Football preview: Casa Grande has unfinished business

Casa Grande’s JaJuan Lawson, one of the Bay Area’s top dual threats at quarterback, was hobbled by a high ankle sprain the second half of last season. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s JaJuan Lawson, one of the Bay Area’s top dual threats at quarterback, was hobbled by a high ankle sprain the second half of last season. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Disappointment with an early playoff exit is powerful motivation for a deep Casa Grande team pushing to make good on another promising season.

Seeking a strong start and aiming to remain a force, Casa Grande has the experience and balance to make a North Coast Section title run. Limiting injuries and matching up with North Bay League powers again is the big challenge.

“Our kids worked extremely hard this offseason. We’re definitely excited,” Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog said.

Casa Grande’s confidence is stoked by the return of JaJuan Lawson, one of the Bay Area’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, and running back John Porchivina, a dynamic duo difficult to contain. Both seniors also help lead a defense with starters back on the line and at linebacker.

Returning 13 first-unit players in all from a year ago, the Gauchos could be as good as the school’s best football teams of the past, including the pair that reached section title games.

A difficult nonleague schedule will test Casa Grande early. Two of those contests are on the road against Division 1 perennial playoff teams Heritage and Napa. The Gauchos finish with three of four games at home.

“If we can stay healthy we should do well. We’ll find out quickly when we start out against bigger schools,” Herzog said.

Last season began with great promise. Casa Grande won five of the first six games. Then injuries hit. One of the biggest blows was a high ankle sprain that hobbled Lawson the remainder of the campaign — only a bye week enabled the quarterback to go in the section playoffs.

Healthy and hungry, Lawson should improve on his career average of nearly 215 total yards per contest. The full Gauchos playbook will be Lawson’s to exploit.

What the Gauchos will do more this season is run the football. Casa Grande will lean even more on Lawson and Porchivina, who combined for 105 yards a game on the ground a year ago.

With opponents focusing on Lawson and Porchivina, the Gauchos can use either as decoys with play action to open up the passing game. Casa Grande will operate more out of the West Coast offense than spreading out a handful of receivers as the Gauchos often did a year ago.

Holding blocks to give Lawson time to find targets and dialing in pass routes are keys to Casa Grande’s success in throwing the ball.

Anchoring the line are returning starters Brendan Jackson, an all-league pick, and Peter Parrick. Julian Lopez is a newcomer ready to contribute.

The Gauchos must develop a receiving corps with the graduation of last season’s top pass catchers. One new receiver is all-league linebacker Miles Gardea at tight end. Also expected to play two ways are Zakk Molina and Jonathan Weber at both wide receiver and defensive back.

Linebacker is a particular position of strength for Casa Grande with all-leaguers Porchivina and Gardea. Daniel Greisen, an all-league pick, is back on the defensive line.

Defending the pass also is an area where new first-team players must gain experience and click when games begin. Lawson is the only starter returning in the defensive backfield.

“Many returning players are stepping into starting roles. The athletic ability and the want is there,” Herzog said.

To accelerate the learning curve, Casa Grande coaches took the team to a typically challenging summer camp at Sacramento State. The sessions, over four days, included scrimmages between teams in addition to conditioning and drills.

“There were great teams there. It was a very physical camp,” Herzog said.

Most important, the Gauchos came through healthy, as well as tested.

Also helping Casa Grande skill players to develop were weekly passing leagues hosted by both Santa Rosa Junior College and Petaluma High. Those seven-on-seven games provide repetitions and ample coaching moments for Empire teams.

A combination of good size up front and speed across the field has hopes running high at Casa Grande.

“We expect big things,” Herzog said.

Michael Coit can be reached at Mike.Coit@pressdemocrat.com.

 CASA GRANDE GAUCHOS

Coach: Trent Herzog (5th year)

2012 Record: 7-4 overall, 5-2 NBL (3rd place)

2012 JV record: 1-9

PLAYERS TO WATCH

JaJuan Lawson, Sr., QB/DB — One of Bay Area’s top dual threat quarterbacks and a defensive stopper.

John Porchivina, Sr., RB/LB — Forms explosive tandem with Lawson, averaging 7 yards a carry and team’s top returning tackler.

Brendan Jackson, Jr., OL/DL — Helped power an offense that rushed for more than 225 yards per game.

Daniel Greisen, Sr., DE/FB — Holds down line at defensive end with six sacks a year ago and bolsters run game as blocker.

Miles Gardea, Sr., LB/TE — Anchors strong line backing group and moves in at tight end to become two-way starter.

INSIDE SCOOP

Gauchos look to run more using size and speed advantage on offense. Lawson is working with a new receiving corps so pass protection is paramount to keep him healthy and on the field.

GAME NOT TO MISS

Friday, Nov. 1, hosting Windsor: The longtime foes won the past two Sonoma County League titles before moving together to the North Bay League. Both squads return a solid starting corps.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT

Won eight SCL titles in a row and nine of 11 before the NBL move. Helping lead the Gauchos to three of those championships was Joe Trombetta, the Empire’s all-time large school rushing leader.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 30, vs. Eureka, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 6, at Heritage, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 13, at Napa, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 27, vs. Montgomery, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4, at Santa Rosa, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 11, at Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 18, vs. Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 25, vs. Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 1, vs. Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 8, at Cardinal Newman, 7:30 p.m.

Comments are closed.