T.J. Ewing leads a group of 32 players onto the field each week, but it’s not the numbers that will overwhelm opponents.
It’s the relentless effort.
Gritty, old-school football continues to play out beautifully at Monterey Trail High School, where Ewing stands as the program’s only varsity head coach since it opened in the Elk Grove Unified School District in 2004.
The Mustangs are a run-heavy outfit — fear the veer — with a host of two-way players who also get after it on defense. Play to the whistle is one mantra.
So is this: “Quality over quantity,” Ewing said Saturday morning, contemplating his team’s emphatic 2-0 start. The barrel-chested Ewing is tough and demanding, though players grow to admire and appreciate him, as reflected by the scores of alumni that visit him on campus.
Ewing will even lift weights with players as an example of backing what he preaches. He will tell players that football is hard work but “it offers 10,000 rewards.” Or, “You’ve got to sacrifice and suffer to excel. You can’t learn, can’t get better, if things are easy.”
It wasn’t easy in Ewing’s first two seasons when the San Mateo native and one-time Bay Area coach suffered through a 1-19 start with the Mustangs. Then there was success, including trips to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals in 2009 and 2010. They made the playoffs four times since 2014, with big wins in recent years over name-programs Grant and Elk Grove.
Ranked No. 7 by The Bee, Monterey Trail opened this campaign with a 41-6 rout of Sheldon and then traveled to Danville on Friday to face San Ramon Valley, where it toppled one of the Bay Area’s top programs, 27-7.
Zach Larrier rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns and had a touchdown pass for the Mustangs. He represents exactly what Ewing stresses: involvement as a student and athlete. Larrier is a three-sport star, a scholar, a campus leader. And he has 14 scholarship offers, including Cal, Oregon State and Washington State.
Other key players include running back/defensive back Jehiel Budgett and receiver/defensive back Andre Crump, who wasn’t intimidated by Ewing in his first year of varsity football this season but inspired by it. Arturo Pantoja had seven tackles and two sacks for Monterey Trail.
San Ramon Valley players came away bruised and impressed with the might of the Mustangs.
“Those dudes are mean,” San Ramon Valley two-way star Tristan Sinclair told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They play physical. We knew it was going to be a bare-knuckle brawl, but they kept swinging.”
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“I love our guys,” Ewing said. “Very proud of them. We’ve seen them grow up through our program, from youth ball to now. It’s very satisfying. We try to get young men involved. We value good character and multi-sport kids. Playing different sports helps kids have an awareness about them, and they’re good with change, like taking different classes. They can flow with things, hear multiple adults talking to them, leading them.
“We tell our guys, ‘Be a CEO. Run the company. Don’t just be in the company.’”
As spoken by as good of a CEO regional coach as we’ll find.
Watch highlights from Friday, Aug. 24 high school football games and vote for your favorite in our Highlight of the Week poll at sacbee.com.
Milestone at Placer
Joey Montoya won his 100th career game at his alma mater as No. 5 Placer beat Whitney 42-28 for a 2-0 start.
Montoya is in his 12th season with the Hillmen, having produced teams of 12-2 in 2009, 11-1 in 2012, 12-1 in 2014 and 13-2 last fall, when their season ended in the CIF State Division IV final.
We first caught sight of Montoya in 2000, when he would run energized practices as a rising assistant coach at Nevada Union, which led the state in scoring that season. Montoya hasn’t lost an ounce of passion.
Isaiah Rutherford injury update
Jesuit two-way standout Isaiah Rutherford left Friday’s game at top-ranked Folsom in the first half with an ankle injury, adding to the sting of a game that was fast getting out of hand. Folsom rolled 51-14.
X-rays were negative.
Jesuit hosts No. 11 Granite Bay on Friday in a 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
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149 and counting
Folsom coach Kris Richardson is sitting on career win No. 149 heading into Friday’s home game against No. 8 Antelope. He has gone 114-10 this decade.
Richardson bears the expression of calm during games, unlike his frantic wife, Kelly, a team mom of sorts who cannot stand still.
“I’m a worrier, a pacer, always moving,” Kelly said Friday night before hustling off to shake hands — and to just shake.
The most remarkable comeback of the early season happened in Placer County.
Lincoln scored the final four touchdowns after trailing 27-7 midway through the third quarter to stun Antelope 35-27. Tommy Turner hit Jacob Lemus for two touchdown passes and Seth Sampson and Harry Rounds combined for three rushing scores to power Lincoln.
These sorts of rallies can turn seasons. The Zebras lost to Del Oro in the section Division II playoffs last season on a last-play field goal and expect to compete for the championship in the newly created Foothill Valley League that includes rival Placer and 2-0 Ponderosa.
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