Inside the All-Empire football teams

Posted by Staff Writer Eric Branch:
A nice thing about a blog is that it can provide an avenue for communication between writer and reader.
I’m not talking about blog comments, although they can produce constructive give-and-take. (They can also devolve into why-do-you-hate-Podunk High-and-love-Hamilton-Central discussions, but that’s getting off topic).
I’m talking about the ability to tell readers how we do things. Or why we do things. Or, in this case, how we select the All-Empire football teams.

So here we go …
For starters, I rely heavily on input from coaches to select the teams. In compiling the teams, I contacted each of the Empire’s 15 large-school coaches and 14 of the 17 small-school coaches. The coaches submitted the names of players they felt deserved a spot on either the first-, second- or honorable-mention team. On many occasions, they also gave their thoughts on other players in the area.
Without exception, the coaches I spoke with were reasonable. That is, they didn’t try to convince me 23 of their players deserved All-Empire recognition. As a result, nearly every player a coach nominated has found a spot on the All-Empire team.
As for some specifics …
* The Large School Player of the Year came down to Petaluma’s Ricky Sims and Maria Carrillo’s Sam Atoe, both brilliant players who excelled at running back and linebacker. A few coaches couldn’t distinguish between the two and told me, “Good luck on that one.” But a majority sided with Sims based on his stats and intangibles such as Petaluma’s success this season. I happened to agree, although the decision wasn’t clear cut.
By the way, Sims had no advantage because he is a senior and Atoe is a junior. In my mind, the idea is to select the Empire’s best player, regardless of grade.
For the record, here’s a statistical comparison.

Sims
Offense: Rushing, 173 carries, 1,302 yards, 7.5 yards a carry, 23 TDs.
Defense: 58 tackles, 52 solo, 6 sacks.

Atoe
Offense: Rushing, 103 carries, 876 yards, 8.5 yards a carry, 13 TDs. Receiving, 23 catches, 304 yards, 1 TD.
Defense: 66 tackles, 46 solo, 3 interceptions, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries.
Special teams: Two punt returns for TDs.

* We have 11 players per team (12 on offense with a kicker/punter), which means some very good players didn’t make it. In some cases, a player who was clearly one of the best in the area was placed at another position so he could be included. For example, St. Vincent quarterback Josh Wheless was excellent this season. But so was Fort Bragg’s Brent Moyer, Middletown’s Kyle Harmyk and Cloverdale’s Jerod Domenichelli. That’s four top-notch quarterbacks, with only three quarterbacks spots available. As a result, Wheless, who rarely played on defense but did average 36.3 yards a punt, was named the first-team kicker/punter. Similarly, Maria Carrillo quarterback Hunter Odom and Cardinal Newman quarterback Jack James were placed in the K/P positions.

OK, I’ll leave it at that. If there are questions I haven’t answered, throw them out and I’ll do my best to answer them.