Alameda and Encinal High Football Season Preview

Alameda Football Instagram -- The Alameda Hornets team have been training for several weeks before they begin its 2023 campaign against the Ygnacio Valley High on Aug. 26.
Alameda Football Instagram -- The Alameda Hornets team have been training for several weeks before they begin its 2023 campaign against the Ygnacio Valley High on Aug. 26.

Alameda and Encinal High Football Season Preview

It is time for Alameda and Encinal high school football players to strap on their pads and take to the gridiron. The Encinal Jets begin versus Hercules High School on August 25, while the Alameda Hornets open their season at Ygnacio Valley High School of Concord on August 26.

Both schools enter the 2023 campaign with rosters full of returning players looking to build off their previous performances. Last year, experienced coach Robin Morris led Alameda High School (AHS) to a 5-4-1 season and a third-place finish in the West Alameda County Conference (WACC) Shoreline League, while Encinal finished 1-9 and in last place in the WACC Foothill League in head coach Derrick Lyons’ first season in charge. However, the Jets’ lone win came in a 19-18 victory against the Hornets in the Island Bowl.

The Hornets aim for more consistency this year after a topsy-turvy 2022 season that ended with two consecutive victories. For the past few weeks, the team has been bonding as a group and practicing to prepare for the season. The coaching staff took 30 players to partake in a football camp in South Lake Tahoe.

The Hornets’ experienced and talented core — consisting of senior quarterback Eli Slez, senior offensive lineman/linebacker Sinisa Finau (2022 league first-team offensive lineman), and senior wide receivers Will Roizen and Gabriel Speed — all return to lead the team on and off the field. Unfortunately for the team, 2022 league MVP running back A’Jhuan Parker transferred to El Cerrito High School, leaving big shoes to fill. One potential replacement could be junior running back/free safety Alexander Gonzalez. He is one of two breakout candidates, according to Morris. The other is sophomore lineman Hayden Arndt, who gained 30 pounds and participated in multiple linemen camps this offseason.

Despite the loss of Parker, high expectations remain for the Hornets. In response to the Mercury News predicting the Hornets to finish first in their league, Morris said, “It's now more pressure for us to live up to the article’s expectations, but we are not going to change anything and are going to continue to act and play the same.”

On the other side of the island, the only way is up for Coach Lyons in his second season. Lyons, an Encinal football alum, took over the program after former coach Keith Minor left for the same position at Moreau Catholic High School. With the coaching transition, Lyons said that it was hard getting players to buy in, but now players that have been in the program for a year are fully bought in and he is able to further implement his plan. In the wake of last year’s difficult season, Lyons is encouraging his players to not look back and move forward.

Lyons shared the following when asked about preseason practice: “Practice is going smoother. We have more team leadership with a very strong captain core that has taken responsibility to ensure that everyone is working towards one goal, which is to represent the best version of Encinal High School. The veterans are doing a good job of pushing the youth to do their best to learn the plays.”

Lyons highlighted senior wide receiver/linebacker Kaleb Westbrooks, junior running back Alexander Marston, junior tight end/defensive end Marco Garcia and junior offensive tackle/middle linebacker Bruce Osborne as the players to watch at the center of any success the team has this year.

Like AHS, Encinal players will play both offense and defense. Lyons said that Encinal has always had low numbers in football, but “the school is known for its heart.” Last year, football participation was so low that the school could not even field a junior varsity squad. This year, Lyons noted that the school is buzzing to have junior varsity football back with new players still asking to join the program at the start of the school year.

Morris anticipates that “Encinal is going to be better under a second-year head coach.” Nonetheless, he added, “I can’t wait for the Island Bowl as Alameda High hasn't won it in a long time. I feel like it's our time to win bragging rights for this side of Alameda.”

Indeed, Encinal has dominated the rivalry game in recent years with the Hornets’ last victory coming in 2015. Encinal hosts this year’s Island Bowl on Sept. 22 for its homecoming game.

Encinal Football Instagram -- Jet senior Kaleb Westbrooks and his team will begin its 2023 season against Hercules High on Aug. 25.