Excellent talent at the skill positions but question marks on the offensive line. That’s the best way to sum up the state of the Live Oak High football team as it enters the season-opener against Gilroy on Aug. 27.
“Seeing what our offensive line does, that is where our weakness is right now,” Acorns coach Mike Gemo said. “We’re young up front, and we’re looking to see which one of them takes over, shows physical play and is able to push people around.”
Zack Enderle is the only returner on the offensive line, and he’s a good one. A 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior, Enderle can play the center or guard position. If the offensive line can develop into a solid unit, Live Oak can expect to light up the scoreboard as has been the case the last couple of years.
That’s because they have a wealth of talent at the skill positions, including slot receiver Brandon Hooks, who is recovering from a sprained ankle and hopes to return by the team’s season-opener or in week two. Hooks had three touchdown receptions—including one for 90 yards—in the first six quarters of action last season before suffering a broken collarbone in the second half of the team’s second game.
“The recovery process was long, but it definitely worked because my max on the bench press is already where it was before I got injured,” Hooks said. “On the field, I’m expecting to pick up where I left off, and maybe even do better.”
Hooks was lethal once he caught the ball, accumulating a lot of yards after the catch. Junior Xavier Catano stepped in for Hooks last season and shined, and he’s done nothing to ramp down the expectations the coaching staff has for him this season.
“We’re looking to use him in different places on offense,” Gemo said. “He’ll also return kicks and play defense. He’s just a pure athlete.”
Catano, Trent Cousens and sophomore Christian Hauge are vying for the starting QB position. Another player to watch out for is senior Nathan Williams, a 6-foot, 195-pound running back/linebacker. Williams earned Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division first team honors last season and worked hard in the weight room to get a lot stronger even during the truncated off-season.
“He’s a leader on the team for sure,” Gemo said.
Gemo is excited about the return of Justin Kester-Johnson, who didn’t play last season because football partially overlapped with his top sport, the baseball season.
“Justin is going to be a force at defensive end rushing the passer,” Gemo said. “He was outstanding as a sophomore and is bigger, stronger and faster this year. We’re looking forward to him having a great year.”
Senior Grayson Dietz is projected to play right tackle and his sophomore brother Keaton will play receiver and linebacker. Gemo expects both players to be difference-makers.
“There is so much upside with Grayson that we’re really looking forward to him developing a lot in his sophomore year,” Gemo said.
Speaking of upside, running back Jordan Fuentes had a breakout sophomore season, including a career-high 212 rushing yards in a win over Leland. At 5-10 and 155 pounds, Fuentes is still growing into his body. But he plays bigger than his size and is adept at avoiding the big hit—key since he was a workhorse last season.
After opening the season with Gilroy, the Acorns play Christopher and Los Gatos before their bye week. Their first league game is against Oak Grove. The winner of that game will gain a leg up for the Mount Hamilton Division championship. The Acorns were the only team to go 4-0 in the Covid spring season.
“I’d say we have the potential to win league,” Hooks said. “It just depends on whether we stay focused and want to put in the work and effort it’ll take to get there.”
Sports Editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]