An ambitious nonleague slate continues Saturday for the El Cerrito High football team with what might be the Gauchos' most challenging opponent of all.
Bellarmine College Prep-San Jose, the defending champion of the prestigious West Catholic Athletic League, will come to town with an SEC-bound quarterback and the No. 1 ranking in South Bay high school football polls. The Gauchos expect the game, scheduled for 7 p.m. at De Anza High, to be a major test, and that's just what they want.
"We want to play our best football, and if you hit the ground running that way, you set the mentality for the whole season for the players and the coaching staff," El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn said. "This is going to be a great opportunity for us to see how we can play and match up against a team like a Bellarmine Prep who year for year is known to be a pretty top-notch program."
With three players bound for the Pac-12 conference next year and several other talented athletes on the roster, this year seemed like a good time for El Cerrito to beef up its schedule.
But the Gauchos won't have one of their top weapons at their disposal when they take on Vanderbilt-bound quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels and the Bells.
Wide receiver/defensive back Jalen Harvey, a Cal commit, will serve a one-game suspension after being ejected from El Cerrito's 34-14 season-opening win over Sutter last week. Harvey, who caught two touchdowns in the win, was flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct. High school rules mandate that any player who receives two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game is automatically ejected and suspended the following game.
"It's an experience that he's obviously learning through, we're learning through, and the bottom line is we as a team, we can't get in our own way," Kahn said. "We have to be able to play a good four quarters of football and do it with class and true sportsmanship. Our top tier players with Division I opportunities are to be model citizens for the game."
Harvey, who has been part of the varsity team since his freshman year, is spending the week on the scout team as the Gauchos prepare for Bellarmine.
"It's a humbling experience but it's also one that's just plain necessary," Kahn said. "A kid messes up, that's not solely his fault, that's a reflection of what we as a program need to improve upon. Hopefully this will be the last time any El Cerrito Gaucho will face this type of circumstance."
On the offensive: Castro Valley's offense made quite the impression in its season-opening win over Monte Vista last week.
The Trojans not only earned a rare win over the traditional East Bay Athletic League power but also scored 57 points -- the highest total fifth-year head coach Nic McMaster can remember his team scoring.
Of course, the Trojans also gave up 56 points, winning in overtime on a two-point conversion.
The offensive slugfest served as a breakout game for Castro Valley junior Namane Modise, who rushed for 222 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries in just his second varsity game.
"I'd like to say it's surprising, but it's not," McMaster said of Modise. "He works really hard in practice and is a great competitor. ... He's explosive and compact. When he gets into the open field, he's difficult to get ahold of because he's so elusive."
Modise's emergence is a big boost for a Castro Valley squad that lost another top running back in Robert Taylor, who transferred to Deer Valley in the offseason.
Modise wasn't the only Trojan to put up big numbers against Monte Vista. Senior Demeryah Lane added 163 yards on the ground as the Castro Valley offense piled up 509 rushing yards.
McMaster also expects senior Nick Alfaro, who caught the game-winning two-point conversion, to put up big numbers in the Trojans' wing-T offense.
Follow Stephanie Hammon on Twitter at twitter.com/stephhammon.