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Bee’s Best prep football: No. 3 Monterey Trail hopes to make section championship run

By Sac Bee | CHRIS BIDERMAN, 08/18/22, 9:30AM PDT


City: Elk Grove School Opened: 2004

League: Metropolitan

Division: I/II

Enrollment: 2,343 2021

record: 8-6 overall (5-0 in league)

Coach: T.J. Ewing

Outlook: The Monterey Trail Mustangs have been used to winning under coach T.J. Ewing. They’ve also grown accustomed to deep playoff runs. The Mustangs reached the Sac-Joaquin Section championship games in 2019 and last season, but lost both.

It took overcoming an 0-5 start in 2021 to reach the title bout against Central Catholic of Modesto, which included going 5-0 in league play, before a 43-22 loss to finish 8-6. This year, Monterey Trail’s lofty goals remain, despite losing a talented class of seniors, including first-team All-Metro players at quarterback, running back, offensive line and linebacker.

“You have to win your league to get into the playoffs,” Ewing said. “So at the end of the day, we have to win our league, that’s the most important thing, and then when we get into the playoffs, win a section title. And that’s our goal.”

Replacing those key players involves tapping into the program’s pipeline. Monterey Trail, like many other teams, has a junior program that develops players with the same principles, core philosophies and systems. So when players come up through the Jr. Mustangs before they get to high school, they know what to expect.

What also helps is having a the younger brother of last year’s All-Metro quarterback, Frank Arcuri, replacing his older brother as the starter. Vince Arcuri, a senior, will be taking over under center while his father, Rick, will dial up the plays.

“(Vince) is highly intelligent and he knows what we’re doing,” Ewing said. “His dad calls our offense, so it’s a very good situation when you have a guy who’s committed like that showing up every single day of every single practice, so your timing’s there in terms of winning the team, right?”

Ewing’s coaching ethos involves a heavy level of commitment, which starts with the junior program and continues through varsity.

“I think every year, we’re proud of our teams because of their commitment,” Ewing said. “I’m proud that they’re going to have lifelong lessons that they’re going to use as adults, because they’ve been committed to something that’s bigger than them. I think that’s a big thing when you talk about team sports like football.”

Ewing does have his leading rusher from 2021 back in star back Ali Collier, who rushed for 1,549 yards and 25 touchdowns. But he won’t have all the carries. It will be a running back-by-committee approach this season, Ewing said, relying on a group of backs to produce in Ewing’s run-heavy offense.

Like last year, Monterey Trail’s schedule is loaded at the start, before league play. The Mustangs open the season with top-ranked Folsom on the road, then they’ll host national power De La Salle before traveling to Mountain View to take on Bay Area stalwart Saint Francis.

Ewing’s team to open last season lost to Folsom, De La Salle and Los Gatos (a game that was scheduled last minute) by combined scores of 166-40.

Overcoming that dreadful start took the coaching staff overhauling how some players were used and the program’s approach to practicing. There were also losses to Lincoln and Clayton Valley Charter to navigate before the Mustangs turned around their season by crushing opponents in league play.

The margins in their five league victories were: 31, 61, 76, 56 and 56. Then they beat Woodcreek, Granite Bay and Elk Grove in the playoffs. “We fine-combed the whole program over,” Ewing said.

If those changes stick, and pipeline continues to produce, Ewing might not have to overcome another poor start to get to a third section championship game.

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