit hard at Deer Valley, as only about eight players return on both sides of the ball with varsity experience. That means the Wolverines will be relying on younger, less experienced players throughout the non-league slate, but will hopefully see an improved, more experienced team taking the field in league play, as they seek to break the drought.
Returning players: The big name and big body returning for the Wolverines is offensive tackle and defensive end Jamarr Hardy, a 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pound athlete who was clocked at a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash at a recent Nike combine. Hardy has an offer from Hawaii and will be counted to anchor both lines.
Senior Daniel Lado joins Hardy at the end of the line, playing both tight end and linebacker for the Wolverines, after starting on the offensive side of the ball last season. Ronald Preston is another two-way returner, after starting at safety last year. Preston saw some time in the backfield last season, and will be a primary weapon offensively in 2016.
With the loss of Adrian Dolo, who transferred to Clayton Valley, Dylan Rakchhat becomes the only returner from last year’s group of receivers.
The Wolverines welcome back two more returners on the defensive side of the ball, with linebacker and safety Osey Oiyemhonlan and linebacker Kyle Thomas back in the mix. Oiyemhonlan was among the team’s leading tacklers last season.
New players: The name causing increased levels of optimism for Deer Valley is junior quarterback Dior Walker. Walker has been a varsity starter in both basketball and baseball, and that experience should translate with poise and expectation.
“He’s going to be pretty good, and has the skill set to be an immediate leader,” Hubbard said. “He’s an explosive kid, and we will be moving the pocket for him a bit. He almost played varsity last season and is doing what we have expected so far this summer.”
Rakchhat may be the only returner at receiver, but two more athletes have popped up on the radar at the position, with 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound junior Devaughn Brown and junior Gianni Purnell, who Hubbard describes as smaller, but explosive.
Another newcomer who the coaching staff expects to have an immediate impact on both sides of the ball is junior lineman Kelvin Daniels. He is already expected to be a mainstay anchor on both the offensive and defensive lines, alongside Hardy.
Outlook: For a team with so much youth, the non-league schedule does no favors. The Wolverines open with East Bay Athletic Leauge favorite Monte Vista, and also have tilts with Campolindo and Clayton Valley, both teams who captured section titles in each of the last two seasons. The league schedule gets underway with the trio of Pittsburg, Freedom and Antioch in successive weeks.
There are no breathers for this young Deer Valley team. Despite that, Hubbard is preaching the positive aspects of the schedule and using the challenges as motivation for everyday focus in practice.
“It’s what you play for, for every game to be a real challenge,” Hubbard said. “We have the unique opportunity to be excited for a big opponent every week.”