A special tribute to a special team

It was a grand production featuring close to a hundred stars, a strong supporting cast, guest celebrities and a truckload of gifts and awards. Befitting a blockbuster, it was also long, running almost four hours from a start delayed momentarily while celebrants watched concluding scenes of a preliminary reality show involving the San Francisco 49ers striving for survival on the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wis. The Casa Grande High School football team was worthy of the effort, the accolades and every minute of the time it took to bring to a celebratory conclusion the greatest football season in the school's history.

The epilogue to the 2013 Casa Grande gridiron saga will continue to be written over the next several weeks as the team's stars announce plans to continue their education and athletic careers at various colleges and universities across the country, but, for the majority, a season for the ages was bought to a conclusion Sunday evening at the Casa Grande Football Awards Banquet. It was the 24th annual dinner and celebration for Casa football players, but this one, like the team, was special. The 2013 Casa Grande team won more games than any other football team in the school's history. All 13 of the Gauchos' wins during a 13-1 season came in succession. No other Casa team had won more than five in a row. The streak included seven wins in a perfect run to the North Bay league championship. It was the first football title in the NBL for the Gauchos after a dominating run of titles in the Sonoma County League.

There were a multitude of individual awards along the way. Of the five special awards given out by the NBL coaches, four went to Gauchos. This is in addition to coach Trent Herzog's selection as the league's Coach of the Year. There are five starting positions on a team's offensive line. Six Gaucho linemen received some sort of all-league recognition. For the first time that I can remember (I'm sure its happened before), a local team had a player selected to the San Francisco Chronicle's All-Metro first team and Casa had two -#8212; JaJuan Lawson and John Porchivina. In addition, Miles Gardea was placed on the second team and Daniel Greisen and Matt Abramo received honorable mention.

The Gaucho fame spread beyond Petaluma. David Rabbitt, president of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and a Petaluma resident, presented resolutions of commendation from the supervisors to each varsity player.

Ron Walters, Petaluma's legendary radio announcer and friend to all, especially three generations of local athletes, served as master of ceremonies. For Walters, the occasion was doubly special. Not only is he a fan of all sports things Casa Grande (actually, all sports things Petaluma, period) but his grandson is Gardea, the best defensive football player in the Redwood Empire. Through his grandson, Walters has watched many of this year's varsity Gauchos grow from Little Leaguers into varsity football champions. He also brought an institutional knowledge to the proceedings. Who else would have recalled that current Casa coach Trent Herzog, the NBL's Coach of the Year, used to be called "The Toe" for his kicking prowess?

Walters noted that "It takes a village to put together a program like this." That observation was readily apparent as Herzog handed out gifts to a long list of special people who where involved in the success of this year's team, thanking people from the public address announcers to the Boosters, stat girls, and many others.

I can't mention each of those who helped without running over into next month's Argus, but I do want to specifically acknowledge videographer Ken Han of Videos for You, who put together an excellent highlight video that was shown at the dinner and a copy given to each player, and photographer Sumner Fowler. Fowler takes photos for the Argus-Courier, but much more than that, he takes photos for the players and their families. Throughout the season, he gives exceptional photos to the players and the families and all are free to pick and choose photos from his web site. A small sampling of his work adorned Herzog Hall at the dinner. In addition, each varsity player who received a special award was presented with a plaque featuring him in an action photo shot by Fowler.

It also was apparent that the players, as talented as they are, didn't become champions by themselves. They had a lot of good coaching, not only in football skills, but in life fundamentals as well. It begins with Herzog, who has put his heart and soul into the Gaucho program, but he has also had the good sense to hire a bevy of knowledgeable assistants. It would be unfair to single any out here, because there isn't space to give proper credit to all, but Herzog did mention and appropriately credit each at the dinner.

Much has already been written about awards and honors given the Gauchos, but the awards handed out Sunday night were special because they came from the people that truly know them -#8212; their coaches.

Varsity awards went to: Special Teams Player of the Year Matt Abramo, Coaches Award winner Casey Longaker, Gaucho Award winner Brad Freitas, Back of the Year Cody Hughson, Offensive Lineman of the Year Brendan Jackson, Defensive Lineman of the Year Greisen, Lineman of the Year Alex Runge, Defensive Player of the Year Gardea and Offensive Player of the Year Porchivina.

In what was absolutely no surprise, Lawson was the team Most Valuable Player. "If he is not the best player ever to play at Casa, he's the most important," Herzog said.

The future of Gaucho football was also recognized with introductions and awards for junior varsity and freshmen players.

Junior varsity awards went to: Most Valuable Player Andrew Floerke, Offensive Players of the Year Nic Petri and JJ Anderson, Lineman of the Year Tony Perez, Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Lowe and Gaucho Award winner Jose Barajas.

Freshman awards were presented to Linemen of the Year Brian Kolodin and Quinton Gago, Offensive Player of the Year Spencer Torkelson, Defensive Player of the Year Max Cerini, Gaucho Award winner AJ Cole and Most Valuable Player Charley Baldwin.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)