*This column was originally published in the Petaluma Argus-Courier and on its website.
Both Casa Grande and Petaluma High School had a plethora of football players make all-league teams based on votes by league coaches. Perhaps even more satisfying to the players were team awards, voted on by their teammates or bestowed by team coaches.
At Petaluma High School, fullback Yusef Kawasami, who was the Co-Back of the Year for the Sonoma County League along with Analy quarterback Will Smith, was named the Trojans’ Most Valuable Player, receiving the John Ramatici Award.
In 11 games, Kawasami rushed for 1,242 yards on 151 carries for 8.2 yards per carry, while scoring 11 touchdowns. In Petaluma’s triple-option attack, it was Kawasami who carried the load on the way to the Trojans averaging 281.8 rushing yards per game.
Head coach Rick Krist described Kawasami as a workhorse, saying, “Yusef took time getting acclimated to being a triple-option fullback, but when he adjusted, he became one of the most powerful backs we have had. Being a key part of our defense, he was asked to spend a lot of time on the field.”
Justin Mahrt took home both the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman Jack O’Connor Award and the Leadership Kevin Whitney Award, while Greg Thomas was named the Most Valuable Offensive Back and the Special Teams MVP.
Krist also praised Thomas as perhaps the team’s most important player. This isn’t your average kicker, but instead a true jack-of-all-trades for the Trojans. On 65 carries, Thomas gained 507 yards for 7.8 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 129 yards and two more scores, while snatching three interceptions as a defensive back. Thomas is getting looked at by a wide range of schools to continue as a kicker.
Connor Dennison and Mike Devincenzi were named the Most Valuable Defensive Backs, and Devincenzi was also named the Tim McAvoy Rookie of the Year. Hunter Williams was named the Most Valuable Defensive Lineman, Matt Saxton was the Scout Team MVP, Keith Fantano was named Most Improved, and Lucas Dentoni received the Butch Miliron Coaches Award. Kevin Fowler, who suffered a knee injury in the first game of the year, but made his voice heard at every practice, was named Most Inspirational.
Academically, Petaluma High received the North Coast Section pennant for scholar athletes for the fifth year in a row.
At Casa Grande, the voting didn’t include one MVP, but instead an Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Sophomore running back Spencer Torkelson, who ran for 815 yards on 115 carries for seven yards per carry and six touchdowns, received the top honor for offense.
Head coach Trent Herzog called Torkelson a great athlete with a bright future, saying, “As the season went on, he got better each week. He’s big, fast and strong and has tremendous talent for a sophomore running back.”
Senior linebacker Casey Longaker anchored the defense on his way to a full scholarship to continue playing at Sacramento State University, and was the team’s MVP on defense. Longaker totaled 117 tackles on the season, including 24 for loss.
“He was the best player on the field in all of our wins,” Herzog said. He said Longaker was a great leader and the heart and soul of the Gauchos.
Also getting college recognition are Specialist of the Year Matt Abramo, who is committed to kick at Washington State, and Lineman of the Year Brendan Jackson, who accepted a scholarship offer from Western Oregon.
Kevin Donohoe was named Back of the Year, while Jaleel Lawson won the Gaucho Award as one of the team captains and top leaders. Nick Jensen’s toughness and leadership were recognized with the Coaches Award.
Andrew Blair won the CJ Banaszek Memorial Strength and Courage Award. Blair never missed a workout, even after he was hurt for six games. After recovering, he came back and helped contribute to the Gauchos in the playoffs.