SBLive California will preview the Top 50 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2020-2021 season, which is scheduled to kick off the first week of January. Here’s an inside look at the Menlo-Atherton Bears of the CIF Central Coast Section, the No. 49 team in our countdown.
Chris Saunders, first year as head coach
2019 AT A GLANCE
Overall record: 7-4
League record: 5-0 (1st place)
Playoffs: No. 4 seed in CIFCCS Division 1 playoffs, lost 42-35 in first round against Wilcox
ALL-LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED
WR/CB Justin Anderson – Utility Player of the Year
OL Uate Uhila – First Team
DL Christian Van Stralen – First Team
All games are at 7 p.m. unless noted otherwise.
- Jan. 16 vs. San Mateo Serra – 1 p.m.
- Jan. 22 @ Bellarmine College Prep
- Jan. 29 vs. McClymonds
- Feb. 12 @ Clayton Valley Charter
- Feb. 20 vs. Sacred Heart Prep – 1 p.m.
- Feb. 26 vs. Terra Nova
- Mar. 5 vs. Burlingame
- Mar. 12 @ Half Moon Bay
- Mar. 19 vs. King’s Academy
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Matt MacLeod – JR.
MacLeod was productive, efficient, and consistent in his first year starting at varsity. In 10 games, he threw for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns on 60.5% completion with only two interceptions. That was good for a passer rating of 123.6 and first team all-league honors.
Additionally, he saved his best for last, putting up 353 yards and four touchdowns on Wilcox, although M-A lost that game. If those numbers are any indication, MacLeod is one of the top candidates at QB to take his stock to another level in all of NorCal this season. And he’ll be surrounded with receiving weapons.
WR/DB Jalen Moss – JR.
Another first team all-league sophomore, Moss was second on M-A with 541 receiving yards, led the rotation with 19.3 yards per reception, and was tied at the top with nine receiving TDs. He too showed another gear in the Bears’ playoff game, helping them put up 35 points with his career-high 147 receiving yards. Moss also played some meaningful, promising snaps in the secondary, finishing with seven tackles and two picks (second on team).
A medium-high 3-star recruit, Moss has been swarmed with D-1 offers since last season, as he currently has at least six (four from Power-5 schools).
Coach Saunders added on MacLeod and Moss, “As sophomores, these two played varsity and had a huge impact last year. They’ve been stellar, and haven’t missed a single workout throughout this whole process. They’ve already moved past their junior year in terms of maturity and leadership.”
CB Jayden Stanley – SR.
The nationally-ranked ATH prospect returns as a senior to again anchor what should be a strong Bears secondary. Last season, Stanley made first team all-league and led the team with three interceptions. He’s currently sitting on at least five D-1 offers, primarily from Big Sky programs.
RB/SS Thomas Taufui – JR.
Taufui rushed for over 500 yards last season as one of M-A’s two feature backs as a sophomore. The 3-star APB prospect is also a threat to receive if asked, plus made 26 tackles at SS, and holds an offer from Arizona State. This season with no senior RBs above him in the depth chart, Taufui is in great position to take his rushing productivity to another level.
MLB Andrew Buck – JR.
Buck was second on the Bears with 67 tackles in just eight games last season.
SS Eric Stuart – SR.
Stuart was third on M-A with 64 tackles last season.
OL/DLs Leki Tautua’a & OL/DL Fale Mosley
Coach Saunders said the Bears are also expecting a major emergence and impact from senior two-way linemen Tautua’a and Mosley.
“These are scholarship-caliber kids who play football the way it’s supposed to be played up front,” said Saunders.
“With the measurements to back it up, too.”
(Mosley is 6-3, 320, if that’s any indication.)
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON MENLO-ATHERTON FOOTBALL
After Saunders was hired in March, M-A “had almost a week before COVID, and were able to have one team meeting … we’ve had to be creative, and have done our best to adapt.
“We’ve done our best to play football without a football. Simulating it as best as we can. So we put an emphasis on training, moving all our weights outdoors, doing mobility exercises and conditioning, finding ways to compete that, quite simply put, isn’t football.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our seniors and juniors have bought in and persevered. Because we’ve been training, we are stronger, and bigger, and really haven’t let this time just go by.”
The Bears are only two years removed from a Central Coast Section Division 1 title and CIF Division 3-AA state title, and this year’s squad could be that good.
With MacLeod and Moss returning, M-A returns its QB1 and an elite receiver. The Bears will really miss WR Troy Franklin, who plans to enroll early at Oregon in January. But with Taufui at running back — who looks poised to replace most of Francisco Sanchez Borrero’s production — this core of playmakers is armed and dangerous.
Despite the losses of Anderson, Van Stralen, and MLB Stronge Eki, M-A has a strong chance to be better on the defensive side of the ball than last season.
In order to win the Central Coast Section title this year, the Bears will have to leapfrog champion Serra, plus finalist San Jose Valley Christian, and semifinalists Wilcox and St. Ignatius. They’ll also have to hold off other Division 1 threats on the rise such as Half Moon Bay, Archbishop Mitty, and Saint Francis.
Can they pull it off? Absolutely. Menlo-Atherton is a full-fledged contender to win the CIFCCS crown and advance to state bowl games.
MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO
The idea of Menlo-Atherton competing for a section title is not only optimistic, but likely. This team should be better than last year, when it still nearly made the section semifinals. Half Moon Bay has entered M-A’s league, making an undefeated league title run more complicated than usual, but M-A should be considered the odds-on favorite to pull it off.
That said, advancing past Serra and Valley Christian in particular is an uphill battle. It’s certainly possible, but the Bears will be an underdog to do it coming into the season. Both of those teams were on another level last season – Serra beat M-A 38-13 in non-league play – and return enough talent this season to be the clear favorites to compete for the title again.
“We’re blessed to have so many guys that live, breathe, and eat football. Our goals are to be league champions, section champions, and compete for a state title. At this program, it kind of goes without saying that that’s year in and year out.
“Also, we want to make sure to provide the best experience for our seniors on the way out. [Because of COVID-19], we have to make sure this year is a success other than just in wins and losses. Make sure to fulfill the dreams a player has when he first gets here and decides to play high school football … and put the seniors first.”
— Chris Saunders