The Pleasanton Eagles know what they have to do this season.
In order to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they have to win a district game, something they haven’t done since that 10-2 run in Stephen Liska’s first year at the helm in 2017.
“Our biggest thing is winning a district game,” Liska said. “We haven’t won a district game in two years. And that’s where our focus is right now. I mean, we’ve got to win a district game. And then, if we make the playoffs, that’s the cherry on top. But, right now, we’ve got to win a district ballgame.”
A win in the five-team District 14-4A Division I would likely mean the Eagles make the playoffs. Last year, Pleasanton’s season came down to a do-or-die game against La Vernia in the final game of the season. The Eagles fell 23-20 in that game.
“We’re very hungry, especially the seniors because this is our last year,” senior cornerback Ashon Thompson said. “We want to go into the playoffs and see how far we can go and we want to take the younger guys on our wings, and go to the playoffs.”
To get there, the Eagles will be without two big weapons this season with the graduation of all-time leading receiver Dalton Hobbs and junior running back Joel Arevalo missing the season due to injury.
Liska knows Hobbs, can’t be replaced. But Lis ka believes spreading the ball around to guys like Alonzo Duran, who hauled in 21 passes for 304 yards a year ago, in 2020 will help create the same production on offense.
“We’re not going to replace Dalton Hobbs. I mean, he’s a four-year starter. And, obviously, his numbers speak for themself,” Liska said. “But we’ve got a lot of skill [position] kids that are going to have to step up and carry the load. We’re gonna have a mailbag [approach], let’s put it that way. It’s not going to be one guy toting the rock.”
Toby Garner, A.J. Ayala and a couple of sophomores making their varsity debuts will fill the running back spot.
“A.J. is probably one of the hardest working toughest kids we’ve got in the program,” Liska praised of Ayala. “He put in a lot of effort before we left in the offseason and during the pandemic. … And we’ve got a couple of cats coming up from the freshman team that are sophomores. There’s gonna be a few guys back to carrying the ball.”
A competition between senior Cole Wiechring and sophomore Sean Ramos will be held during fall camp, though Liska didn’t dismiss the possibility of utilizing both QBs this fall.
Wiechring, who missed 2019 with an injury, doesn’t see it as competition between the two athletes.
“You know, it’s always great to have some competition there,” Wiechring said. “But, you know, I really don’t see it as competing for position as much as just competing to get our team to be the best they are and just get us into the playoffs.”
Defense will be the Eagles’ strongest facet this season with pretty much their entire secondary returning, including cornerback Ashon Thompson, who led the Eagles with six interceptions a year ago.
“That’s very big,” Thompson said of returning their secondary. “Our defense is very good. We’ve been very good, very consistent usually over the years. And I’m just happy that we still have some of our guys and some new guys coming up.”
Fellow senior Ty Hehman, an inside linebacker starting for his third season, figures to be the lynchpin for the Eagles defense this year. He’s “the glue” that holds the defense together, according to Liska.
“He’s gonna be the glue,” Liska said. “And I mean, he’s gonna be the man on the defensive side of the ball. So we’re very excited and happy to have him coming back to hold down the middle for us.”