By Ray Hamill — The new football season gets under way next week with anticipation high once again and plenty expected out of an H-DNL that proved to be extremely competitive a year ago.
Most notably the Big 4, with Eureka and Fortuna among the best in the North Coast Section and beyond over the past couple of years, and St. Bernard’s and Del Norte right in the thick of things as well.
It wasn’t, however, a particularly competitive race for the conference title, with a Eureka team for the ages rolling over the opposition.
This year, that’s likely to change and all four teams should fancy their chances of claiming a league title.
Here then are five talking points ahead of the new season.
1 — New coach at Del Norte
The White family now officially oversees half of the Big 4, with Eureka head coach Jason White’s younger brother Nick taking over at Del Norte.
The transition should be a smooth one for the Warriors, with Nick serving as an assistant with the team for several years.
Del Norte enjoyed a big season a year ago and surprised some people along the way after struggling in 2017. The Warriors should continue to be a competitive force under White.
2 — The race for the Little 4 appears wide open
After watching St. Bernard’s dominate the conference for years, it was refreshing to see a very competitive Little 4 a year ago, one that went down to the final weekend of action.
Expect more of the same in 2019, with little appearing to separate the four teams.
Arcata will probably be slight favorite, but Hoopa, Ferndale and McKinleyville will all fancy their chances as well.
3 — Big 4 appears more open
After putting up back-to-back undefeated regular seasons on their way to the state semifinals a year ago, the Eureka Loggers have been tough to stop locally.
But this past spring they graduated a deep and talented class of seniors, and while the cupboard is far from bare, the gap between the Loggers and the rest of the field looks like it has diminished.
That should make for a more competitive race in the Big 4 this time around, and all four teams have every reason to believe they can win it all this season.
4 — What’s next for Eureka and Fortuna?
Both the Loggers and Huskies have enjoyed tremendous success the past two seasons, although both will have to replace a lot of graduated talent in 2019.
As I mentioned, the cupboard is far from bare — for either — the question is how quickly the younger talent can come together.
Both these programs know how to consistently compete and I would expect both to be right in the thick of things again in November.
5 — Can Hoopa keep building momentum?
After several barren years for the program, the Hoopa Warriors put themselves back on the map in 2018, competing for a conference crown and qualifying for the North Coast Section playoffs.
The question is whether they can take the next step.
As usual with a smaller school, the Warriors will be replacing a lot of graduated talent this fall, but this is a team that appears ready to challenge again.