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It’s not always WHO YOU KNOW: The lesser-known stars of Del Oro’s football program have been vital to its state bowl trek

By: Ike Dodson of the Auburn Journal
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CIF State 1-A Football Bowl Championship

Del Oro (13-2) vs. San Clemente (12-3)

When: Saturday, Dec. 17, 4 p.m.

Where: Hornet Stadium, Sacramento State

Tickets: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Students $10

Parking: Autos $10, RVs $25

Ticket Pre-Sale: www.tikatap.com

On TV: CSNCA

Del Oro’s best catch in last week's CIF NorCal football bowl game didn’t come from the human highlight reel, aka Mason Hurst.

That honor belongs to the No. 2 option in Del Oro’s receiving corps, who toed a microscopic stretch of turf along the west sideline and seemed to stretch his 5-foot, 11-inch frame to the snack bar for a pivotal first-down grab.

So who was this footballerina who extended another Golden Eagles drive?

It’s not that easy to remember or pronounce his name.

Hurst insists it’s a guy named “Pag-loo-sha,” but quarterback Stone Smartt swears that it was “Pag-loo-she-ah” who made the catch.

They are both wrong. It was Justin Pagluica (Paga-lu-sha).

He’s one of several players who has played remarkably throughout the state bowl run, albeit without the stardom that has followed others.

With Saturday’s 4 p.m. state bowl showdown with San Clemente looming, the Journal has compiled a breakdown of the Golden Eagle heroes that you know, and their counterparts that you may not know.

You know Mason Hurst, who went viral for his 2015 catch vids and scored the “mannequin challenge” two-point conversion that was televised on ESPN’s Monday Night Football coverage. He’s being recruited by Hawaii and Nevada, among others.

You may not know Justin Pagluica, a sure-handed third-down target for quarterback Stone Smartt. He’s second on the team in receptions (24), receiving yards (362) and receiving touchdowns (four), and has done his best work in the playoffs, amassing 12 catches for 172 yards in the past five weeks.

His numbers aren’t outrageous, but he converted two big first downs in the Sac-Joaquin Section title game and he’s a reliable second option when Hurst is blanketed downfield.

“Justin is a big program guy who didn’t get his chance until this year, and has really flourished,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said. “He’s been a great team guy who is getting his opportunity.

“He is a good blocker and has great hands, a move-the-chains guy.”

You know Hunter Halverson, ranked fifth at 220 pounds for CIF wrestling. He returned a fumble 71 yards for a touchdown in the SJS finale and had two sacks in the semifinals. First team All-SFL and honorable mention all-section, Halverson also plays on Del Oro’s offensive line.

You may not know Israel Luna, the relentless heartbeat of Del Oro’s defensive line. Luna has a tenacious motor and sheds blocks like they are the chip on his shoulder that he is brushing off.

Luna is fourth in tackles (62) and leads Del Oro in both tackles for loss (25) and sacks (13). He has been fantastic lately, logging 4.5 postseason sacks and eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with a forced fumble.

“Luna has been tremendous all year long,” Taylor said. “He is a three-year starter that plays a little tight end and fullback on offense.”

You know Dalton Heryford, the fabled four-year varsity player on Del Oro’s offensive line. He was pulled up for the playoffs the same year the “Harlem Shake” went viral and has anchored the Golden Eagles O-line ever since. Heryford was a first-team All-SFL pick this year.

You may not know Jack Beeman, who played sparingly as a junior, but has emerged into big-time talent for coach Taylor’s squad. At 6-4, 265 pounds, Beeman is a hulking presence on Del Oro’s offensive line.

He has the strength and footwork to hold back Del Oro’s greatest opposition and earned SFL second-team recognition this year.

Taylor said he has the tools to play on Saturdays.

“He has been a great one for us and played tremendous this year,” Taylor said. “ He’s a big guy and we hoped he would turn into a solid starter. He’s an all-league type of player.”

You know Mason’s brother, Dawson Hurst, and Ray Thomas, who have made big plays for the Del Oro defense all season. Thomas, one of the heroes of 2015, is No. 2 in sacks (7.5) despite playing in just eight of 15 games this year. Dawson Hurst returns kicks, has two interceptions (one last week) and forced three fumbles.

You may not know Andrew Birch and Cade White, the tackling workhorses for Del Oro’s defense. These two fly to the football. Birch has 110 tackles, 176.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and a blocked punt. Despite missing two games, White has 89 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks.

These guys are a big reason why Del Oro has outscored 2016 foes 641-254.

“Cade is our middle linebacker and calls out stuff, like the quarterback of our defense,” Taylor said. “Andrew is a junior who has started all year and is our leading tackler. He stepped up when Cade was hurt.”

You know head coach Casey Taylor and defensive coordinator Steve Birch, who have garnered fame for Del Oro’s outrageous modern-day playoff success. Del Oro has won six section titles for Taylor in 12 years and Birch was awarded the title of 2015 Northern California Assistant Coach of the Year by the California Coaches Association.

You may not know offensive line coach Ben Gazzaniga, defensive line coach Bill Sherman, character coaches Greg Krieger and Jason Harper and running back coach Josh Perry. Gazzaniga and Sherman are the reason why Del Oro dominates the trenches on both sides of the ball. Krieger and Harper assist Taylor in hosting team dinners, leadership exercises and guest speakers.

“Those guys are really involved in character development and they do a tremendous job with the culture and chemistry of our team,” Taylor said. “The big secret to our success is committing to giving the kids life lessons.”

Perry, a former NFL fullback for the Eagles and Seahawks, touts a remarkable achievement. His Del Oro running backs have not lost one fumble throughout the entire 15-game season.