By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Flash back almost a year. The 2011 season started out pretty well for Sonoma Valley with three wins in its first four games. The good fortune was short-lived, however, as the wheels came off midseason and the Dragons lost six of their last seven games and finished tied for last in the Sonoma County League.
Sonoma is looking to erase the bad taste lingering over the offseason. Particularly grating was the Dragons’ final game of the season, a 54-7 drubbing against Marin Catholic in the first round of the CIF NCS Division III playoffs.
Other lopsided losses last season were to SCL foes Windsor, 53-7, and Casa Grande, 35-0.
“Getting beat as bad as we did was not good,” 29-year Sonoma coach Mick O’Meara said. “Blowouts are not fun.”
There is hope on the horizon, however. Gone to the North Bay League are Windsor and Casa Grande, two of the strongest teams in the SCL last season. Coming into the SCL are Piner and Elsie Allen, programs that have smaller rosters and are less established than the Jaguars or Gauchos.
“Without Casa and Windsor in the league, we should be competitive,” O’Meara said. “We have a much more balanced schedule this season.”
Another positive from last season was Sonoma’s 42-28 home victory against powerhouse American Canyon. The Dragons travel to American Canyon in a rematch on Sept.14.
“American Canyon has more speed than any other team north of the Golden Gate Bridge,” O’Meara said. “We don’t have a lot of team speed but it’s all relative on who you play.”
Even though the Dragons lost 20 seniors from last season, they will have 22 seniors on a roster of 38 players and will be relatively experienced. In addition, because Sonoma rotates players on average every four plays, the team builds up experience and depth with a systematic approach.
“Rotation is key. We play a lot of guys,” O’Meara said. “We want to get kids involved and play as many kids as possible. It works for us but it wouldn’t work for some other teams.”
O’Meara said the Dragons have depth in all areas, with the possible exception of the offensive line.
Sonoma will rely on converted running back Dan Deely to take the reins at quarterback and direct the Dragons’ I-formation and spread attack. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior is also a starter at defensive back.
“Our QB (Deely) is our fastest kid and a tremendous athlete,” O’Meara said.
Anchoring the defense will be first-team all-SCL senior end Jonny Amandoli. O’Meara said Amandoli, 6-foot-1, 190 and a three-year varsity starter, is a candidate for SCL Defensive Player of the Year this season and one of the best players in the Redwood Empire. Sonoma’s defense goes with multiple formations and utilizes several blitz packages.
The Dragons open at home on Friday in a non-league game against Redwood (Larkspur). The SCL schedule starts for Sonoma on Sept. 21 at Analy.
Ultimately, Sonoma, like several teams in the SCL, will benefit from a league that offers more parity.
“Everyone (other SCL programs) is in a down cycle right now,” O’Meara said. “We are definitely in a down cycle. We don’t have the talent that we had 20 years ago. Kids are only playing one sport these days.”
Coach: Mick O’Meara (29th season as head coach, 33rd season with the program)
2011 Record: 4-7, 1-5 in the SCL (tied for last with Petaluma)
2011 JV Record: 3-7
OFFENSE (5): QB Dan Deely; OL Trevor Severson; OL Vince Bruton; TE Keenan Touhy; OL Matthew Robinson
DEFENSE (7): DE Jonny Amandoli; DB Deely; LB Skylar Marciel; DB Dustin Sloane; DL John Engebreth; SS/LB Touhy; DL Robinson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DE Jonny Amandoli — First team SCL last season and candidate for Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. O’Meara said the three-year varsity starter has a great motor and is tough, physical and quick off the ball to facilitate a speed rush.
QB, DB Dan Deely — The all-purpose junior played running back and returned kicks last year and will make the transition to QB on offense. A versatile athlete with tools to run and throw while utilizing good vision and field awareness.
OL, DL Matthew Robinson — At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, the junior is an anchor in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Picked up valuable experience as a sophomore two-way starter. Leads by example.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
WR, DE Brennan Cole — Missed all of last season with an ankle injury that required surgery. Back and healthy for his senior season, will start on defense and rotate in on offense. Pegged to be the Dragon’s kicker. Quick off the ball with a tenacious mentality.
RB Cordell Kenniston — The junior is up from the JV squad last season and will log time at tailback and return kicks. Hard runner and toughness make up for lack of breakaway speed. Will have a learning curve the first few games.
8/24 vs. Redwood (Larkspur), 7:30 p.m.
9/1 at Terra Linda, 2:00 p.m.
9/7 vs. San Marin, 7:30 p.m.
9/14 at American Canyon, 7:30 p.m.
9/21 at Analy, 7:30 p.m.
10/5 vs. Piner, 7:30 p.m.
10/12 at Healdsburg, 7:30 p.m.
10/19 vs. El Molino, 7:30 p.m.
10/26 at Elsie Allen, 7:30 p.m.
11/02 vs. Petaluma, 7:30 p.m.