by Ethan Kassel
Reigning league, section and state champion Menlo-Atherton is undoubtedly the top dog in the PAL entering 2019. Even after graduating defensive stalwarts Daniel Heimuli and Noa Ngalu, both of whom are now at Washington, the Bears still have a bevy of future Division I players on their roster, headlined by outstanding wide receiver Troy Franklin.
Still, a PAL Bay Division crown is far from a guarantee. The roster will have to mesh under new head coach Steve Papin, formerly at Independence, and the rest of the league is full of outstanding athletes and coaches. From the legendary Pete Lavorato and junior linebacker Noah Short at King’s Academy to a tremendous group of returners under John Philipopoulos at Burlingame and an Arena Football legend coaching Sacred Heart Prep in Mark Grieb, the Bay has been one of the top leagues in the Central Coast Section in recent years. Even if M-A runs away with the title, the other five spots should be as tight a race as any, and with the new CCS playoff format, the Bay Division could certainly have teams draw favorable seedings in Divisions II and III.
Aragon (2-9, 2-3)
2018 was not kind to the Dons, who tested themselves with an absolutely loaded schedule, battled injuries and found themselves on the receiving end of a pair of one-point losses. Those injuries forced much of this year’s roster into action, and Aragon will be able to take the field this year with a group that’s had the chance to cut its teeth against top competition.
This year’s nonleague schedule is much more palatable than last year’s murderers’ row, with an early trip to rival San Mateo to renew a longtime series that took a one-year hiatus. Notable returners from last year’s team include TE/LB Valentino Faaumu, lineman Sau Esikia and Carlos Lopez, a 6-foot, 290-pound lineman who doubles as kicker.
Burlingame (11-2, 5-0 PAL Ocean)
John Philipopoulos opted to move his Panthers down to the Ocean Division last year with 27 players on the roster, and they absolutely blasted the competition, winning the league outright and bringing home a CCS Division IV crown. This year’s squad has just 31 players, but there’s plenty of returning experience to go around. Brothers Devon and Jordan Malashus expect to be involved with almost every play in their senior seasons, with Devon at quarterback and Jordan in the rushing attack alongside Lucas Meredith, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound bruiser of a junior who’s played varsity ball since his freshman year.
To say Meredith doesn’t shy away from contact is an understatement, as he often prefers to run over defenders instead of around them. Taylor Kaufman is a three-way talent, impressing at kicker while also impacting the game as a wide receiver and defensive back, and Gino Lopiccolo is a fearless ballhawk in the secondary. If some of the newcomers from the JV roster can give defensive end Connor Kall assistance and depth doesn’t become an issue with injuries, Burlingame could be a major player in the Bay Division.