SBLive California is previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2020-2021 season. Even with the season on hold, we will continue to highlight the best teams, players and coaches in California. Here’s an inside look at the Oak Ridge Trojans of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, the No. 10 team in our countdown.
OAK RIDGE HEAD COACH
Eric Cavaliere, 15th season as head coach, 21st overall at Oak Ridge (112-47 record as head coach)
2019 AT A GLANCE
- 11-3 record
- 4-2 in Sierra Foothill League (3rd)
- Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 champions
- Beat Turlock, Inderkum, and Monterey Trail to win the Division 1 title
- Lost to Central (Fresno) 38-32 in a Division 1-AA state bowl game
ALL-SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION DEPARTURES
- QB Justin Lamson – (Syracuse University early enrollee)
- WR/DB Avant Jacobs
- TE Evan Robinson
- DB Mujahid Samad
- Jan 8, 2021 @ Cosumnes Oaks – 7:00PM – Non League
- Jan 15, 2021 vs. Vacaville – 7:00PM – Non League
- Jan. 29, @ Elk Grove – 7:00PM – Non League
- Feb. 5, 2021 @ Folsom – 7:00PM – League
- Feb 12, 2021 vs. Granite Bay – 7:00PM – League
- Feb 26, 2021 vs. Rocklin – 7:00PM – League
- Mar 5, 2021 vs. Grant Union – 7:00PM – League
- Mar 12, 2021 @ Del Oro – 7:00PM – League
- Mar 19, 2021 @ Whitney – 7:00PM – League
- 5 on offense
- 7 on defense
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brandon Barthel (Senior-WR/DB) (6-0, 185)
Offer sheet: Southwest Minnesota State
Coach Cavaliere: “Brandon is a returning all-league player at his position. He’s made huge improvements in the 13 months we’ve been working out since our last game. He’s added some size and strength and he’s more confident. He’s a dynamic player who scores touchdowns.”
2019 stats: 48 catches for 714 yards and 5 TDs, 9 tackles on defense
Ryan Enney (Senior-LB/TE) (6-0, 210)
Offer sheet: MIT and University of Chicago
Coach Cavaliere: “Ryan is our inside linebacker. He has a 4.5 GPA, which means he will have a lot of opportunities. Ryan received votes last year for the Defensive Player of the Year award in our league. He’s another high level football player that we’re excited about.”
2019 stats: 4 catches for 102 yards and 1 TD. Made 142 tackles with 10 coming for loss. One interception, five fumble recoveries.
Hunter Nabers (Senior-LB/TE) (6-2, 220)
Offer sheet: Air Force, New Mexico State and Valparaiso
Coach Cavaliere: “Hunter has all of the tools. He has Division 1 linebacker size, skill, speed and physicality. He only got to play the second half of our season last year because he was recovering from an injury. In that second half, I’m not sure I saw a better defensive football player all year.”
2019 stats: Made 68 tackles, eight for loss. Had two sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble
Elijah Hansen (Senior-DE/TE) (6-2, 210)
Coach Cavaliere: “Elijah is a raw talent. He’s another kid who had a shortened season because of a concussion. From the fifth game on, he had as many sacks as anyone in the area.”
2019 stats: Made 53 tackles
Drew VanKomen (Senior-OL/DE) (6-2, 210)
Offer sheet: Southern Virginia
Coach Cavaliere: “Drew is a big kid with great athleticism. He’s another high level student and he’s going to land at a very high level academic institution to play and go to school next year.”
2019 stats: 48 tackles, seven for loss, one forced fumble
WHO IS THE QUARTERBACK?
Oak Ridge will be without star quarterback Justin Lamson in 2021. He opted to graduate from high school early and enroll at Syracuse University this month.
“Losing Justin is definitely a bummer for us,” Cavaliere said. “Justin is potentially the best player I’ve ever coached. I understand why he is leaving and I totally support him. If I were in his shoes, I’d have done the same thing.”
Sophomore Drew Cowart will take over as Oak Ridge’s quarterback.
“Drew played freshman football last year and did a great job for them,” Cavaliere said. “He’s dug into the quarterback position over the last year. Having been able to learn from Justin Lamson has been really good for him and now Drew is going to get the lion share of the reps under center and he’s going to improve dramatically. He’ll need to, to lead this team.”
- Jake Hall — 2023 RB/LB (Ponderosa)
HOW COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED OAK RIDGE FOOTBALL
COVID-19 has affected every high school football team differently. Coach Cavaliere shares how COVID-19 has impacted Oak Ridge football over the past several months:
“Being isolated and not having a sense of normalcy in their lives is tough for the kids. With our football kids in general, this is a really close group, so for them not being able to spend time together has weighed on them. It’s just tough.
“These kids know how highly we think of them and how excited our staff is for the season and so to potentially not have the opportunity to get a chance to play is a real bummer.
“The thing that impresses me about this group is that you wouldn’t know about the pandemic looking at them a lot of the time because they show up every day and they’re just happy to be there. They’re doing as much as they can under the restrictions that we currently have. They’re getting every ounce of football that they’re allowed to have right now.”
BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR OAK RIDGE
Even without Justin Lamson, Oak Ridge is talented enough to win a Division 1 Sac-Joaquin Section championship with their current group. In a normal year, they would have been favorites to repeat. Without Justin it will be more of a challenge, but it’s certainly possible.
MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO
The most realistic scenario for Oak Ridge is being competitive in every game they play this season. Coach Cavaliere has a special team that is very talented, even without Lamson.
“This is the best team of returners that I’ve had as head coach at Oak Ridge. It’s too bad Justin won’t be playing because he’s potentially the best player I’ve ever coached and this team would potentially be the best team I’ve ever coached.
“Our expectation is to compete with every single team on our schedule. We believe we’re very good. Last year we were Section champions and this year we expect to compete for a league championship and Section championship. We’re at that level with this group.
“The strength of this group is that they’re winners. This is a team that knows how to win, that wants to win and a team that puts in the work. We have a heavy emphasis on culture in our program that our seniors from last year set for our current seniors. We don’t have any division between our classes. Our team mentality is the strength of this group.”
— Head Coach Eric Cavaliere