Oden a key to Casa’s explosive offense

Casa Grande running back Javonnie Oden. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

By ERIC BRANCH
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

During his first two years of youth football, Javonnie Oden played tight end.

In his third year, however, Oden’s uncle was also his head coach. And Marcell Lawson was determined to have his nephew play running back.

“He kind of pushed me into that position,” Oden said.

Looking back, it’s possible that Lawson might have been a bit biased. But it’s more likely that he was a shrewd judge of football talent.

Five years after playing for the Pee-Wee Petaluma Panthers, it’s telling that Oden still hasn’t left the backfield. And entering his senior season, the speedy 5-foot-10, 170-pound Oden figures to be a dynamic part of what could be one of the most explosive offenses in the North Coast Section.

A year after collecting 880 total yards and scoring eight touchdowns, Oden, a second-team all-Sonoma County League pick, will replace All-Empire running back Kahlil Keys in the Gauchos’ high-octane attack.

Casa Grande returns 12 starters from last year’s 11-2 edition which reached the NCS Division II semifinals. And included among the returnees is a host of offensive talent.

The group is headlined by quarterback Nick Sherry, who has verbally committed to Colorado, and includes wide receiver Makana Garrigan and tight end Tyler White, an All-Empire duo that combined for 66 catches for 924 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.

But if defenses become too preoccupied with the forward pass, Oden, who ranked seventh in the Empire in the 100 meters last year, can make them pay.

Oden had an 85-yard kickoff return, a 69-yard catch and two runs over 40 yards as a junior.

“He’s real explosive,” Herzog said. “When he gets the ball anywhere on the field, he’s a threat to go the distance.”

Oden is a different runner than the hard-charging Keys, but he’s not exactly fragile.

He holds four weightlifting records for his weight class and Herzog terms him the Gauchos’ strongest player, pound for pound. His strength, Oden acknowledges, gives him options on the field.

“I try to use my quickness to elude people and score touchdowns,” Oden said. “But if I have to and there’s no other way, then OK, I’m OK trying to run over someone.”

A scarier sight for opponents will be seeing Oden lining up as a slot receiver in the Gauchos’ five-wideout sets. With Casa’s other weapons to account for, it’s possible Oden could be covered by a safety or a linebacker. Such a scenario is just one reason the Gauchos, and Oden, can’t wait to get started on what could be a very memorable season.

On being used as a slot receiver, Oden said: “If I’m one-on-one with a linebacker, not to toot my own horn, but there’s a pretty good chance he won’t be able to cover me.”

TEAM PREVIEW

CASA GRANDE
Coach:
Trent Herzog (2nd season, 11-2 record)
2009 record: 11-2, 6-1 in SCL (2nd)
2009 JV record: 4-4-2
Returning starters: OFFENSE (7): WR Makana Garrigan, Sr.; LT Nick Joyner, Sr.; RT Thomas Kupelian, Jr.; RB Javonnie Oden, Sr.; WR Anthony Poole, Sr.; QB Nick Sherry, Sr.; TE Tyler White, Sr. DEFENSE (5): NG Spencer D’Amato, Sr.; SS Makana Garrigan, Sr.; LB Michael Ielmorini, Sr.; FS Anthony Poole, Sr.; DT Buddy Suder, Sr.
Players to watch: QB Nick Sherry: One of the top QB prospects in area history had 2,419 yards and 24 TDs last year. WR/SS Makana Garrigan: Division I prospect ranked fourth in state with 11 INTs as a junior.
Newcomer to watch: WR/CB Cole Boggs: Also back-up QB. Led freshman team to 8-0 record. Is second-fastest player on team.

SCHEDULE
Date – Opponent – Time

9-10 – at Ukiah – 7:30 p.m.
9-17 – at Maria Carrillo – 7:30 p.m.
9-24 – vs. Montgomery – 7:30 p.m.
10-1 – at El Molino – 7:30 p.m.
10-9 – at Ygnacio Valley – 1 p.m.
10-15 – vs. Petaluma – 7:30 p.m.
10-22 – at Analy – 7:30 p.m.
10-29 – vs. Sonoma – 7:30 p.m.
11-5 – at Windsor – 7:30 p.m.
11-12 – vs. Healdsburg – 7:30 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
4:
INTs thrown by Sherry in Gauchos’ 11 wins in ‘09.
9: INTs thrown by Sherry in Gauchos’ two losses in ‘09
.752: Winning percentage (79-24-2) since Casa began its streak of nine straight winning seasons in 2001.