WATSONVILLE — St. Francis High senior linebacker Josh Kovacs was named the Mission Trail Athletic League Coastal division’s Defensive Player of the Year, the league recently announced.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder was the leader of a St. Francis defense that allowed only 13.7 points per game in six league matchups en route to the program’s first-ever league championship.
The Sharks finished 8-2 overall, a program record for wins in a single season.
“Being recognized throughout the league is a big honor,” Kovacs said. “I was really proud to hear it. It makes you take a step back and look at all the guys around you. They allowed me to be who I was and just go out there and play football.”
Kovacs, a three-year varsity starter, didn’t have flashy numbers — he finished with just one sack and one interception, according to stats kept on MBayPreps.com — but his leadership, toughness and smarts set him apart from several other candidates throughout the seven-team league.
St. Francis first-year head coach John Ausman said Kovacs’ flashbulb memory of the season came against Santa Cruz High. With time winding down and his team down a score, Kovacs made a clutch and smart tackle on third down to force a punt and give his offense another chance.
St. Francis wound up falling short against Santa Cruz — a loss that ultimately kept the Sharks from advancing to the Central Coast Section playoffs — but Kovacs kept his team in the game.
“He never gave up,” Ausman said. “We were down but he kept playing. That play really defined the player that he was.”
Kovacs was in his second season as a starting inside linebacker and the experience was noticeable. He helped line his teammates up in the right spots before the snap and he upped his film study leading up to Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
“Senior year it’s like it’s your season — you’re always told that — and I just took everything to heart,” Kovacs said. “I thought it was my responsibility to get the defense ready every week.”
Said Ausman: “He was definitely a better athlete from the work that he put in leading up to the season but more importantly he really learned how to play the position.”
Marina High, which set a program record for wins in a season (5) and finished 4-2 in MTAL-C action, nearly swept the remaining awards. Mariners’ senior running back Fermin Gabot was named the MTAL-C Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore Kefu Leander earned Lineman of the Year and Vernon Calhoun was tabbed the Coach of the Year.
Greenfield High senior quarterback Andy Hernandez claimed the final honor, being recognized as the league’s Back of the Year.
St. Francis senior running back Carson Cuzick, junior center Johnny Ceballos, senior defensive end Cory Parker and junior defensive backs Andrew Seymour and Joseph Ramirez were all named to the MTAL-C First Team.
Cuzick, who was also named to the MTAL-C Second Team as a defensive end, led the Sharks in rushing yards (736) and was second in rushing touchdowns (7).
Ceballos helped pave the way for St. Francis’ multi-headed attack, which featured three running backs with more than 500 yards rushing.
Parker was the Sharks’ leading receiver on offense and also pulled down the quarterback once as a defensive end, who was sturdy against the run.
Seymour, who scored five touchdowns on offense, paced the team in interceptions (5) and Ramirez was second (2).
St. Francis junior running back Devin McLeod, senior offensive tackle Ethan LoBue and junior linebacker Andy O’Rourke all made the MTAL-C second team.
Three Sharks were given honorable mention: Hunter Blinkenberg, Aaron Soto and Parker.