Small but talented Crusaders appear ready for the Big 4 challenge


Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Will Omey returns at QB for the Crusaders this season.

By Ray Hamill — For the second straight year the St. Bernard’s Crusaders will compete in the Big 4, and for the second straight year they’ll do so knowing that numbers and health will be a big concern.

The good news for the smallest school and roster in the Big 4 is that the Crusaders possess some of the very best talent in the entire North Coast Section and have every reason to believe they can compete with their league rivals, who may each have taken a step back this season.

“Practice has been going great,” head coach Matt Tomlin said. “It’s kind of weird year where we have some very talented players, some of the best around, we just don’t have depth behind them.”

Tomlin has a squad of 25, but 12 of them are freshmen and sophomores and should be playing JV, leaving the Crusaders with a limited number of legitimate varsity players.

And that will make it tough later in the season in the Big 4, when they play Eureka, Fortuna and Del Norte, each of which features substantially larger rosters.

It remains the one biggest criticism of the re-arranged H-DNL, which saw the Crusaders move up to the Big 4 last season after years of total domination in the Little 4.

It also means the Crusaders will not have a JV squad for the second straight year, which doesn’t help with the development of young talent.

“These kids learn a lot in practice with the varsity, but they’re definitely going to miss out on some game reps,” said Tomlin.


Jacob Smallwood (21) and Cole Petrusha (54) will start on the offensive line for St. Bernard’s.

Key returning players

Key to their success this fall will be the play of Will Omey and Lane Thrap in particular, both of whom are legitimate league MVP candidates.

Omey was sensational at quarterback and DB a year ago and appears even stronger heading into this season.

The senior, who wasn’t even projected to the team’s starter under center last summer, went on to lead the NCS in total offensive yards.

“Will Omey has looked outstanding on offense and defense,” the head coach said. “He’s going to be a key for our team on both sides of the ball.”

Tomlin also expects great things out of Thrap, a senior receiver/free safety who is arguably the most talented all-around athlete on the North Coast this year.

“Lane Thrap has a chance to be MVP of the league,” the head coach said. “He’s that special. He’s just a competitor.”

Injuries are already starting to take a toll on the small roster, with senior Justin Hagler limited in training camp with a persistent hamstring injury.

Hagler will not play on offense early in the season, but will still see time at inside linebacker, where he is one of the Crusaders’ most important defensive players.

Along the line, Harmon Daniel is expected to pick up where he left off a year ago, finishing last season as one of the most improved lineman in the league.

Daniel will play right guard, alongside Colton Smallwood at right tackle and Cole Petrusha at center.

Jacob Smallwood will play left tackle, with Conor Petrusha at left guard.

The line will be talented but undersized, and all five players will also play on defense.

Bruising back

Senior Talimaivao Fonoti returns to the offensive backfield and the bruising running back will be a handful for opposing defenses.

“We think he’s going to be outstanding for us,” Tomlin said. 

Another senior, Logan Petrusha, will play receiver and will be relied on heavily, while versatile sophomore Peyton Smith appears ready to have an impact on varsity at slot receiver, running back and nickel back.

“He’s had a very impressive two weeks of practice,” Tomlin said. 

More importantly, the team appears to coming together as a whole.

“There’s pretty good team chemistry,” the head coach said. “The older kids are really helping the younger kids. I really like the way this team is coming together.”

The Crusaders, who were 7-5 a year ago and made it to the second round of the NCS playoffs, open the season at El Molino next week.

9 replies »

  1. I am sorry Ray but you are continuing to make this seem like a legitimate situation, with SB being forced to play in a league that has teams up to 10 times their size. You say “good news for the smallest school and roster in the Big 4…”, SB is the smallest school in either league with an enrollment around 130 or so. Other schools in the Big 4 are from 700 up to 1,300 for Eureka. You also say, of the 25 Varsity players 12 are either freshmen or sophomores….that means only 13 players are Juniors or Seniors!! Going up against teams that have rosters of up to 40 players all of which are Juniors or Seniors.

    To allow this to continue, with no JV football team (so no new talent coming up), is pathetic. The HDNL should be ashamed of themselves to continue this. It is not fair, the coaches know it, the parents know it, all the other schools know it, you know it, bottom line is that leagues are not defined by records they are defined by size.

    End of Story.

    • The problem with your post is SB tried to move down to the lower little 4 and play schools more their size. Guess what two schools blocked it by going to the NCS meeting down south….. Yep Eureka and Ferndale along with good old boy Jack Lakin.

      • SB, being a private school, has an unfair advantage against public schools their size, as they’ve demonstrated for years.

    • That is wrong Joe, the HDNL decided to make this new alignment based on the fact SB has built a successful program over the years. It is not SB choice by any means, they have no JV team for the past 2 years. They have a total of 25 players made up of all classes, Freshmen through Senior.

      Not equitable in any league, besides as i have pointed out, a league is based on school size, never school record.

  2. Hey Gene,your trying to stir things up by giving Eureka,Ferndale, and Jack Lakin too much power. The division line-up is set by an NCS formula. Know you facts.

    • Football Fan, the NCS sets the line-up for the end of year playoffs, they have nothing to do with the way league is set for HDNL. Gene is spot on, the HDNL sets the league and the HDNL Board is composed of 3 members, two of which are Lakins,…Charley and Jack, sorry but truth is both have strong ties to Ferndale.

      Furthermore, Ferndale won the Little 4 for much longer than this current streak by SB, but at no time, never were they forced to play in a higher league (Big 5).

      Bottom line, this is not sustainable over the long term, all teams have runs they go through. Difference is this time SB is being penalized for being successful and Ferndale, Eureka, and HDNL Board is making it so.

  3. With such a small league, it seems some team is always dealt an unfair hand. SB doesn’t fit comfortably in B4 nor L4, by either their size or their record. I suspect that the H-DNL made a tough decision that they weren’t happy with, either!

    • Joe, don’t bet on it….the 3 Board members of the HDNL are made up of two Lakins, Jack and Charley both of which have strong historic ties to Ferndale, the other is from Fortuna High (Senestaros).
      Ferndale won the Little 4 for close to or more than 10 years in a row, and was never required to play in a different league. Remember also, SB is the smallest school in both the Little 4 and the Big 5. This is the way the teams were arranged in the past and should continue, bottom line, league is determined on school size not the win vs. loss record.
      The HDNL is handling this poorly, and this is not sustainable.

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