Maybe all the doom and gloom surrounding the Aragon football program was a bit premature. Even coach Steve Sell thought his team might struggle this season given the lack of the success the Dons’ frosh-soph team experienced last season.
Turns out, the Dons should have plenty of pieces to contend for the Ocean Division title this year.
“I expect to be in the mix, for sure,” Sell said. “I think it’s going to be tough. … Some things are going to have to go right. I would be disappointed if we weren’t in the mix.”
The Dons return one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the Ocean in senior Nat Blood. It was Blood’s ability to throw the ball consistently that saw the Dons transition from a run-heavy team to one that was more balanced offensively in 2012.
“He’s probably one of the most accurate passers we’ve ever had,” Sell said. “We’ll look to get the ball out in space as much as possible.”
While Blood had one of the best receivers in the PAL last season in Aldo Severson, he has since graduated. It’s one thing to have a good quarterback who can throw, but it means little if he doesn’t have anyone to whom to throw.
Enter Kono Filimoehala-Egan, a junior who had sit out last season due to the Central Coast Section’s transfer rule. Sell believes Filimoehala-Egan can be just as effective this season as Severson was in 2012.
“He’s probably the best athlete in (our) school,” Sell said. “He’s over 200 pounds. Just a great athlete. He could be an outstanding quarterback. He’s strong, he uses his body. He has an uncanny ability to go up and grab the ball.
“Kona will be a focus of our offense, for sure.”
Despite a newly found aerial attack, Sell is, at his core, a ground-and-pound kind of coach. He should have the personnel to do just that, while at the same time, mixing it up on the ground between the fullback and halfback.
Senior Patrick Pauni returns as three-year varsity player and, at over 255 pounds, he has the ability to steamroll defenses.
“He played more defense last year, but I think his best position is fullback,” Sell said.
While Pauni will supply the thunder, the lightning will be furnished by halfbacks and flybacks in the form of Matt Foppiano, Devin Grant and Keith Samujh.
“Last year, we were a halfback-driven team,” Sell said. “This year, we’ll be much more balanced between halfback and fullback.”
Tyler Neely, who started on the offensive line last year as a junior, will anchor the unit this year and, at 6-5, 285, Sell expects him to see time on both offense and defense.
The person, other than the quarterback, who touches the ball on every offensive play is the center and this year that responsibility falls on the sophomore shoulders of Dillan Lovell, who didn’t play football last year.
“He’s tough. He just doesn’t have the experience,” Sell said.
James Fanonga started all last year on the offensive line. This year, he’ll flex out to the tight end position, but will still have plenty of action staying in to block.
The Dons’ defense should be just as solid. Sell is really excited about defensive lineman C.J. Alipate. Although only a junior, Alipate saw plenty of action last year as a sophomore.
“He could be a dominant defensive lineman,” Sell said. “He’s really good. He could be a guy who can really be a disruptive force. He’s the kind of guy offenses have to prepare for.”
Fanonga will also see time on the defensive side, as will Pauni. Nick Tolfa will help out the linebacking corps, while also seeing time at wideout on offense.
All in all, Sell is pleased with the development of his team. After having concerns coming into the season, he now is confident the Dons have what it takes to be more than just competitive in the Ocean this season.
“I think I am (a bit surprised),” Sell said. “We have a couple kids who are sophomores who are developing faster than I thought they would. We have three sophomores [who] can help us right now, which I did not expect.
“I don’t consider this a rebuilding year. We have a great quarterback, a talented wide receiver and a good fullback and some good defensive guys. We’ve got flaws, but everybody has flaws.”