The chant permeating from the Sacred Heart Prep student section during Dec. 1’s Central Coast Section Open Division III championship game was barely audible on the Aptos sideline.
Most of the players who were on the field during the Mariners’ heart-pounding 35-34 win couldn’t hear it, and those who did hear it simply cracked a smile at the heckle — most of those grins were three times the size by the end of the night as they lifted the CCS trophy high above their heads in celebration.
“I wish I would’ve heard it, it would’ve fired us up even more,” said Aptos junior linebacker Dre Gomez. “I’m so glad that we beat them, because we got to show them where Aptos is and what we’re about. We have a bigger name for ourselves. We’re not just a little team from Aptos anymore.”
Aptos has made a name for itself in Santa Cruz County and the CCS over the last eight seasons — winning six league titles and four section crowns in that time — and the Mariners will have another chance to bring a little more recognition to the juggernaut program from a pint-sized collection of towns with a population of just over 24,000.
Aptos will host the McClymonds Warriors of Oakland in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Division 4-A Championship on Saturday at 6 p.m.
As tough as the Mariners’ journey to the CIF NorCal championship game was, it might pale in comparison to the giant challenge they’ll have this week — emphasis on giant.
McClymonds has won back-to-back CIF state championships, claiming the 5-A title over La Jolla Country Day in 2016, and the 5-AA championship against Golden West last fall. And the Warriors have a handful of NCAA D-I prospects that look the part, including linebackers JaVanz Dornners (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), Islee Cassidy (6-2, 225) and Monte Smith (6-1, 215), and running backs Adi Anderson (5-11, 200) and Jarmar Julien (5-11, 226).
Oh, and their linemen aren’t very small either — Mark HoChing (6-2, 290) and Charles Joseph (6-5, 290) make Aptos’s biggest lineman, senior Hayden Mennie (6-1, 235), look like a member of a junior varsity squad.
For the Mariners — smaller than every team they’ve faced over the last five games— it’s just another week.
“We’re just used to it,” said Aptos senior defensive back Bubba Gallardo. “Everyone is always doubting us. We’ve proven people wrong, but of course we’re still going to be doubted around here and over the hill. Hopefully we can prove them wrong again and come out with another win. We have heart. We might be the smallest, but we have heart to keep on fighting.”
A betting man, however, might consider the Mariners the favorites heading into Saturday. Aptos (70th) is ranked higher than McClymonds (147th) in the MaxPreps state rankings, the Mariners outnumber the Warriors 55-29 and CalPreps.com’s head-to-head algorithm predicts Aptos to march into a state championship game with a 35-28 win.
Head coach Randy Blankenship considers all of that a load of phooey.
“That program’s one of the best,” Blankenship said. “Their resume speaks for itself.”
As impressive as their football team’s current run might be, McClymonds’ overall history of athletics is awe-inspiring. Jim Hines, the first man to break the 10 second barrier in the 100-meter dash, walked the halls of the Oakland school. So too did NBA legends Bill Russell and Paul Silas, and MLB Hall of Famer Frank Robinson — the only MLB player to be named the M.V.P. in the National and American League. Current NFL cornerback Marcus Peters also passed through McClymonds, and his father, Michael, will be roaming the Warriors’ sideline on Saturday as the team’s head coach.
My favorite McClymonds alumnus? Stanley Kirk Burrell, AKA MC Hammer.
“You look at all those guys that went there,” Gallardo said, “it’s like, ‘Dang.’”
The Mariners might have been a little slack-jawed while looking at McClymonds’ list of alumni, but that won’t be the case on Saturday. They feel like they belong on the same field as the talent-rich Warriors, and are hoping they can leave a few of those college-bound players with the answer to the question S.H.P. fans were asking.
Where is Aptos?
“We’re here,” Gomez said. “We’re trying to make a name for ourselves.”
Editor’s Note: Tony’s Thoughts is a reoccurring column from Sports Editor Tony Nunez that dives into the local sports world with an emphasis in football in the fall. Contact Nunez at [email protected] or 761-7335.