Chris Crouch, left, is one of three returning offensive linemen for the Menlo football this year.
The secret to the success of the Menlo School football team is not having a Division I caliber quarterback year in and year out, rather, it’s the sum total of all their pieces. The Knights usually feature a number of quick and shifty football players at the skills positions in coach Mark Newton’s run-and-shoot offense.
“Every year we’re replacing a lot of talent,” Newton said. “But we have some good guys. The issue every year for us is depth.”
Plug in a good quarterback and the potential is there for the Knights offense to hum. Over the last three seasons, the Knights averaged 35.8 points per game. But that was with Jack Heneghan at the helm, who is now playing at Dartmouth. Despite having to replace a three-year starter, Newton believes he has just the guy to fill the role — senior Austin D’Ambra, a second-year varsity player — Heneghan’s backup last season.
Newton, however, does not want D’Ambra to think he has to fill Heneghan’s shoes.
“You never want to put (that kind of pressure) on a kid’s shoulders — following a three-year starter,” Newton said. “Austin is a very good leader, accurate passer. We’re going to utilize his skill sets. Austin has grown a lot.”
At 6-1, D’Ambra is a lot different — size wise — than the 6-4, 220-pound Heneghan, but is talented in his own right. Newton believes D’Ambra has finally grown into a starting varsity quarterback.
“He’s been playing ball for a while,” Newton said. “Austin, physically, developed later. His challenge was getting his body catching up with his abilities. Physically, he’s a lot different than he was a year ago.”
Mackenzie Morehead has also shown strongly during camp and is projected to be D’Ambra’s backup. But that, most likely, would only be case of an emergency as Morehead, at 6-5, 200 pounds, will be vital in other areas for the Knights.
“He’s going to play a number of spots for us,” Newton said, indicating he would be used as a defensive end and tight end. “He’s too good to keep off the field.”
As usual, the Knights will rotate in several wide and slot receivers throughout a game, with the likes of Jack Marren, Sam Ferguson and Michael Reed all expected to see action in the receiving game.
“[Marren] is a great football player. He’s got great field awareness,” Newton said. “On offense, Jack can really play every position.”
All three will also be involved in the opponent’s passing game as well because all hold down a starting position in the defensive secondary.
Newton also believes he has enough collective talent to replace Travis Chambers in the offensive backfield. Ferguson will see some carries this season, but the bulk of the load will fall to his younger brother, sophomore Charlie Ferguson, and junior Charlie Roth.
“We have a number of running backs, more than we’ve had in the past,” Newton said. “Charlie Roth and Charlie Ferguson are both really good running backs. I think Charlie Roth is a really special high school player.”
The Knights should have the time necessary to execute the offense with three starting offensive linemen returning in seniors Chris Crouch (tackle) and Gregor Yock (guard), and junior John Guiragossian (guard).
The lack of depth, always an issue at Menlo, means many of their key players will be going both ways in some capacity. Look for Sam Ferguson and Marren to lead the defense from their safety/linebacker spots.
“Our safeties are athletic outside linebackers. They can come up and fill,” Newton said.
Newton believes the defense can be even better considering the Knights have a number of starters who gained plenty of experience last season.
“Our defense looks solid,” Newton said. “Because it’s their second [year] in the system, they have a better understanding of what we’re doing.”
Coach: Mark Newton ,11th year
2013 record: 2-3 Bay Division, 6-5 overall
Key returners: Jack Marren (sr., WR/DB); Charlie Roth (jr., RB/LB); John Guiragossian (jr., OL/DL); Sam Ferguson (sr., WR/DB), Michael Reed (sr., WR/DB); Chris Crouch (sr., OL/DL); Gregor Yock (sr., OL/DL); Macklan Badger (sr., WR).
Key newcomers: Charlie Ferguson (so., RB/LB); Austin D’Ambra (sr., QB); Antonio Lopez (jr., WR/LB)
2014 schedule (home games in CAPS): Sept. 5, SOUTH CITY, 3:30 p.m.; Sept. 13, vs. Mission-SF at Sequoia, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, vs. Alvarez at Sequoia, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26, @ Half Moon Bay, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3, vs. Soquel at Sequoia, 7 p.m.; Oct. 17, BURLINGAME, 3 p.m.; Oct. 31, @ Terra Nova, 7 p.m.; Nov. 7, SEQUOIA, 2:45 p.m.; Nov. 14, vs. Sacred Heart Prep at Woodside, 7 p.m.