By Michael Bower
One after another, the firsts kept rolling in for the Del Norte High football program last year.
First time the Nighthawks beat a Division I school, first time they hosted a playoff game, first time they won a playoff game, first time they beat rival Rancho Bernardo.
There were 18 different firsts in all for the school that opened in September of 2009. But Del Norte isn’t satisfied just yet and this year’s team — the fourth to play at the varsity level — just might be its best.
“I think this is the best team we have had in school history,” Nighthawks coach Leigh Cole said. “I think we are going to be the best we can be this year and then it will probably drop off a little bit.”
The Nighthawks feature an array of offensive weapons and a stubborn defense, which will be led by 6-foot, 1-inch, 225-pound senior linebacker Spenser Pennington. The two-time All-Valley Leaguer says this is the season the seniors have been waiting for.
“We have two 9-1 JV teams coming together so that is 18-2 combined,” he said. “I think we have been waiting for this year to come; hopefully, we can meet the expectations.”
The expectations of last year’s squad were certainly met. Del Norte finished with a 6-6 overall record and earned the right to host a first-round CIF San Diego Section Division IV playoff game as the No. 8 seed. The Nighthawks defeated No. 9 Mission Bay 34-28 for their first playoff victory in school history.
This year, even with Del Norte moving up to Division II with the newly structured divisions based on competitiveness, the expectations are to compete for a Valley League title, earn a higher seed and to get past the second round of the playoffs.
“The main goal we are trying to achieve is to get that first ring,” said starting running back Marc Gallant, who racked up a school-record 1,192 yards on 184 carries last year. “But there are stepping stones we have to take. We are trying to get that Valley League title and a higher seed than last year.”
Gallant is only one talent of many on the offensive side of the ball. Three-time All-Valley Leaguer Patrick Zeller returns as the leading receiver. He is Del Norte’s reception record holder with 94 and is getting looks from Harvard, Cornell and a few others.
Junior Quenton Meeks, the 6-2, 190-pound son of longtime NFL defensive coach Ron Meeks, should make an immediate impact during his first year at the varsity level.
“I think he will be a big-time Division I recruit,” Cole said. “He is an amazing athlete. He is big, fast, strong and tough.”
Parker Lappin returns as the starting quarterback. The 6-1, 170-pound junior will be running an offense which will feature a spread and pistol look to it. The Nighthawks plan to mix in plenty of the hurry-up, no-huddle attack.
“We are going to mix it up overall, but definitely going to be up-tempo,” Cole said. “We have a lot of speed guys this year so we are going to try to make some big plays.”
Capturing a Valley League title is not completely out of the question for Del Norte. Defending champion Valley Center is returning only four offensive starters and both the offense and defensive lines are young.
“We know there are a lot of beatable teams in our league this year,” Gallant said. “We haven’t beaten Valley Center yet as a varsity team and this year we are looking forward to beating them.”
Leigh Cole, 3rd year.
LB/TE, Spenser Pennington, Sr.; RB, Marc Gallant, Sr.; WR/RB, Patrick Zeller, Sr.; RB/LB, Marcel Peters, Sr.; P/K, Pedro Godomar, Sr.; QB, Parker Lappin, Jr.; WR/DB, Quenton Meeks, Jr.; RB/DB, Kayden Clements, Jr.; LB, Anthony Forte, Jr.; LB/FB, Chris Labrador, Jr.; DE/TE, Jack Packwood, Jr.
The Nighthawks have most of their talent back, including RB Gallant, WR Zeller, QB Lappin and LB Pennington. Newcomer WR Meeks will provide a deep threat. If the Nighthawks can avoid turnovers and not put their defense in bad spots, they have a chance for a memorable run.