The graduation of MVP Ronnie Rivers and all-league first team quarterback Jonathan Pierce means the team’s offensive firepower will need some replacement parts this season.
But a combination of returning players and quality newcomers has 15-year head coach Kevin Hartwig believing the Falcons will continue to soar.
“We have to make up 5,000 yards (with the loss of Pierce and Rivers),” Hartwig said. “That’s a lot, but we have a good supporting cast, and we’ll need a couple of kids to fill those two voids. I think we’ve got the guys to do it.”
Rivers (2,239 yards and 34 touchdowns) and Pierce (2,704 yards passing and 37 touchdowns) guided the Falcons to an undefeated regular season, and trips to the North Coast Section (NCS) Open Division title game and the Division I state playoff semifinals last year.
Now, a new quarterback and running back will try their hands at making the Falcons fly this season.
Returning players: The powerful Falcons offense of last year retains its spark in the return of its top two receivers, senior Baylei Coston and junior Giles Jackson, who combined to grab 110 receptions for 2,179 yards last season. The receiving corps will be boosted by seniors Thomas Houston and Jaelyn Thomas, who played safety last year. Hartwig hinted that Jackson could also get some time at running back this season.
While the Falcons will usher in a new quarterback and running back, both newcomers will be relieved to know that the offensive line that protected Pierce and created holes for Rivers will remain largely intact with the return of seniors Caelan Merryman, Camryn Cobbs and Tristen Rendler.
“Between our offensive line and our wide outs, those guys have done a good job developing the young running back and quarterback,” Hartwig said.
Defensively, the Falcons will surely miss graduated linebacker Kyle Harmon, who grabbed the Defensive Player of the Year award last season after making 103 tackles, 4.5 sacks and four interceptions.
Hartwig said seniors Richard Kabasinskas, Chris Fender and Houston are among the players hoping to fill the void this season.
The defensive line will feature returning seniors Tyler Dixon and Fender. Rendler is also expected to see time on the line, Hartwig said.
Thomas, Coston and Jackson will also see time in the secondary this season.
New Players: The battle is on between sophomores Jake Byrne and Joey Aguilar for the starting quarterback position, but it appears senior Jeror Boakai will start at running back, said Hartwig.
Junior Mekel Ealy is expected to complement an already strong receiving corps this season. Junior Taleni Lepolo, who appeared in only two varsity games last season, has carved a spot on the offensive line, while senior Isaac Zatezalo, who played in three games last season, has secured a spot on the defensive line. Junior James Dziedzic will also jump in at linebacker.
Additionally, it’s expected that senior Ronnell Snell, who appeared in two games last season, and junior Jeloni Brown will see plenty of time in the Falcons’ secondary this season.
Overview: Although the Falcons will need to replace key players on both sides of the ball, Freedom is well versed at reloading and winning, having reached the NCS playoffs six years in a row.
The road to a seventh-straight appearance won’t be easy. The nonleague slate includes four playoff teams from last season – Bishop O’Dowd, the division 5 AA state champions, Turlock, Windsor and San Leandro – all before consistently tough play in the Bay Valley Athletic League. Windsor fell in the NCS Division II championship game to Campolindo last season, and Turlock bowed out in the second round of the Division I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs to Elk Grove.
Falcons 2017 SCHEDULE
August 25, 7:15 PM @ Turlock
September 1, 7:00 PM vs. Windsor (Homecoming)
September 8, 7:00 PM @ James Logan (Union City)
September 15, 7:00 PM @ San Leandro
September 22, 7:00 PM vs. Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland)
October 6, 7:00 PM vs. Pittsburg*
October 13, 7:00 PM @ Antioch*
October 20, 7:00 PM @ Deer Valley*
October 27, 7:00 PM @ Heritage*
November 3, 7:00 PM vs. Liberty (Bell Game)*