Sobrato High has one mission for the 2019 season: to prove it belongs in the Blossom Valley League’s Santa Teresa Division. The Bulldogs got bumped up from the lower West Valley Division after a couple of strong seasons in the BVAL’s lowest division, including winning the West Valley Division championship two years ago. They now go from a C league to a B league.
“Last year we had a bunch of sophomores and juniors who are now seniors. If any team at Sobrato is going to do well (in the Santa Teresa), it’s this one,” Bulldogs cornerback/linebacker Jackson Gonzales said. “We’ve got the players to show we belong in the higher division.”
Gonzales and Ray Valles are two standout cornerbacks who impressed coach Billy Vuniwa by working diligently in the off-season.
“Both of them are seniors and put in an amazing amount of work,” Vuniwa said. “They’ve gotten faster, they’re exceptional and they’re ready to go. … We’ve got an experienced group that is ready to produce an amazing season.”
Sobrato’s first-year head coach—Vuniwa was an assistant the year before—said 90 percent of the players on this year’s team have varsity experience, some extensive. Although the Bulldogs are light on numbers—they only have around 25 players on the roster—they are banking on the players’ talent to shine. Sobrato returns plenty of key players, starting under center with Jordan Sheets.
Even though Sobrato will employ a lot of spread offense looks, its strength no doubt lies in its running game with tailbacks Jesse Redmond and Brian Zarate, who proved to be quite a 1-2 combo in 2018. Both players have the ability to bust off a big gain on any given carry, and opponents will most likely try to take away Sobrato’s ground game as priority No. 1 of their game plan.
Sheets has some potentially game-breaking players to throw the ball to in Jona Turagavou, a 6-foot-4 receiver/tight end who also makes an impact on defense at outside linebacker; and Seth Iven, a 6-3, 220-pound junior wide out. Jose Reyes and Joshua Balderas also have the potential to make some plays at receiver.
“Josh has got really good hands and is very good at attacking in space, and he has a real knack for getting open,” Vuniwa said. “It should be a very good year for our quarterback and all of our receivers.”
Line play should be another strength for Sobrato, and it features two-way linemen Raul Perez and Jacob Burkholder and another stalwart in Caleb Cueba. Middle linebacker Orion Woods made plays all over the field a season ago, and this year should be no different. Gonzales said Woods provides strong, focused leadership.
“Orion steps up as a leader and sets us straight,” he said. “Simple things like if we’re doing stretches he wants us to be in tune and clap at the same time, to be more of a team and do things together. We have a lot of captains like J.T, who are dedicated and always working out. That’s why I’m confident in this group.”
Gonzales has been playing football with Valles and Zarate since they were in the sixth grade for the Morgan Hill Raiders. He’s known Valles since elementary school, and their friendship is a microcosm of the team in that most of the players have grown up either playing together or competing against one another since middle school. He praised Valles’ work ethic and determination.
“Raymond hasn’t missed one day of practice,” Gonzales said. “That is a lot of dedication and something you can appreciate about him.”
Gonzales earned a spot on the varsity team his sophomore year, the same season in which he returned an interception for a touchdown against Prospect, the individual highlight-reel moment of his young career.
“Nothing felt more exciting from a single play, and it really boosted my confidence,” he said.
Gonzales relishes the challenge of playing both linebacker and cornerback well, and he gained 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season to enter summer practice stronger and faster than ever. Gonzales trained hard knowing he would be playing against tougher competition this season. The team has looked solid in the 7 on 7 passing tournaments.
“The last one we played, I think we won every single game,” he said. “That helps us a lot, memorizing the offense and on defense learning coverages. I think it’s more technical, and that helps us a lot, too.”
8/30 at Monte Vista Christian, 7:30 p.m.
9/7 vs. San Lorenzo Valley, 2 p.m.
9/14 vs. Mount Pleasant, 2 p.m.
9/27 at Branham, 7 p.m.
10/5 vs. Leigh, 3 p.m.
10/11 vs. Overfelt, 7 p.m.
10/18 at Del Mar, 7 p.m.
10/26 vs. Willow Glen, 3 p.m.
11/1 vs. Silver Creek, 7 p.m.
11/8 at Westmont, 7 p.m.