Prep Football: Seasoned defense strength of Del Norte High
By Michael Bower
The Del Norte High varsity football program has been making small, steady steps forward during its two full years of existence. But this third season could be the one that includes a huge leap.
For the first time, the Nighthawks’ roster will feature a solid group of veterans that have been at the school for all four years. Last season was the first with seniors on the team, but many of those were transfers from other schools.
“This is the first full senior class,” second-year Del Norte coach Leigh Cole said. “We have a strong feeling of unity and commitment. We have a real nice chemistry this year.”
The Nighthawks are especially excited about their defense. The group will be led by a pair of returning cornerbacks, Matt Long and Christian Webb, 6-foot, 1-inch 210-pound linebacker Spenser Pennington and senior linebacker George Liang. Add Adam Joyce to the linebacking core and that is three all-leaguers returning at the position.
“Our defense is definitely going to be the strong point for us,” Cole said. “We have a lot of trained players and a lot of leadership. We have a good chance of getting back to the playoffs and being competitive.”
Del Norte won four games last season — most in program history — and reached the San Diego Section Division IV playoffs for the first time. The Nighthawks fell to Imperial 47-30, but it was the experience gained that was key.
Cole is clearly looking to challenge his program during the regular season this year to prepare for another shot at the playoffs. He added larger schools to the schedule, including Rancho Buena Vista, San Pasqual, Torrey Pines and Fallbrook the schedule.
“We want to make sure that we play opponents that will prepare us for the playoffs,” Cole said. “That was important for us to face the level of opponents that we are going to face in the next few years because of the growth of our school. We are Division I now, but are expected to be Division III next year and eventually Division I.”
The Nighthawks will once again be led by WR/RB Patrick Zellar. The explosive junior rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught 26 balls for 287 yards last year. WR Chad Wetzel should be the main target, as he led the team last season with seven TD catches. The loss of QB Alex Dion, who moved to Los Angeles, was a bit of a surprise but junior returnee Isaiah McDonald should be able to fill the role nicely.
The Nighthawks should battle with Valley Center and San Marcos for the top spot in the Valley League. Mt. Carmel could also be there at the end of the season. Cole is hoping his squad takes the giant leap this season.
“We are mentally ready to think about advancing past the first round of the playoffs and competing for a league title,” Cole said. “Before we were just happy to win some games, but now we are ready to take that next step.”
Here is a quick glance at the Nighthawks:
Coach: Leigh Cole, 2nd year.
2011 Record: 4-7, 1-3
Top returnees: RB, Patrick Zeller, Jr.; LB, Spenser Pennington, Jr.; LB, George Liang, Sr.; DB, Matt Long, Sr.; DB, Christian Webb, Sr.; RB, Jared Skinner, Sr.
Key losses: QB, Alex Dion; OL/DL, Kevin McGlone; WR/DB, Wayne Ganan.
Outlook: The Nighthawks have their first large group of four-year seniors to carry the team. Zeller should be a workhorse on offense and the defense should be strong with corners Long and Webb and linebackers Pennington and Liang leading the way. Look for Del Norte to make a giant leap this season.
Follow Sports Editor Michael Bower on Twitter @PomeradoSports for all of the local prep news.
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