Del Norte White Stars

Ethan Price, Senior

Sebastian Puente, Senior

OJ Calleja, Junior

Anthony Slayton, Junior

Eli Larson, Junior

Luke King, Junior

Honorable mention

Nick Freeman, Junior

Giovanni Gonzalez, Junior

Timothy Thompson, Junior

Tanner Forkner, Sophomore

Mr. Warrior

Mathew Smedley, Junior

Lonnie Thompson/Eric
Epperson Warrior Award

Tanner Forkner, Sophomore

T-Shirt Award

Team 2 (Captain - Eli Larson)

NCS Academic (3.5)

Kusiah Moore, Senior

Ethan Price, Senior

Sebastian Puente, Senior

OJ Calleja, Junior

Luke King, Junior

Chance LaFazio, Junior

Eli Larson, Junior

Tanner Forkner, Sophomore

With the football season finally at an end in California, the Del Norte football team came back together on Wednesday to relive their exciting 9-3 overall record that included an 8-2 regular season mark and the school’s highest ever seed in the NCS Playoffs, where they reached the semifinals.

“When we look back and compare last year to this year — gosh dangit — it was a whole new ballgame,” said Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova. “And the thing is the effort that you put out in the offseason is what you reap during the season.

“The St. Bernard’s coach made a comment after we beat them on their home field for the first time in four or five years. He said, ‘We lost this game in February — the weight room. They came and physically took it to us.’ Those are the things that add up to you being the best football player that you can be.”

Nova credited the team’s hard work through the offseason, starting with the weight room and including the Tommie Frazier Jr. Quarterback Camp, the summer passing league with Brookings and Gold Beach, agility drills, and a camp at Bar-O Ranch that didn’t go exactly according to plan but helped bring the team closer together.

Del Norte jumped out to a 5-0 start to the season before suffering a 62-32 loss in Fortuna that Nova said was probably the low point of the season.

Incredibly, that low point was followed by the team’s turning point against those same Huskies just two games later in Crescent City.

“We hit a dang buzzsaw, and it said ‘Huskies’ all over it — they took it to us, plain and simple,” Nova said. “But the thing was that our kids stepped back, and then they stepped forward. They took that challenge and they showed maturity that I had never seen. To take that, to literally get your tail whipped, and come back — it was the biggest turnaround in my history as a head coach from the first game (against Fortuna) to the second game.”

Del Norte picked up a 49-42 win over Fortuna in the rematch. Although the Warriors went on to fall to eventual HDN and NCS Division III champion Eureka in their next game, Del Norte bounced back with a 37-21 win over St. Bernard’s to grab second place in the Big 5.

That in an of itself was an impressive accomplishment this year.

“Our league is so hard that Fortuna is the returning state champion last year, and if they had had a chance to go to state this year they would have won it too,” said assistant coach Nick White. “We watched them play the NCS championship game and they kicked Moreau Catholic’s butt. They scored 60 points on them (61-33). Fortuna finished last in our league — they were 0-3.”

Following the regular season, the Warriors received their first ever bye in the NCS Playoffs due to its high seeding. Del Norte grabbed a 37-21 win over Justin-Siena in the quarterfinals before the season stalled due to wildfires and air quality in the Bay Area.

Following a two-week hiatus due to air quality, the playoffs resumed in the quarterfinal round, but Del Norte had to sit out another week to await their opponent in the semifinals. That foe turned out to be Fortuna, who was coming fresh off of a 42-18 beat down of No. 3 seed Kennedy.

Del Norte ended up dropping the semifinal game in a rainy and mistake-filled game, and the Huskies managed a few late scores to push the final margin to 30-6.

“In the course of two seasons we have had more byes than most people have played games,” Nova said. “We had three or four last year, and this year it killed us. To not play for three weekends and then step up against a team that played a game the week before, got on a roll, and then came and played us — it was a lot to ask for. The score isn’t an indication of how close the game really was.”

Although the last game was a tough situation, Nova said he couldn’t have been more happy with how the season went.

“I am so proud of how your young men answered the call this season,” he said.

Nova wrapped up the team banquet by handing out HDN and team awards for the season.

“We strive to be a team in everything that we do, but as in everything, they break it down into individual awards,” Nova said.

White Stars were awarded to senior Ethan Price and Sebastian Puente, along with juniors OJ Calleja, Anthony Slayton, Luke King, and Eli Larson.

Price came into the season as the two-year starter at quarterback, and played significant minutes as the Warriors’ signal caller again this year. But Price also proved to be one of Del Norte’s most dangerous receivers and running backs, while still splitting time at quarterback. Price was also a force in the secondary for the Warrior defense.

“He is a senior that we are really going to miss on both sides of the ball,” Nova said.

Puente used his speed and power to impact the game as both a running back and a linebacker.

“He played both sides of the ball and teams didn’t want to face him — Fortuna especially,” Nova said.

Calleja stepped into the quarterback role effectively, which allowed Price to move all over the field in search of mismatches. Calleja ended up as the team’s top passer, while getting into the game defensively more and more towards the end of the year.

“We put a lot on his shoulders with a new offense, new things coming at you every day, and the pressure that comes with it at his position,” Nova said. “Not only if you don’t perform you get pointed at, but if other people don’t help you you get pointed at. He did a fantastic job for us.”

Although only a junior, King has been the Warriors’ starting center for the past two years. King also served as a frequent cog in the middle of the defensive line.

“He is the quarterback of the offensive line,” Nova said. “He does things that makes the calls and puts people in the right spots.”

Just to King’s right on the offensive line was Slayton, who hadn’t played on the offensive line in several years. Slayton continued to be a force as a linebacker for Del Norte on defense.

“He moved into a position that was new to him (offensive line), and he liked it,” Nova said. “It fed off into the defensive side for us as well where he was also a force for us at linebacker.”

Larson was not only a stalwart starting tackle for the Warriors, but also perhaps its most feared defensive linemen. The junior looked nearly unblockable at times this season as he set up shop in opposing backfields, giving quarterbacks and running backs fits.

“He is just great,” Nova said. “Teams that we play don’t want to go against him and he has worked hard to make himself that mark.”

In addition to the six White Stars, the Warriors had four players named honorable mention for the all league team, including juniors Nick Freeman, Giovanni Gonzalez, Timothy Thompson, and sophomore Tanner Forkner.

Nova also gave out three team awards at the end of the night.

This year’s Mr. Warrior was Matthew Smedley.

“It is given to, not necessarily the star, but the person who pushes themselves to be better and pushes their teammates to be better,” Nova explained. “During the course of the season (Smedley) went from some good playing time, to better playing time, to a lot of playing time. Those are the things you like to see as the season goes on and they push themselves to be better.”

The Lonnie Thompson/Eric Epperson Award was created three years ago to recognize a Warrior who gives outstanding effort at all times, both on and off the field. This year’s recipient was sophomore Tanner Forkner.

“The award is representative of what they do not only during the course of the season, but in the things that lead up to the season and in what they do in the classroom as well,” Nova said. “(Forkner) did a lot of things for us, you guys don’t know this, but he played hurt but just kept coming.”

Nova also created a unique award this year to recognize a unique individual. Junior Giovanni Gonzalez was awarded the first and possibly only, “You’re Killing Me Smalls Award.”

“This young man made practice an adventure,” Nova said with a smile. “Every time we would come into our team huddle to finish the day they would tell him, ‘Don’t say anything.’ But how many times where they sent from the huddle back to the running line because — he has things to say, and he will say them? So this award goes to Giovanni (Gonzalez) — you are killing me.”

In addition to hard work and stellar play throughout the season, Nova also wanted to recognize the work his players have put in in the classroom throughout the fall.

The Warriors had a total of 25 players receive NCS Academic Certificates for maintaining a GPA of 3.0 or above, including eight players with a GPA over 3.5. Included among the eight top GPAs on the team this semester were five of the six White Star winners — Price, Puente, Calleja, King and Larson.

The North Coast Section honors its top three academically achieving teams with an award every season, and Nova said the Del Norte team missed the cutoff by 0.05 total GPA this year.

The Del Norte football program also took some time to recognize its junior varsity team his season.

“I am pretty proud of the kids this year,” said Del Norte JV head coach Gene Mitchell. “We went 5-4, but the one thing I can say is that we were the most physical team in just about every game. I am pretty proud of the boys. This group is pretty dedicated to the weight room so far too, so that is a great building block for us.”