By Jeremy Balan
Even with Galileo’s impressive 35-0 win over Lincoln in the Turkey Bowl last year, don’t be fooled, over the past five years, the Mustangs have undoubtedly been the football powerhouse in the AAA.
Lincoln was going for an unprecedented fifth consecutive AAA championship on Thanksgiving last season and now is looking to start another string of championships.
Although the Mustangs have had a run of recent success, the 2010 campaign may be one of their most trying.
Lincoln will be without 17 seniors from last season’s team, including standout running back Eric Beverly, who rushed for 1,678 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2009.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno. “Teams [in the AAA] are getting better and Galileo, Lowell and Washington are all good teams.”
Lincoln will also miss backs Devon Merman and Denzel Russell, who combined for another 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. All together, the Mustangs will lose nearly 98 percent of their total offense from last season.
“It’ll be tough, but we have a few guys coming back who are really good runners,” Ferrigno said.
Senior Lazar Gubeladze appears to be the favorite to take over for Beverly, in an offense that ran the ball on over 83 percent of its plays from scrimmage in 2009.
Gubeladze was used sparingly last year, but was relatively productive in limited time, running for 59 yards on eight carries. He leads all returning players in yards from scrimmage.
“He’s a really committed guy and he understands what we need to do,” Ferrigno said of Gubeladze.
Still, Ferrigno is not entirely set on the run-heavy offense that has brought his team so much success in the past.
“We’re going to run the ball, but we’re trying to figure some things out with our personnel,” Ferrigno said. “If we have a guy who can throw the ball well, then we’ll throw the ball more.”
Quarterback will be another hole for the Mustangs to fill, with last year’s starter, Elroi Carpenter graduating in the spring.
Ferrigno will put sophomore Derek Morrell in control of his offense.
Morrell will kick off his first varsity season against San Marin of Novato in Week 0, but Ferrigno has confidence in his young signal caller.
“He understands what needs to be done and he knows how to be a leader,” Ferrigno said of Morrell. “That’s the great thing about high school football. It’s different every year. You get new leaders.”
The defensive side of the ball will also face some challenges, but will be fueled by two-way players, in senior Robert Davis and juniors J.J. Fields and Damon Bannag.
All three will be featured as wideouts on the offensive side of the ball and Davis will head the linebacker corps on the defensive side, while Fields and Bannag will both be defensive backs.
“They’re really talented kids with a lot of upside,” Ferrigno said. “They work hard and fast and they believe what we believe in.”
The personnel questions will probably be ironed out in the Mustangs’ non-league schedule, which features teams that went a combined 21-23-1 last season.
Things will amp up for Lincoln, however, in its first AAA matchup of the year, against rival Washington in the annual Bell Game on Oct. 1.
Lincoln dropped the Bell Game to the 2009 AAA regular-season champs last year, but avenged the loss with an impressive 40-21 win over Washington in the league semifinals. The Mustangs will host the Bell Game this year.
“It’s a huge game,” Ferrigno said. “It will be great, because we have a new field and track. They’ll be good and hopefully we’ll be right there with them.”
Although the outlook for Lincoln appears cloudy in the heat of summer, the ever-apparent questions should be answered relatively early for the Mustangs, as they will start the season with around 20 to 25 varsity players.
“We’re just trying to get guys to do it our way,” Ferrigno said. “We’ve enjoyed our success, but last year we just didn’t complete things. Our expectations are to play hard, fast and with a lot of desire, then let the chips fall where they may.”
Even with the potential shift in talent, Ferrigno has his eyes set on the playoffs, where he believes anything can happen.
“We’re going to play hard and the goal is to get back to the playoffs,” Ferrigno said. “Once you’re there, it doesn’t matter how many wins you have.”
Lincoln’s 2010 schedule (AAA games in bold)
Fri. 8/27 – vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral (Scrimmage), TBA
Sat. 9/4 – vs. San Marin (Novato), 2 p.m.
Sat. 9/11 – @ Tamalpais (Mill Valley), 2 p.m.
Sat. 9/18 – @ El Camino (South San Francisco), 2 p.m.
Sat. 9/25 – vs El Cerrito, 2 p.m.
Fri. 10/1 – vs. Washington, 3 p.m.
Sat. 10/9 – vs. Marshall @ SOTA, 2:30 p.m.
Sat. 10/16 – @ Balboa, 2:30 p.m.
Fri. 10/22 – vs. Mission @ Kezar Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Fri. 10/29 – vs. Burton, 3 p.m.
Thurs. 11/4 – vs. Galileo, 2 p.m.
Fri. 11/12 – @ Lowell, 2 p.m.