Kickoff to the 2013 high school football season was September, but the learning and yearning starts long before then.
In the Alvarez High weight room following an 0-10 2012 season, the off-season talk and mood was anything but that of a winless team.
“We talked a lot about the teams we wanted to beat,” said Alvarez defensive lineman Steve Otherson. “The mood in the weight room was that of working. No one was standing around. I didn’t want my senior year to be like my junior year.”
But who could have predicted a season like the Alvarez High football team would have, no matter what the year.
“My goal was to basically win some games, get to CCS and become a better lineman,” Otherson noted.
As far as the Alvarez team was concerned, things went from Mission Impossible to Mission Accomplished.
Alvarez did more than win some games — it won them all during the regular-season. It also did more than just get to the Central Coast Section playoffs — it won a first-round post-season game and hosted another. And Otherson wasn’t just a better lineman — he became The Salinas Californian’s Defensive Player of the Year.
It was that kind of storybook year for the Eagles, who made what was the greatest single-season turnaround in Monterey County high school football history — from 0-10 in 2012 to 10-0 in 2013. The Eagles also set a record for most wins in school history with 11, and didn’t lose until the second round of the CCS D-I playoffs.
In the process, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Otherson was named the MBL Pacific Division Most Valuable Defensive Lineman.
“Had we not won our first game, it might have set the tone for the rest of the year,” Otherson said. “It could have been like, ‘Here we go again.”’
Rather it was, “Here we go.”
Alvarez beat Gonzales opening night and followed that with a victory over Alisal. On the road in Hillsdale in Week 3, the Eagles won a wild 43-35 game that ended with Hillsdale throwing an incomplete pass in the end zone as time expired.
The Eagle had officially landed. It may have been the greatest bus ride home in school history.
“Every time a song came on the radio everyone would start singing it,” Otherson said. “We were that happy.”
But the game of the year took place in late October, at home, against North Salinas with first place hanging in the balance.
“The atmosphere was loud,” Otherson said of the stadium crowd. “It was coming from both sides of the field.”
Alvarez held a 36-34 lead when the Vikings mounted a dramatic last-ditch, fourth-quarter drive that ended with a touchdown pass as the clock struck zero.
The Vikings then went for the game-tying two-point conversion to try and force overtime.
“They came out in this weird formation,” Otherson said. “We (defense) were all talking to each other before the play started.”
Once the ball was snapped Otherson was able to hit one of the receivers.
“I wanted to delay the timing,” he said.
Otherson still managed to break through the line and began to chase down quarterback Justyn Gutierrez.
“I wanted to at least just block the ball,” he said.
He didn’t get to the ball, but Otherson crashed the line so quickly (he was a sprinter on the Alvarez track team), it forced Gutierrez to hurry his pass.
“I just remember seeing the ball go over the receiver’s head,” Otherson said.
The Eagles’ improbable perfect season continued.
“There was a bunch of screaming and yelling in the locker room after that one,” Otherson said.
The emotion, the theatrics and the victories will long be remembered by the 2013 Eagles. But for Otherson it was more than that.
“I’ll remember the players pumping each other up no matter what the score,” Otherson said. “It made us all play our hardest all the time.”
Here is the rest of our All-County team:
Matt Berry, Pacific Grove, senior, linebacker: The 5-10, 200-pounder was runner-up for MTAL Defensive Player of the Year. For much of the season the Breakers allowed fewer points than any team in the county. Berry lead the Breakers in tackles with 112 to go with three sacks, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Brandon Finona, Monterey, senior, linebacker: The 5-10, 175-pound Finona showed his versatility and all-around talent and effort by going from a first-team all-Gabilan Division defensive lineman in 2012 to the Defensive MVP in 2013 as a linebacker.
“Anytime you take away a sure thing it’s risky,” Monterey coach Tom Newton said. “But we thought he could handle it (linebacker) very well.”
Finona did better than just handle it.
“He flourished,” Newton said. “He was our team leader, our captain. He’s a really, really special kid.”
Finona rarely left the field. He led the Toreadores in receiving, averaging about 25 yards per catch, returned punts and was the holder on field goals and conversion kicks. In fact, he was the only two-way starter for Monterey.
“He’s a very humble kid,” Newton said. “He did a lot of everything for us.”
Tim Alvarez, Alvarez, senior, linebacker: Went from a second-team all-Gabilan Division defensive back last year to a first-team all-Pacific Division and All-County linebacker this year.
Alvarez wasn’t your average-size linebacker, but at 5-foot-6 more than made up for it with his speed.
“This year we needed more speed on the outside,” said his coach Dave Bottom. “He pretty much shut down the dive option on his side of the field. He was also a good kick returner.”
Terry Lee, Palma, senior, linebacker: Earlier this week the 5-9, 175-pound Lee came bouncing into coach Jeff Carnazzo’s office to announce his biggest play of the season: He had been accepted to Harvard.
“He’s a tremendous story,” Carnazzo said. “He came here from Korea with his parents when he was seven years old and couldn’t speak English. Now he’s No. 1 in his class, and today he’s in my office ecstatic about being accepted by Harvard. He had never seen a football player before. As a freshman he played about seven or eight plays. But he leaned the game and became passionate about it. He made himself into one of the best players on the team.”
He was also a first-team all-Gabilan Division linebacker.
Justin Pleasont, Salinas, senior, lineman: The 6-2, 260-pound Pleasont is a two-time first-team all-MBL Gabilan Division defensive lineman who had speed and quickness to complement his size and weight.
“He was a dominant player on the line of scrimmage,” said Salinas coach Steve Goodbody. “He could cover the width of the field pretty well.”
Pleasont was a big reason why the Cowboys reached the playoffs for a school record sixth time in a row.
Eduardo Barbosa, Palma, junior, lineman: Trying to fill the cleats of the 2012 Defensive MVP of the Gabilan Division wasn’t going to be an easy task. But Palma soon discovered that the closest thing to Hidelv Manzur – their 2012 defensive MVP – was already on the front line. That turned out to be the 6-foot, 270-pound Barbosa.
“He was our leading tackler and he was constantly double-teamed,” Carnazzo said. “He dominated the inside. We thought Hidelv was going to be tough to replace. But Eduardo took over the position and provided tremendous run-stopping ability. He clogged the middle.”
Elijah Kirkland, Salinas, senior, defensive back: Kirkland was a key player for the Cowboys on both sides of the line. Not only is he a two-time first-team all-leaguer, but also rushed for 731 yards and nine touchdowns while catching 15 passes – two for touchdowns.
“You can tell if you’re a good DB because the other team doesn’t throw in your direction,” Goodbody said. “They didn’t throw much to his side of the field. He has a high-intelligence football I.Q. We’d put him on the other team’s No. 1 guy (receiver) and he always did a great job.”
DeAndre Sharif, King City, senior, defensive back: He was the Mustangs all-around, multi-purpose player deluxe. Sharif became a two-time all-league defensive back as well as a two-time second-team receiver (39 catches, 668 yards, 4 touchdowns). Most teams chose to throw to the other side of the field from where Sharif was, but he still picked off three passes and didn’t allow a touchdown pass.
Sharif produced touchdowns nearly every conceivable way last season – 7 receiving, 1 rushing, 1, passing, 1 kick return and 1 interception return. He also finished as the team’s most prolific receiver in school history with 96 catches for 1,416 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Shane Lackey, Carmel, defensive back, senior: There were times this year when Shane Lackey was the high school version of former Oakland Raider destroyer, Jack Tatum.
“He set the tempo for our defense with his physicality,” Carmel coach Golden Anderson said. “He was a guy we could line up at any of our offensive and defensive positions.”
He scored touchdowns four different ways — two rushing, two receiving, two kick returns and one interception return.
Lackey took part in 114 tackles, forced five fumbles, had four interceptions and a dozen pass breakups. He also caught 13 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns and rushed eight carries for 132 yards and two scores.
* Logan Hunter, Monterey, defensive back, senior: A three-year starter, Newton calls Hunter the “heart and soul of our defense. He wasn’t a rah, rah, rah guy. He was a quiet leader. He was the guy everyone looked to when we needed a big play.”
Newton went so far as to describe Hunter as “irreplaceable.”
“There haven’t been too many kids I’ve coached that I’m more prouder of than Logan,” Newton said.
Hunter was also one of the most accurate place-kickers in the county.
Dave Bottom, second-year Alvarez coach: No one knew much about Dave Bottom when he was hired in the summer of 2012 and handed a football program that was at rock bottom. It sort of stayed there in 2012 following an 0-10 season. But once Bottom had a full year at the controls, the Eagles pulled off the greatest single-season turnaround in the history of Monterey County prep football by going from 0-10 to 10-0. They also won a first-round playoff game to set a single-season record for most victories in the history of the 18-year history of the school. The miracle Eagles finished with the first outright league title in school history and went 11-1 overall.
“It was a team that played together and supported each other,” Bottom said.