Catch many Peninsula Athletic League football coaches in a candid moment, off the record, and they’ll tell you the best division in which to play in the PAL is the Ocean.

The parity in the division is among the best in the Central Coast Section, at least half of the six teams qualify for the postseason, and when they do get the playoffs, they usually can avoid playing the Serras, Valley Christians, Los Gatoses and M-As of the world.

Although that wasn’t the case in 2019, when Half Moon Bay went 10-0 during the regular season, capturing the Ocean Division title in the process, and then getting bounced in the first round of the CCS Division I bracket by Serra, 42-14.

That, however, was an aberration. In 2018, both Burlingame and King’s Academy won a CCS title — the Panthers winning the Division IV title and the Knights claiming the Division V crown. They both finished the season 11-2. Both are now in the Bay Division.

In 2017, Menlo School advanced to the Division V championship game, while Hillsdale advanced to the semifinals in the same bracket.

To make a long story short, it’s possible to play in a “B” league and still achieve a tremendous amount of success.

“You look over the last 10-plus years, the Ocean has been, top to bottom, one of the stronger leagues, 1 through 6. Traditionally, our top two teams do well in the CCS playoffs,” said Hillsdale head coach Mike Parodi. “I know for a while, the (Ocean) LCI (League Classification Index) was pushing the ‘A’ leagues. That extends from Ocean teams winning CCS titles.”

Parodi said the biggest differences between Bay and Ocean division teams are two-fold: talent and the amount of it. A team needs more of both to succeed in the Bay Division. In the Ocean, success can be accomplished with a little less.

“We (coaches) always joke, in the Bay, to be successful, you need eight to 10 dudes. In the Ocean, (you need) five or six,” Parodi said. “I think that’s where the Ocean has been pretty strong. We’ve really had really good athletes and I think our numbers have been pretty good with depth.”

In 2019, four of the six teams — Half Moon Bay, San Mateo, Hillsdale and Sequoia — all finished with .500 or better records, with the Cougars, Bearcats and Knights all qualifying for the playoffs.

During the abbreviated 2021 spring season, Menlo School went a perfect 4-0 against Ocean Division opponents, averaging 36.5 points per game. Hillsdale and Jefferson each lost only once in league play, while Aragon went 2-3.

To turn that talent into success, coaching consistency is key. Like the Bay Division, head coaches have been fairly consistent for Ocean Division teams for the last several seasons. Aragon’s Steve Sell, entering his 21nd season with the Dons, is the longest tenured football coach all of the PAL, while Hillsdale’s Parodi is set to embark on his 13th season with the Knights.

Jefferson’s Sergio Portela Jr. is entering his third season with the Grizzlies, while Jay Oca at Capuchino enters his fourth season with the Mustangs, following a four-year stint at South City. Menlo School’s Todd Smith and Carlmont’s Eric Rado are the relative newcomers, as both enter their second years with the Knights and Scots, respectively. But both have been on their team’s coaching staffs for the last several years, so continuity should not be a problem.

“There are so many positives to the Ocean,” Parodi said. “We’re good football (teams).”

The teams

Aragon, Capuchino, Carlmont, Hillsdale, Jefferson, Menlo School

The favorite

Menlo School. The Knights went 4-1 in the spring, going undefeated in Ocean Division play. The Knights return a bulk of the offense that led them to 30 points per game last season and a defense that allowed little more than 12 points.

The contenders

Aragon, Capuchino, Hillsdale, Jefferson. The Ocean is one of the most balanced divisions in the CCS, so literally any of the six teams could emerge as a division champion.

The darkhorse

Carlmont. The Scots are only two seasons removed from making an appearance in the 2018 CCS DIV championship game and they were 4-0 in the Lake Division in the spring.

Players to watch

Aragon

Jared Walsh (jr., RB/LB) — While smaller in stature, Walsh certainly plays big and is comfortable running between the tackles. But if he gets the corner, he can run away from defenses.

Lloyd Walter (sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 190) — A three-year varsity starter, Walter was a force defensively, finishing with 46 tackles and two interceptions during the six-game spring season.

Capuchino

Isaac Nishimoto (sr., RB/LB, 5-9, 170) — Nishimoto burst on the scene in the spring in his first season of varsity football, rushing for 1,000 yards in just five games. A home-run hitter, he’s a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.

Nico Caruso (sr., QB/WR/DB, 6-0, 180) — A three-year varsity starter, Caruso will provide a lot of flexibility for the Mustangs as he play any of three positions. A WR/CB his first two seasons, Caruso is in the mix for starting QB this fall.

Carlmont

Luke Nessel (jr., RB/LB, 6-0, 202) — Nessel is the top returning running back for a Scots. He averaged 10 carries a game and rushed for 325 yards, scoring three touchdowns during the spring.

Kevin Jimenez (sr., OL/LB, 6-0, 203) — A three-year varsity starter, Jimenez was part of an offensive line that paved the way to more than 1,100 yards rushing in just four spring games.

Hillsdale

Joshua Violette (sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 180) — Violette got better as the season went along in the spring. After just one carry for 3 yards in a season-opening 30-7 loss to Menlo, he capped the season with a 25-carry, 156-yard performance in a 17-13 win over rival Aragon.

Liam Smith (sr., QB, 5-11, 170) — A two-way threat, Smith enters his second season as starter. He accounted for nearly 500 yards of offense in the spring and was responsible for five TDs.

Jefferson

Dylan Camp (sr., WR/DB) — An athletic playmaker, Camp provides the Grizzlies a big-play target on the outside. He had four catches for 107 yards in the season opener in the spring.

Daniel Rey Magalei (sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 215) — A three-year starter on both lines, Magalei is one of the better all-around athletes in the division and could see some time in the offensive backfield.

Menlo School

Sergio Beltran (sr., QB, 5-11, 170) — Beltran has won 14 of 15 starts between the JV and varsity levels over the last two seasons. In five games during the spring, he threw for more than 1,000 yards, averaging 227 yards passing per game.

Carter Jung (sr., WR/LB, 6-1, 180) — A two-way standout, Jung is the Knights’ leading returning tackler on defense and as a receiver, was second on the team with 22 catches for 316 yards and finished with four touchdowns.

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