There will be five games on Friday and Saturday this weekend at St. Francis High in Mountain View that will represent the first weekend of this year’s two-weekend Honor Bowl. Next week, there will be three games at Cathedral Catholic in San Diego. So what’s the Honor Bowl all about? Since we went to many of the early ones in the Sacramento area, here’s why it’s such a special event and one that every high school football fan no matter what school they root for should go to at least once.
Note: We’re also doing a feature story on the NorCal games of this year’s Honor Bowl for our partners at SportStars Magazine. To check out the latest NorCal rankings and features from SportStars, CLICK HERE.
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The combination of Friday night lights and the respect of military service is something one might expect from the cornfields of Iowa. But if you’ve ever been to one of the Honor Bowl events that have been held in California since 2013 you know those chills running up your spine can be achieved anywhere.
That’s one goal of the Honor Bowl, which is coming to the Bay Area for the first time this weekend with games at St. Francis of Mountain View. The series also aims to inform the kids, coaches, parents and others about the needs of military veterans, particularly those who have been seriously injured.
We’ve known Mark Soto, the founder of the Honor Group, since he began to host a series of football games as part of his non-profit in the early 2010s. He was a coach at Del Oro of Loomis and partnered with another coach and a Gold Star mother who lost a son in Afghanistan to look for ways to help those returning from military service.
The earliest games in the Honor Bowl were not surprisingly at Del Oro. Even before the Honor Bowl began in 2013, Del Oro and its head coach at the time, Casey Taylor, were active in playing as difficult a schedule as possible.
In 2010, we remember covering a series of games at Del Oro on an incredibly hot day that matched up teams from different parts of Northern California. Del Oro played Bullard of Fresno at night and won 41-19. Earlier, one of the best games we saw that entire season was Whitney of Rocklin outlasting Concord 42-40. Concord quarterback Ricky Lloyd finished with 410 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Del Oro also traveled to Southern California as part of those early pre-Honor Bowl series of games. In 2011, the Golden Eagles hosted Oaks Christian of Westlake Village one weekend and then the next weekend played at Westlake of Westlake Village.
It’ll be hard for any of the games at St. Francis to match the 2013 Honor Bowl contest held at Oceanside High between Centennial of Corona and St. Bonaventure of Ventura. On that night, future Cal running back Tre Watson rampaged for 466 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in a 69-55 shootout win. St. Bonaventure quarterback Ricky Town (who was an Alabama commit at the time) also had a strong game and the two teams combined for 1,390 yards (a state record).
Perhaps because of Centennial’s participation in the Honor Bowl, the event has gone to a more national approach in recent seasons. We weren’t frankly interested in hyping up the controversial program at IMG Academy of Florida for the past two seasons when Centennial played IMG at the Honor Bowl. IMG Academy is just not a regular high school.
This year’s lineup at St. Francis and the following weekend at Cathedral Catholic of San Diego just seems to be more closely aligned to the Honor Bowl’s California roots.
At St. Francis on Friday, Aug. 24, it will be Oak Grove of San Jose vs. Del Oro and then the host Lancers playing Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. The next day at St. Francis, it will be Archbishop Mitty of San Jose taking on Oakdale, Liberty of Brentwood battling Gilroy and then a fun matchup we’ve been hoping to see for many years: Serra of San Mateo vs. Serra of Gardena. Del Oro, St. Francis, Liberty and the two Serras are all in this week’s State Top 50. Serra of Gardena has three current NFL receivers and several other players in the league, but Serra of San Mateo still beats the Cavaliers for having the greatest quarterback ever (Tom Brady).
You don’t have to have IMG, Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Mater Dei, De La Salle or St. John Bosco for fans to come and for fans to have that unique experience that the Honor Bowl can provide.
Trust us, when you see a Wounded Warrior being presented with a dog to be that vet’s trusted partner and friend for many years to come or when you see more than one Gold Star family standing on the sidelines, you get it.
And while the Silicon Valley might not be the heartland of America, it’s still the place that produced perhaps the greatest example of someone who understood what military service is all about: Pat Tillman from Leland of San Jose.