Sonoma to count on Muslim, defense

Sonoma Valley lineman Omar Paz. (JEFF KAN LEE / PD, 2010)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Lacking depth, Sonoma Valley will count on dynamic running back Yahya Muslim and a tough defense to put together the Dragons’ first winning campaign in three years.

“You get some dips and we’re just in one of those. We’re just going to compete and see how it goes,” said coach Mick O’Meara. The new dean of Sonoma County League football attempts to mold a winner with just six returning starters and a thin roster.

Come game day, opponents know what to expect: A pro style offense that relies on the run to set up the pass, and a defense with experienced players at key positions.

“We have enough scoring strength. Defense is pretty much going to be the key to our game,” said Omar Paz, a stalwart on the defensive and offensive lines.

Pieces are there to move the ball, beginning with Muslim, a second team All-Empire running back and still just a junior.

“That gives us a chance right there,” O’Meara said. “He’s not very big, but he definitely can make people miss. He’s a dynamic runner and can really make things happen.”

Handing the ball off will be first-year varsity player Sam Morgan. The junior can run well and has a starter’s arm, and keeping him healthy will be important to Sonoma Valley’s success. “He’s an excellent competitor. But we don’t have a lot of depth at quarterback,” O’Meara said.

Anchoring the offensive line are Paz and Steve McGunagle, another returning senior starter. Paz guards the quarterback’s blind side, taking pride in protecting the pocket when not helping open holes for Muslim.

“It’s pretty good to see when you make a good block, to watch the game film and see you did your job right,” Paz said.

To win this season, Sonoma Valley must score more consistently and do a better job of limiting opponents’ opportunities on offense. “Our whole forte for years and years has been defense,” O’Meara said. “We have a little bit of experience at each level. Hopefully we can get better before league. That’s our goal.”

Returning at linebacker is Sean Daly, third on the team in tackles a year ago. Joey Casias, another senior, leads the secondary at defensive back. On the line, Paz is the energizer, clogging running lanes and going for sacks.

“His motor runs all the time,” O’Meara said. “He’s one of those kids that won’t come off the field. He’s a great kid that works really hard.”

Also a wrestler, Paz is quick and tough. Still, in the offseason he worked as hard as any of the Dragons to add muscle and get in better shape, a quiet leader by example.

“Since there’s a lot of fresh faces, we need everyone to focus on strong points and just keep a positive outlook,” Paz said.

TEAM PREVIEW

SONOMA
Coach:
Mick O’Meara, (27th season, 161-116-6)
2009 record: 4-7, 2-4 SCL (T5th)
2009 JV record: 2-8
Returning starters: OFFENSE (4): RB Yahya Muslim, JR.; WR Steve McGunagle, SR.; OL Ray Mellinger, SR.; OL Omar Paz, SR. DEFENSE (3): LB Sean Daly, SR.; DB Joey Casias, SR.; DL Paz.
Players to watch: RB Muslim was a second team All-Empire pick as only a sophomore. He can run up the middle behind a line with enough experience to open holes and can make defenders miss for long runs and scores. LB Sean Daly was third on the Dragons in tackles last season and will lead what typically is a strong Sonoma Valley defense.
Newcomers to Watch: QB Sam Morgan can run and pass, but the play calling likely will be designed to keep him healthy. Also up from the junior varsity is Eric Clouse to fortify the Dragons linebackers.

SCHEDULE
Date – Opponent – Time

9-3 – vs. San Rafael – 7:30 p.m.
9-11 – at Terra Linda – 1 p.m.
9-17 – vs. Tamalpais – 7:30 p.m.
9-24 – at Dublin – 7 p.m.
10-8 – vs. Windsor – 7:30 p.m.
10-15 – at Healdsburg – 7:30 p.m.
10-22 – vs. El Molino – 7:30 p.m.
10-29 – at Casa Grande – 7:30 p.m.
11-5 – vs. Petaluma – 7:30 p.m.
11-12 – at Analy – 7:30 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
68:
Tackles by LB Daly, who was third on the Dragons last season in tackles.
5 foot 7, 150 pounds: RB Muslim isn’t big, but he’s tough to take down.