In each of the last two years, the Los Gatos High football team has suffered a heartbreaking end to their season against a West Catholic Athletic League school in the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.
Last year, it was a 29-28 overtime loss to Mitty. Two years ago, it was a last-minute 34-27 defeat to Bellarmine. Those results mean the Wildcats are among the elite programs in the section. However, they would love nothing more than to break through in 2023 and win a game or more in the Division I Open, particularly against one of those WCAL squads.
Los Gatos has another talented team under coach Mark Krail, who is in his 11th season at the school. The Wildcats return 11 starters led by senior wide receiver/safety Jaylen Thomas, one of the more dynamic playmakers in the CCS.
The 6-foot, 170-pound senior threw, caught and returned a kick and interception for touchdowns last year, a testament to his versatility and ability to affect the outcome in every facet of the game. The 2022 Peninsula Athletic League De Anza Division MVP, Thomas often gains huge chunks of yardage after the catch.
“He’s one of those guys where the defense is going to know where he is [because he’s so dangerous],” Krail said.
Thomas and fellow senior safety Scott Garwood cover a lot of real estate defensively, where their instinct for the ball results in plenty of pass break-ups and interceptions.
“We’ll count heavily on both of them to run the defense from the back end really,” Krail said.
Traditionally strong up front, the Wildcats are expected to have another solid group led by two-way senior linemen Ryan Vernale and Lyndon Bailey. Vernale, last season’s De Anza Division Lineman of the Year, and Bailey are the tackles on the offensive line.
Los Gatos prefers to have its linemen play just one side of the ball but Vernale and Bailey are too good not to go both ways.
“Our hope is they don’t have to play both ways, but they’re good enough they could play there,” Krail said. “We’re still trying to figure some things out and we do have some depth on the offensive and defensive lines. The goal is to have one-way players but very seldom can you do that. If we can find other guys to play with no dropoff, we’re better for it.”
Nathan Ryvola and Henry Anslinger are projected as the starting offensive guards, with Matt Ludeman at center. Leading up to the season-opener, Krail said the positions on the defensive line were wide open, with George Charles, Aurelio Valdez, Franklin White and Joseph Matthews in the mix, to go along with Vernale and Bailey.
“There’s a lot of in and out going on right now,” Krail said a week into fall practice. “We start with the offensive line first and try to figure that out and coach up the other guys to play D-line.”
Spencer Burg, a senior fullback/linebacker, is a team captain and “one of the catalysts for a lot of our success in the middle of the defense and point of attack on offense,” Krail said. The Wildcats are one of the few programs that still utilize the fullback position and do it well, with Burg and returning FB/LB Henry Masters expected to lead a strong ground attack along with running backs Boxer Kopcsak-Yeung, Andrew Sandoval and Justin Mazzaferro.
The biggest question mark comes at quarterback and replacing Jake Boyd, who was consistent, steady and a veteran presence. However, the cupboard is far from bare as Krail said there are four players—AJ Minyard, Scotty Brennan, Grant Murphy and Shane Timmons—who are all capable.
Minyard started the Palo Alto game last season and had a nice performance, Brennan was the best junior varsity QB in the league last year and Timmons is a Saratoga-transfer who will no doubt be an impact player once he’s eligible to play after completing the mandatory sit-out period.
Of note, Los Gatos is now in the PAL Bay Division which includes former SCVAL schools Wilcox and Mountain View to go along with Sacred Heart Prep, Menlo-Atherton and Burlingame. Whoever wins the Bay Division will no doubt be a top-four seed in the Open Division playoffs.