Zuber, Cronin prep teams for the fall

James Logan of Union City coach George Zuber hopes playing powerhouse De La Salle in the regular season will pay off in the CIF North Coast Section playoffs. Photo: Mark Tennis.

James Logan of Union City coach George Zuber hopes playing powerhouse De La Salle in the regular season will pay off in the CIF North Coast Section playoffs. Photo: Mark Tennis.

James Logan of Union City and Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa stay among NorCal’s best due to first-class coaching, although the two schools are worlds apart. See what two of the best in the region have to say about their success and what we thought after watching summer practice/camp competitions.

Note: We’ll have football features and previews for the coming season being posted much more frequently for the rest of the summer. The next Gold Club premium feature coming will be the “Top 25 Defensive Backs in the State.” To check out becoming a Gold Club member, CLICK HERE.

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Ever wonder why some programs with relatively young coaches, in both private and public schools, and in small and big schools both, continue to win year in and year out.

To find the key to the successes of a small catholic school head coach in the North Bay area of the Metro Bay Area, and one from Northern California’s largest enrollment school, the Cal-Hi Sports Caravan hit the road in the early summer.

Not only did we see how and what these two coaches do alongside their boys in the trenches, we were able to analyze the players up close and do double-duty as the Northern California recruiting analyst for XOS Digital ThunderCloud Recruit.

What we also saw in the early summer travels is who has just hype and who is legit amongst players we saw personally from the incoming senior, junior and sophomore classes, and in a few instances the freshman class.

Hello Newman

The Caravan’s first stop was a mid-June workout at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa. The sun was blazing but that didn’t stop 2010 Medium Schools Coach of the Year Paul Cronin from mixing it up with his boys and even taking a few snaps at his old position.

The local star quarterback who graduated in 1991 from cross-town Piner as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat Player of the Year has had about as much success as you can have in a rural city that draws players from mostly within a 15-mile radius of the Santa Rosa metro area of about 225,000 residents.

Cronin’s 2008 team was beaten pretty soundly by Ventura St. Bonaventure, 28-6, in the CIF Division III Bowl Game, but the 2006 team that played in the first bowl games nearly pulled off a huge upset before falling 27-20 in overtime to nationally-ranked Oaks Christian of Westlake Village.

On one occasion when the Cal-Hi Sports Caravan covered an NCS playoff game with Newman on the road against an inner-city school, the crowd taunted the boys prior to the game, calling them “puny little farm boys.”

Paul Cronin's team and staff at Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa have been on a roll in recent seasons. Photo: Harold Abend.

Paul Cronin’s team and staff at Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa have been on a roll in recent seasons. Photo: Harold Abend.

The Cardinals were favored to win the game but no one expected them to be up 35 points in the third quarter before Cronin eased up in what was still a blowout win.

He started his coaching career at his alma mater, and in five years from 1998-2002 the team was a respectable 28-24.

Since moving over to Newman 10 years ago, Cronin has guided the Cardinals to a 103-21-2 record, two CIF North Coast Section titles, and the two state bowl game appearances.

Most coaches show up for practice in sweats or shorts, particularly if its 90 degrees, and especially if they’re right in the middle of things, but not the 39-year-old Cronin.

Just like on the sidelines of an actual game, Cronin is decked out in black slacks with a black coach’s coat and a polo shirt underneath. It’s not the suit and tie and hat like Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry, but in many ways Cronin is a throwback to an era when a high school coach was more than a coach, he was a mentor that built character in young men.

In many ways, that’s the secret to Cronin’s success. During the practice, he’s teaching and mentoring 150 percent of the time, while at the same time finding a moment to pass out encouragement to the second and third stringers with some of the time left.

“It goes back to the way I was coached in high school by Ed Lloyd,” Cronin told Cal-Hi Sports.

Redwood Empire legend Lloyd won 217 games combined from 1966-1985 at Cardinal Newman, 1986-1991 at Piner, and 1994-1995 at Sebastopol Analy.

“It was cool playing for Ed Lloyd,” Cronin continued. “Coach Lloyd was a team guy, not just the starters. He believed everyone should get something out of the football experience to help with life’s lessons.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Cronin has his best friend Bao Alderson as his top assistant, a position he’s held for 13 years. Defensive coordinator Pat Piehl has been with him 14 years, and line coach Tony Saiz has assisted for eight years. Some other staff members have coached at the junior college level.

Cronin has a reputation for turning out quarterbacks, and his current signal-caller, incoming senior Keaton Dunsford, recently turned heads at the Nike Elite 11 Camp in Santa Clara. Cal-Hi Sports ranked him as the No. 9 quarterback out of the 99 invited.

Besides quarterbacks, Cronin has had his share of stars. Asked to rank them he said without hesitation the top two were a tie between RB/LB Phil “Scooby” Wright from last year’s team and now at Arizona, and 2009 graduate RB/LB Jeff Badger, a Sacramento State graduate who recently had a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers.

After that it was 2008 graduate, Oregon Duck, and three-time Cal-Hi Sports All-State selection QB/DB Max Pond, Northwestern two-time academic All-American and current 49er lineman Al Netter, and four-year UC Davis starting quarterback Randy Wright.

Its not just football successes Cronin has turned out. He’s had two players go to Air Force and one to West Point. Several are early on in police and fire careers, and one is a highly successful stockbroker and budding entrepreneur.

With the football success he’s had, Cronin has had a lot of offers to coach at the next level, and even got an offer from the Canadian Football League. He recently interviewed at a high profile Southern California high school that wanted him more than he really wanted to leave Newman, despite the astronomical salaries some SoCal positions pay plus money from camps.

“My three kids (ages nine, seven and five) go to school next door and I can go over there and hang out with them. You can’t put a price on that,” Cronin remarked.

“I know it will be tough for us to ever win a bowl game, but I’m going to keep trying,” Cronin chuckled.

“I guarantee you this. I’ll coach 25 more years at Cardinal Newman if they’ll keep me, and then I’ll coach JV until I die.”

Lots of Ws with Coach Z

James Logan head coach George Zuber has a few things in common with Cronin.

Both are married with kids, Zuber’s are 12 and nine, and although he’s already turned 40, Zuber also graduated high school in 1991, although in the East Bay from San Leandro.

The big difference is Zuber is at a school with 4,104 students that come from white, Hispanic, African-American, Middle Eastern and Indian backgrounds, plus more.

“My challenge football wise is getting football guys. Guys with football experience,” said the seven-year Logan head coach, who prior to coming to Logan was the defensive coordinator at his alma mater for seven years that included San Leandro’s five appearances in the CIF-NCS D1 title game against De La Salle.

“The kids from different cultures all get along but because of the different cultures the academic standards are higher,” continued the Logan social sciences teacher. “The teachers are great but some of our kids still struggle. One of our most significant accomplishments is we’ve had a 3.0 GPA as a team two-straight years.”

The Caravan saw Zuber’s multi-ethnic kids led by 2014 running back Ahki Muhammed and 2014 wildcat quarterback Victor “Mose” Fualaau, perform at the CSU Fresno Team Camp June 22-23. They dominated the field of Las Vegas Faith Lutheran, Roseville Oakmont, Piedmont, Fairfield Rodriguez and West Hills Santee.

In the Sunday morning scrimmage between the two top teams, Logan and Oakmont, it wasn’t even close despite the fact Oakmont has two legitimate D1 prospects, TE/DE Trey Olsen and WR/DB Justin Holmes.

Muhammed, who had looked very sharp in Saturday night’s scrimmages, didn’t even touch the ball against Oakmont until Fualaau had already orchestrated three scoring drives while the defense kept Oakmont out of the end zone. On his first touch of the fourth possession, the solidly-built 5-foot-9, 175-pound D1 prospect turned one inside and bolted 5-yards into the end zone.

As good as they were, Logan was playing without projected starting quarterback Christian Leota. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound incoming junior missed the last two days of the camp with a strained quad.

At this point the question is if Fualaau is so good why is Leota the projected starter?

“Mose is a phenomenal athlete but Christian is the better quarterback,” Zuber remarked about the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Fualaau. “But Mose is a huge part of our offense. He’ll play slot, wide receiver, quarterback, tight end and even a little tailback.”

Besides the talent at the skill positions, Logan has size and speed on the line and on defense. Three players that stood out in Fresno were 6-foot-4, 300-pound OT/DT Yoesphe Alebachew, 6-foot, 295-pound G/T/FB Augustino Fino Elisaia, and 6-foot, 235-pound G/DE Jose Zamora-Lajes.

With Logan as one of two large school independents in the Bay Area along with De La Salle, Zuber will need all that talent to compete in what looks like one of Northern California’s toughest schedules.

Before finishing up with three teams from the Mission Valley Athletic League of which they were members until two years ago, Logan opens at Loomis Del Oro, then hosts San Leandro and Danville San Ramon Valley, travels to Brentwood Heritage and then Berkeley (with new coach James Barnes), and then hosts Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) before traveling to Concord to face De La Salle.

“We could be good, and this year’s team is bigger than we’ve ever been,” said Zuber, who did some coaching immediately after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but eventually gave up a lucrative career in sales to become a teacher and coach.

“I was making good money but I was miserable because it affected my coaching.”

Zuber’s defense at San Leandro played very well against De La Salle in the five meetings, and last year’s Logan team that lost 52-7 to the Spartans in the NCS Division I title game was the only team to rush for 100 yards in the regular season against the state champions, however beating De La Salle is something that hasn’t happened in the Bay Area since 1991.

“I jumped at the chance to play them (De La Salle) during the regular season,” Zuber remarked. “I firmly believe the only way to beat them is to have experience against them.”

Zuber lost a lot of talent in running back Warren Miles Long (Northwestern) and quarterback Jeffrey Prothro (Texas A & M for track), but it still looks like they will be the main challenger to De La Salle in the NCS D1 playoffs.

We’ll have a better idea of how Logan stacks up after it faces a Del Oro team that edged the Colts last year. The Week 7 game against De La Salle is eons away.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at marketingharoldabend@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

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