Damari Cual-Davis experienced some growing pains as a starting sophomore quarterback for Jefferson last season. But coach Cesar Vega believes Cual-Davis will be much better equipped to for the rigors of the position this season with a year of varsity experience under his belt.
Jefferson’s magic number is 2010.
That is the last season Indians football posted a winning record. Since that Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division championship season, Jefferson posted records of 1-15 in league and 3-27 overall over its last three seasons.
Having since fallen to the Lake Division, last year was the worst of it, with Jefferson going winless under first-year head coach Cesar Vega. Back for his second year at the helm, Vega is wholeheartedly realistic about expectations going into the current season. With some bright spots — including a returning quarterback and sturdy starting five on the offensive line — Vega is also daring to buck expectations with a bit of optimism.
“We did not have a successful season at all last year, but I kind of anticipated that,” Vega said. “While it did start out rough, I do feel like there’s a lot of talent in the school and there’s a lot of things we can do with these kids and hopefully it’s going to start this year.”
Things can’t get much worse. The Indians were outscored 541-95 last season, with the closest individual game margin coming in a 36-20 loss to Carlmont in the Scots’ only Lake Division win of the year.
Vega’s hopes are married to the instillation of a strict spread offense, forgoing the pistol look of a year ago. Quarterback Damari Cual-Davis returns for his second season; and the 5-11, 170-pound junior has some success upon which to build. He completed 51 percent of his passes last season (91 for 178) and with 618 yards on 91 carries, he was also Jefferson’s most prolific rusher.
“We had a lot of adversity for the sophomore quarterback, but he has grown a ton. As a junior, he’s going to be definitely a positive force for us,” Vega said. “He’s a very good option quarterback. This year he is developing into a really nice passer. … Running was his strong suit last year, and that’s definitely still there. That’s definitely improved. But he can throw the ball.”
Cual-Davis’ presence will help Jefferson build some depth in the backfield. To compliment returning senior backs Rico Solomon and Reigil Paniza, first-year varsity junior David Benjamin will convert to the position after serving as the frosh-soph quarterback a year ago. The trio stands to see equal reps this season, according to Vega.
“It’s a three-headed monster, for sure,” Vega said.
But the Indians’ offense will rely on spreading opposing defenses with a flurry of receivers. The one prototypical wide out is 6-1, 185-pound senior Johnny Paramore, who has good hands but didn’t get a chance to prove it last year. Prior to the 2013 season, Paramore broke his hand playing summer basketball and was unavailable to play offense through the first half of the season. He still soldiered through the year as a defensive back and eventually totaled 10 catches after returning to offensive duty in Week 6.
Paramore will be complimented by returning slot receiver Jerriel De la Cruz, a 5-6, 150-pound senior, and first-year senior Ahmed Esmail, who at 5-7, 145-pounds is extremely athletic and plays way bigger than he is, Vega said.
“The fact that we have four receivers on the field, that’s going to be the biggest asset,” Vega said. “We do have people who are fast who can play catch, but also we’re going to run the ball.”
It is an offense with a lot of working parts. Whether or not Jefferson will be able to utilize them, and tally some wins in the process, all depends on how its offensive line holds up. With an average size of 6-1, 235 pounds across the board, the line looks impressive. The key is having them stay healthy over the course of the season.
“Our line has some size,” Vega said. “Unfortunately we don’t have depth.”
Seven quality linemen is the size of it. The addition of the cousin tandem Manu Tagaoai and Luti Lago’o will put a sophomore at each of the guard positions. First-year junior Jorge Gomez will join senior Ronald Tom at tackle. Senior center Teo Calzario, at 5-10, 260 pounds, is stout but one of the strongest of the group. All five will moonlight as two-way defensive starters.
On defense, the heart of the linebacker corps falls to senior Bowie Sunga, a grinder with a work ethic which Vega hopes will be contagious among his teammates.
“He’s one of those guys who has that other gear you will ask everybody else to get to. He’s got that,” Vega said.
Jefferson is once again setting the bar high by playing Aragon in the non-league opener for the second straight year. Last season, the Dons demolished the Indians to the tune of 50-0. Yet it was the lowest point total the Indians surrendered in their five non-league matchups.
“It was tough. Every game was hard,” Vega said. “There were lots of blowouts, but the kids stayed resilient. What I was most proud of is no one quit. They stayed through it, they fought through it every single game.”
In four non-league games this season, Jefferson will face three rematches of last season, including games with Petaluma and Lowell.
“There’s a nice core [this year], so hopefully we can develop this and keep on moving forward,” Vega said. “Our frosh-soph was successful last year, but that doesn’t always spell success in the varsity. But hopefully we can nurture it and cultivate it and make it into some success.”
Coach: Carlos Vega, second season
2013 record: 0-5 Lake Division, 0-10 overall
Key returners: Damari Cual-Davis (sr., QB); Johnny Paramore (sr., WR/DB); Jerriel De la Cruz (sr., WR/DB); Rico Solomon (sr., RB/LB); Ronald Tom (sr., OL/DL); Teo Calzario (sr., OL/DL); Bowie Sunga (sr., OL/LB)
Key newcomers: David Benjamin (jr., RB); Ahmed Esmail (sr., WR/DB); Manu Tagaoai (soph., OL/LB); Luti Lago’o (soph., OL/DL); Jorge Gomez (jr., OL/DL);
2014 Schedule (home games in CAPS): Sept. 5, @ Aragon, 7 p.m.; Sept. 12, @ Albany, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 19, PETALUMA, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26, LOWELL, 7 p.m.; Oct. 17, MILLS, 7 p.m.; Oct. 24, CARLMONT, 5 p.m.; Oct. 31, EL CAMINO, 7 p.m.; Nov. 7, @ Capuchino, 2:45 p.m.; Nov. 14, @ King’s Academy, 7 p.m.