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Catch him if you can: Seward is Offensive MVP
The depression weighing down the Seward family on game day, hours before the son's first start at running back, was consuming the father the most. His boy, the one they called "Rookie," the underclassmen with all the potential was getting his shot at varsity on the worst possible Friday.
That night, Dad would be bounding away from the stadium lights at 35,000 feet, heading off to the desert for six months. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rick Seward would miss the entire season.
Derick Seward's football roots differ. The place that helped mold his ability to run for 1,834 yards and 30 touchdowns for Wheatland High this season is an ocean away, on a field where the jarring spectacle of a C-130 on final approach was part of the game and practice stopped at 1700 hours for the daily flag salute. When playoffs rolled around, he was off to Guam, Seoul and Okinawa.
He arrived two years ago, a vagabond military brat who'd lived in Oklahoma, Maryland, Georgia and became a star for the Yakota High School Panthers, a Pacific Rim prep power outside Tokyo. When his dad was transferred to Beale, he expected the cliched, glam-filled California. He found Yuba County's ratio of livestock to beaches rather alarming.
"I saw all these cows and I was like, 'what's going on?'" said Derick Seward, the 2010 Appeal-Democrat All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
In Japan, he stood out early, earning a varsity nod in ninth grade. It led to that "Rookie" handle and the No. 23, a bottom of the pile jersey because he had last pick. Soon, though, he was making everyone look small and slow, leading to YouTube videos of his exploits and ink in Stars and Stripes.
"We knew that Derick was special even as a freshman because his work ethic at practice was superior to almost everyone, including our upperclassmen," his coach Timothy Pujol said in an e-mail. "He ran every drill as if he was trying to win a gold medal at it ... In addition, his speed and power were exceptional, and he displayed a lot of maturity and football I.Q. for a freshman."
On Friday, Wheatland coach Javier Lopez sat back in the Pirates' athletic office and echoed those sentiments. When the weight room was open, Seward was a stalwart, listening to 'Lil Wayne as he benched 300-plus. When the team depended on his big-play ability against Sutter, he rushed for a combined 301 yards and four touchdowns in two games.
With Seward's legs doing the heavy lifting, the Pirates won their first Butte View League title in 11 years and reached the Northern Section Division II title game. In the aftermath of those triumphs over the Huskies, he was lauded as the hero, riding off on the shoulder pads of his lineman. When he arrived at Wheatland during the second semester of his sophomore year, the whole Sutter vs. Wheatland rivalry confused him. Why was there so much hype and passion?
He became the center of it all.
Afterward, he pushed aside the praise. Sure, he worked so hard for those 13-12 and 30-6 victories, especially after the Huskies shut him down as a junior. Sure, all those 6-mile runs down Arboga road in the summer heat and daily viewings of game film on his laptop had allowed him to be an integral cog in ending the Pirates' futility.
Instead, he thanked his boys. He rhapsodized about his teammates, who became his best buddies, who he went to Primetime Pizza and the weekly team dinners with. He empathized for those who graduated a year earlier and couldn't bask in the cold, rainy celebrations at John Sohrakoff Jr. Field.
"He's just so humble," Lopez said.
Seward's cross-hemisphere transition, from one of the most densely populated areas on earth to a town of 4,000 took about as long as it takes him to sprint the 200 meters for the Pirates' track team. Wheatland High is full of Air Force families, which helped draw Shawn, Derick's mom and Rick to pick it as their kids' school.
Shawn, a veteran herself, met Rick when both were stationed in Germany. He was playing for the base football team and she was a cheerleader. They became enamored with the charm of small-town football over the last few seasons, though their favorite moment didn't come in Yuba County.
It came three years ago on that depression-marred game day. Rick, a communications expert, was supposed to set off for Qatar. A typhoon delayed his flight and he was able to watch Derick start his first game.
"Four touchdowns and 200 some crazy yards," said Rick, his smile growing larger than the sergeant's chevrons on his shoulder. "He just destroyed them."
As impressive as his All-Area junior campaign was, Maxwell High quarterback Tyler Wells' farewell tour as a senior in 2010 was just ridiculous.
He's a fantasy football junkie's dream. The lanky southpaw threw for 2,529 yards and owned a passer rating of 117.
As the pilot of Robert Wilson's spread offense attack, Wells threw 33 touchdown passes compared to nine picks with a .577 completion percentage.
When he wasn't torching Mid-Valley defenses with his left arm, Wells rushed for 708 yards and another 10 scores.
They are video game numbers, but the biggest stat is one. He is the only quarterback in the area to win a section championship.
A couple of backs, very familiar to the Appeal's All-Area football team, are back representing both sides of the Feather River.
Yuba City fullback Taylor Rowe was the Appeal's Offensive Player of the Year in '09 and was a very close second to Seward in 2010.
Rowe amassed 1,641 rushing to go with 21 touchdowns for the Honkers.
MVP of the TCC, Rowe's power running style combined with great speed trounced opposing defenses all season.
On the other side of the bridge is Marysville tailback Michael Barabin.
With sophomore bruiser Cole Hannum taking some of the load off, Barabin was able to play the entire season without injury and dominate the Golden Empire League.
He was named GEL MVP with 1,365 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. He was also a stud on defense with 118 total tackles.
Though the Mid-Valley is known for its run-oriented programs, three individuals stood out as the top targets in the area.
Tyler Wells had great numbers, but somebody had to catch all those passes — insert Steven Perry.
An All-Area receiver in 2009, Perry surpassed his junior-season output by catching 56 balls this year for 1,083 yards — the only Mid-Valley receiver to do so. He caught 12 touchdown passes and defensively, had eight interceptions.
Gridley failed to make the postseason, but the Bulldogs have to feel optimisitc with Kevin Mattos coming back.
The junior tallied 33 catches for 640 yards and four touchdowns.
Though Rowe grabbed the headlines, the Honkers' passing game flourished because of senior Max Flores.
Flores made 21 receptions and totaled 534 yards for the Honkers. He caught six touchdown passes and rushed for another, including two touchdown receptions in the Honkers' playoff victory over Lincoln.
The "skill" position players get the glory, but nothing happens for them without the work done in the trenches by the boys up front.
Seward's season would not have been as prolific had it not been for his 6-foot-3, 285-pound tackle Mike Simpson opening up the holes for him.
The senior was a human bulldozer and kept Jon Millington on his feet all season.
Yuba City averaged 280 yards rushing per game thanks to junior Christian Diaz, a first-team All-TCC performer.
The Wing-T offense relies heavily on deception and offensive lineman must execute assignments to perfection, especially a pulling guard.
Sutter senior guard Tyler Neisen epitomized this and was an All-BVL and All-Northern Section standout for the Huskies.
The Barabin/Hannum ground assault was led by guard Lennox Jacobson, a first-feam, All-GEL lineman.
A senior, Jacobson was the anchor of an offensive line that led the Indians to more than 300 yards of offense per game.
Out of all the players Brandon Asher coached this season, he said his starting center, junior Anthony Boykin, has the talent to play at the next level.
A 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, Boykin was so versatile that Asher was able to move him to tackle when the Falcons went to a spread attack in the Mayor's Cup.
With many high school football teams lacking in numbers, some individuals are asked to go both ways and despite the sideaches and little breaks they receive, excel at multiple positions.
The biggest part of Williams' turnaround from a 1-9 campaign in '09 was senior Carlos Velazquez — a bulldog in every sense of the word.
He split time at quarterback and running back whenever Dan McDonald asked him. He threw for 1,397 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also rushed for five scores.
Defensively, Velasquez tallied 70 tackles at safety and also picked off two passes.
Yet another explosive talent on a stacked Yuba City squad, senior Bernell Barmore was a Reggie Bush-like weapon in the Honkers' offense.
He lined up in the backfield next to Rowe, split out as a wide receiver and defensively was a ball-hawk at safety.
Barmore ended the year with 700 yards rushing and seven scores, 341 yards receiving with another three touchdown catches. He had three interceptions to go with two sacks and 39 tackles on defense.
The high-flying aerial attack garnered much of the attention, yet Maxwell junior tailback Brett Cabral had the third-best rushing output of any player in the Mid-Valley.
Cabral amassed 1,565 yards on the ground, averaging 11 yards per clip. His 18 touchdowns were also third in the Mid-Valley.
At defensive back, Cabral nabbed five interceptions, made 80 tackles and two quarterback sacks.