High Hopes and Expectations for Hornets Football


Brett Huser, Reporter

After a very unusual, compressed season last Spring, the Novato High varsity football team is currently back in action and in the midst of a full 10-game season. Coming off of a promising 2-2 record last season with the majority of the team composed of varsity returners for this year, the Hornets have high hopes for their current campaign.

It has been a sigh of relief for all Marin County football programs to return to normalcy and play a complete season at the proper time of year. Unlike last season, teams now have the freedom to play in non-conference matches, league games, as well as county, sectional, and state playoff games. All of these games can be played in front of full crowds of fans, which is what high school football should always look like. Although there are still some lingering concerns and precautions being taken regarding the pandemic, circumstances for the current season have been promising, as the rollout of vaccines continues to progress, and COVID cases are gradually decreasing. If all goes as planned, the MCAL (Marin County Athletic League) is set to have a smooth and exciting football season this Fall.

Novato’s head coach for this season is former Hornet standout, Amil Hall. Hall has plenty of experience with the Novato High football program, both as a player and coach. Hall stepped in as the interim head coach last Spring, as former head coach, Rich Torres, decided to step down from the position. Hall has been an assistant in the program for over two years now and has former coaching experience as the head coach of San Rafael High School. Hall is looking forward to taking over the program for years to come. 

“It has always been a dream of mine to come back here and coach, and to represent the black and gold,” said Hall. “I’m trying to build the program back to where it once was. My commitment is full, I’m here for the long run.” 

Hall emphasized that he is trying to improve the culture of Novato football, both throughout the program and the school. “I’m trying to change the Novato football culture, and to gain more interest on campus,” said Hall. “We have a lot of great athletes on campus that have no interest in playing football because they think the program stinks. We are trying to change that.”

Despite losing offensive lineman Frankie Petuya and wide receiver Dylan Burness, who both transferred to rival school San Marin, the Hornets return a solid roster containing a handful of exciting talents. Two promising players, in particular, are juniors Samaje Featherstone and Kai Patel, who will share the workload at running back and wide receiver. The Hornets run game and offensive weapons are considered to be the biggest strengths of the team.

One of the biggest issues for the Hornets may be their small roster size and lack of depth. The Hornets only have about 30 players on their roster, whereas most teams have 40-50 players. As a result, many players will have to play both ways (offense and defense). This could result in players getting fatigued throughout games, which can poorly affect their performance and increase the risk of injury. Coach Hall will have to utilize the versatility of his players, with many of them expected to play two or even three positions throughout games. 

Coach Hall acknowledged that the small roster size will definitely bring some challenges, but believes his team can still compete at a high level every single game. 

“When I was at San Rafael and we went undefeated, we only had 26 players. You’ve just gotta work with what you got,” said Hall. 

Coach Hall plans to possibly redevelop a Novato youth football program, which was once a successful program that unfortunately fell apart about 7 years ago. He believes that a youth program will offer a great game experience for future players, and help prepare them for high school football. He also mentioned the idea of creating a flag football league. 

“It may be the only way to replenish numbers,” Hall explained.

The Hornets have two quarterbacks, senior JJ Moreno, and junior Jakob Peterson, who will likely be splitting time under center throughout the season. Peterson was the starter for the majority of last season as a sophomore. Moreno has been given the early nod as the primary quarterback for this season so far. Moreno has a strong arm and has the ability to make plays with his speed as well.

The Hornets will also be led by some key defensive players, including junior defensive lineman Charlie Onorato, junior linebacker Hunter Smith, and junior defensive back Connor Mulvaney. 

“We will probably have the smallest roster in the league, but we have so many players that can hit hard,” said Mulvaney. “I trust everyone on our defense to lay a hit on someone.” 

Novato has a solid special teams unit, led by senior kicker Jose Martinez. Martinez is coming off of an impressive junior season, in which he was very consistent and converted a few field goals from 40-plus yards out.

Novato started their season with a 55-3 loss on the road against a very tough Montgomery team. “Going into the Montgomery game, we knew we were going to be outsized, and that we’d have to play hard and hustle,” said Mulvaney. “We were able to start out strong, but then we started to get tired due to low numbers. We ran out of gas by the second half.”

This game allowed the Hornets to wipe off some rust and make some adjustments heading into the next game. After a good week of practice, the Hornets were able to bounce back the following weekend with a whopping 34-0 win over Kennedy High School. The Hornets were led by Featherstone, who finished with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Patel added two rushing touchdowns as well, and Mulvaney had an impressive one-handed interception which he returned for a touchdown. 

“It was huge to get that big win over Kennedy,” said Hall. “The reason that we were so poor when we went out to Montgomery was that we had no scrimmage and no game experience. We didn’t even have enough guys to qualify for a scrimmage.”

Hall reflected on the adjustments his team made in between the two games. “The Montgomery game allowed me to see what was wrong, and make some needed adjustments. In practice, we went to a completely new offense and a completely new defense, and it showed by the way these guys played against Kennedy,” Hall explained.

Novato wrapped up their non-conference play with an away game against Las Lomas High, one of the best teams in the Bay Area. The Hornets put up a good fight but were ultimately shut out, 49-0.

The Hornets will now kick off the MCAL regular season with a game against Redwood on September 25th. Some notable games to look forward to on the schedule are the “City Championship” game at San Marin under the newly-installed lights, the Homecoming game against Terra Linda, and Senior Day in which the Hornets will host Archie Williams High to finish out the season. 

With a healthy squad avoiding any injury or COVID-related setbacks, the Hornets are set to have a successful first official season under Coach Hall.