Longtime Live Oak High football coach Mike Gemo acknowledged the talent on this year’s team is as good as any the Acorns have had in the last five years.
However, the talent has to jell for Live Oak to win a league championship.
“We just have to come together as a team,” Gemo said. “We’ve been grinding through the summer, and once the guys want to play for each other, I think we’ll have a really good year.”
The Acorns return several key starters and have added an influx of potential impact newcomers, most notably senior quarterback Landon Stump, who is playing football for the first time since his freshman year.
Having focused on his ascending baseball career the last couple of years, Stump received the support from those close to him and UCLA—the school he’s committed to for baseball—to play football in his final year of high school.
“He came up to me in the spring and said, ‘I’m playing football this year,’” Gemo said. “UCLA told him he should, a lot of people are supporting him and we’ll see how he does. He’s picking up the offense really well and as we all know he’s got a great arm. So it’s just a matter of him getting his feet settled underneath him again and understanding the offense and where we want the ball to go.”
If Stump is solid under center, that will free up last year’s starting quarterback, Xavier Catano, to play receiver, running back and take some snaps as well. Wherever Catano is lined up, teams will have to account for him because of his playmaking ability.
In addition to being a threat to run and catch on offense, Catano will be a difference-maker on defense at free safety or cornerback.
“Xavier is probably one of the better athletes in the league right now,” Gemo said. “He’ll play offense, defense, special teams. We like the ball in that kid’s hands.”
The Acorns could have three quality quarterbacks to play this season: Stump, Catano and sophomore Luke Newell. Senior tailback/linebacker Jordan Fuentes returns as one of the best two-way players in the BVAL. Fuentes continually churns out yards on offense and makes big hits and the fundamental tackles on defense.
Christian Hauge, a junior who will see time at running back, receiver, cornerback and maybe even linebacker, is coming off a solid sophomore season on the gridiron and the track, winning the majority of his league races in the 100-meter dash.
“Christian Hauge is a guy we can move to a lot of places and that will do a lot of good things for us,” Gemo said.
Zack Enderle returns to lead the line play on both offense and defense. The 5-10, 230-pound senior right guard/defensive tackle is one of the team captains for the second straight season, and there are plenty of reasons for that.
Gemo acknowledged Enderle is in the mold of former standout Logan Wiemann, the outstanding lineman who earned Mount Hamilton Defensive Lineman of the Year honors in 2020. In attitude, work ethic and leadership, Enderle has established himself as a premier player.
Enderle said he’s really committed himself in the weight room the last couple of years, and it’s translated to a big difference in his individual battle in the trenches.
“I feel like this year is different. I feel like I’m stronger than anybody coming up against me,” he said. “I’m going up against people bigger than me but not stronger than me.”
Enderle focuses on technique—knowing if his fundamentals are superior to the guy lined up in front of him, he’s going to win his assignment the majority of the time.
“Every time I come home, I’m always watching the NFL Network and seeing the big guys work,” Enderle said. “The lower man always wins and I’m also using my hands to get around them.”
Gemo said other players who have purported themselves well in attitude and performance so far include senior Kade Darman, who has solidified himself at right tackle; Zurik Peery, who is one of just two sophomores on the varsity and plays safety/linebacker/defensive end; and Keaton Dietz, a junior who had flashes of strong play in 2021.
“Keaton is a three-sport guy and still got all his workouts in,” Gemo said. “He’s going to have a great year for us. Kade dedicated himself in the off-season and we’re looking for good things from him. Zurik is already one of the stronger kids on the team and is still trying to find his own right now, but once he does, he’ll be a special player.”
Gemo said the team has productive players all over the field, but it’s going to take a certain amount of sacrifice for Live Oak to achieve its potential.
“I really believe we’re pretty talented,” Gemo said. “Our speed is going to be really good this year. But every year each team has a new personality. Once everyone buys in, that’s when a team takes off.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]