Lena Zentgraf of the East Bay Athletic Club joins Connor to discuss bumping Marshawn Lynch off Oakland Tech's field, founding the East Bay Athletic Club, watching the College Lacrosse Final Four and much more.
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
It was a week before Christmas, 2014 and Chris Seisay didn’t have a worry in the world. The redshirt freshman was a backup defensive back on arguably the greatest football team in University of Oregon history. The Ducks were coming off a 51-13 thrashing of Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship at Levi’s Stadium to cap off a 12-1 regular season. In a matter of days, he and his teammates would be heading down to Beverly Hills to prepare for the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. The two men he was backing up, both seniors, were surefire NFL draft picks. Marcus Mariota was at quarterback. Oregon was favored in Vegas. Seemingly nothing could go wrong.
“Then I look up, during a routine drill in practice, and I have half the coaching staff staring at me,” explains Seisay, outside a coffee shop near his home in the North Bay on a recent afternoon. “‘You ready?’ they all said. And I was like, ‘Ready for what? Yeah of course I’m ready.’ Then I look over and see our All-American first-round draft pick Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the ground with a dislocated knee. It was crazy. Before he was even off the field they were asking me if I was ready to go.”
At the time, you couldn’t blame head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff for reaching for the panic button with Ekpre-Olomu rolling in pain on the Eugene practice turf. The injury to the star who had led the Oregon defense all year instantly created a gaping hole in the Ducks’ secondary that needed immediate filling. Especially with a defending Heisman Trophy winner looming on the other side of the ball in Florida State’s Jameis Winston. A quarterback who had never lost in college up to that point. An unblemished 26-0 as a starter.
“Next thing you know, like a day after the news broke of the injury, I start getting blown up on Twitter and Instagram by all kinds of Florida State fans. People coming out of nowhere telling me I was gonna get torched by Jameis. How I had no shot. I had to delete my social media for two weeks,” explained Seisay with his customary smile.
As if starting as a freshman in the Rose Bowl against a Heisman caliber QB wasn’t enough, consider that this was the first year of the BCS playoff system, and Alabama and Ohio State were on the other side of the four-team bracket. The Rose Bowl’s cliche nickname, “The Granddaddy of Them All” was now even bigger. All Seisay had time to think about was “Man, just don’t let my receiver find the endzone.”
Drawing on the guidance of his senior wingman Troy Hill, who is now with the LA Rams, Seisay and the Ducks wound up holding Winston and Florida State to just 20 points in a 39-point triumph over the Seminoles. Oregon would force five turnovers on the evening, snapping FSU’s 26-game win streak and sending the Ducks to their second national title game in school history. Seisay was not only ready, but he shined. He was a legitimate shut-down corner now. Nobody stopped Jameis Winston in college. Until he and the Ducks managed to lock him down in Pasadena.
Eleven days later, Oregon would face Urban Meyer and Ohio State at Jerry’s World in Dallas for the National Title. Seisay tallied seven tackles on the night, but it wasn’t enough. Not with Ezekiel Elliott rumbling for four touchdowns on the ground. The Buckeyes won the first playoff title in college football, but the future couldn’t have been any brighter for Seisay. He had arrived on the biggest stage in college football and delivered, twice.
Long before Seisay ever arrived on football’s national stage in a loud green Oregon Duck jersey, he showed up in American Canyon, California during elementary school, by way of bordering city Vallejo. Before 1992, American Canyon hadn’t been incorporated as a city yet. They wouldn’t even have a high school built until 2010. When he moved into town, Seisay essentially had no idea where he’d end up for high school, but that didn’t stop him from falling in love with the game of football at a young age.
“Both of my parents are from Sierra Leone in West Africa,” explains Seisay. “So they weren't too fond of American football, but my brothers Emmanuel and Malcolm really got me into sports. They had me playing everything in the backyard. Baseball, basketball, you name it. They were always testing me athletically.”
As a fifth grader, Seisay was an unstoppable force on the blacktops of American Canyon, linking up for touchdown after touchdown with his buddies. “This was before Snapchat, so yeah, we just played outside all the time to be honest,” he says.
By the time he entered middle school, a local Pop Warner team, the American Canyon Patriots, were recruiting him hard to come play wide receiver. Even reserving Jerry Rice’s #80 for him. Whatever would help convince his mom to let him put on the pads. Finally, it worked, and within a year, Seisay was hooked. By 8th grade, he followed his friend Chad Miller to the Vallejo Generals Pop Warner program and created a duo that had both towns buzzing. Miller, who now plays for San Jose State, made Seisay his favorite target, riding him all the way to a national tournament in Las Vegas. By this time, every high school coach in the greater North Bay yearned for Seisay’s athleticism, knowing his hometown hadn’t built him a high school yet.
“I looked into a lot of different high schools,” says Seisay. Vallejo High, Saint Patrick-St. Vincent, even De La Salle, but I wound up getting bussed up to Vintage in Napa. That’s what all the kids in my area were doing, so I just went with it. It turned out to be a really fun experience up there.”
After starring as a two-way player on Vintage’s JV squad, American Canyon High School was finally finished. His mother Princess, still lukewarm on the whole idea of tackle football, insisted he stay close to home. Seisay hated the idea, but obeyed her wishes anyway.
“That’s when I met coach Mac,” Seisay remembers with a huge smile on his face. “Ian MacMillan, the best coach I’ve ever had. Period.”
With only freshman and sophomores enrolled on the brand-new campus, American Canyon only could field a JV team that year, and MacMillan was the head man. Seisay was an instant star and immediately hit it off with his new coach/math teacher. Teams like Vallejo, Fairfield and Benicia figured to dominate them, but somehow that wasn’t the case. American Canyon was competitive right away. Coach Mac made sure of it.
As a junior, Seisay led a team devoid of any seniors to wins over Piedmont and Vallejo. The next year, Seisay led the school’s first graduating class to a record of 11-2, including two playoff victories. Seisay was a force on both sides of the ball, recording 92 tackles on defense and 11 touchdowns as a wide receiver. Coach Mac relentlessly sent out highlight videos of his senior star to the biggest programs in college football. Almost everyone liked what they saw.
“For whatever reason, during high school I decided my dream school was Boise State,” says Seisay. “I guess it was the blue turf, the Bronco logo, the uniforms, everything. Every time I played NCAA football on Playstation, I played with Boise.”
And after turning heads at a camp in Idaho in front of head coach Chris Peterson, Boise is where he thought he was headed to play in real life. That is until he stepped foot on campus at the U of O. When Chip Kelly calls, you listen, regardless of what team you grew up playing video games with.
In his first year at Oregon in 2009, Kelly immediately took the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. The next year, he had them in the national title game versus Auburn. Then in 2011 Oregon won the Rose Bowl and finally in 2012 they won the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon was literally a machine at that point and they were asking Seisay to help anchor their defense. He couldn’t say no.
Upon his arrival, however, Seisay would find himself with more unexpected change in his life. Chip Kelly took the Philadelphia Eagles job, leaving Mark Helfrich in his place. Even with Kelly gone, the Ducks were destined for success with Hawaiian wonder-kid Mariota under center, leading them to the national title game, while winning the Heisman. The post-Mariota Era was not so kind, however.
Seisay remembers the night in East Lansing, Michigan all too well. With a new quarterback at the helm for Oregon, it was up to a young Duck defense to hold down Connor Cook’s Michigan State offense in a hostile road environment. Toward the end of the first half, Seisay went in for a tackle. When he came out of the play, he felt something tear in his left ankle. Without Seisay in the Ducks’ secondary, Oregon went on to lose by three points. A chance at a repeat trip to the national title was all but lost. Seisay was devastated.
For the next eight games, he watched from the sidelines, nursing an ankle that was slow to heal. The secondary he was supposed to be mentoring from the field was left to struggle, mired in silly mistakes due to inexperience. The Oregon staff kept asking if he was ready, but this time he wasn’t. At least not soon enough.
By the time Seisay fully returned to health, the Ducks found themselves in the Alamo Bowl against TCU. At half, Oregon was up 31-0. Then the nightmare started. TCU had nine possessions in the second half, and they scored on every single one, eventually beating Oregon in overtime.
“I’ve played a lot of games in my life,” recalls Seisay. “But man, that had to be the worst ever. Still can’t believe that went down.”
The bad taste of the season stuck with Seisay throughout the spring and into the summer. Eventually, he decided he needed a change of scenery and longed to return to his boyhood position at wide receiver, so he went for it.
“Portland State had always wanted me as a wide receiver out of high school,” explains Seisay. “I was at the point of my career where I wanted to have fun again playing football. I knew if I went to Portland I wouldn’t have to sit out a year. I could score touchdowns at receiver and be healthy on the field again.”
Of course, the unexpected always seems to follow Seisay’s football career, and this endeavor proved no different. After two games on offense, a slew of team injuries forced Seisay to accept a role back on the Portland State defense. He happily obliged, leading a secondary that proved to be a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy 3-8 season. The following year was an even tougher road for the Vikings. After two close losses to BYU and Oregon State where Seisay shined, the wheels fell off completely, as the program wound up going winless last year.
Since graduating from Portland State with a Social Science degree in the winter, Seisay has been back in the Bay Area training for the next step in his football career: the NFL. He doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the challenge. For the past four years he’s run in the same circles of all the top rated defensive backs on this year’s draft board including Derwin James of Florida State, Isaiah Oliver of Colorado and Denzel Ward of Ohio State. Looking at these guys on tape and evaluating their combine numbers, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and Seisay. With a 4.4 40-time and a 38 inch vertical, he’s every bit as athletic as your typical NFL defensive back. And at 6’1”, it wouldn’t be a stretch to compare him to some of the taller corners around the league such as recently introduced 49er Richard Sherman.
On April 12th, Seisay was in Alameda at the Oakland Raiders’ practice facility working out for Jon Gruden. Sources close to the Silver & Black reported that Chuckie was impressed. And if he’s looking for recent Portland State success stories, he doesn’t have to look any further than DeShawn Shead of the Lions and Xavier Coleman on the Jets, both of which recently came out of the Vikings’ program.
“To be honest, I’m not really worried about what is going to happen on draft night. I’ve put up good stats for four years and played against a lot of NFL caliber quarterbacks. I’m comfortable with what I did on my pro day. I have faith that I’ll get my shot. Then it’s up to me to run with it,” says Seisay.
If and when Seisay gets his name called by an NFL team, he’ll have the whole city of American Canyon rooting for him, including an unknown high school that he helped get off the ground.
By the time I wrap up my discussion with Seisay in American Canyon, we’ve been interrupted twice by well-wishers, members of the community that couldn’t help but stop over to say hello to the Chris they’ve watched grow up and since followed on national television. “See man, there’s support in this city,” says Seisay as he continues our debate of the relative merits of Vallejo legends such as Mac Dre, E-40 and CC Sabathia.
“You gonna make it?” asks one particular passerby.
“Man I hope so,” responds a smiling Seisay.
“Well I think you are.”
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
Right around the turn of the millennium, in a couple of poorly lit gyms in the all-Jesuit West Coast Conference, the programs at St. Mary's College and Gonzaga University found a spark. For Gonzaga, the fire was found under coach Dan Monson, who was hired in Spokane in 1997. In just two seasons, Monson (assisted by Mark Few) laid the groundwork for an unforgettable run in the 1999 NCAA tournament behind the leadership of Matt Santangelo and Casey Calvary along with the sweet shooting of Richie Frahm.
For Moraga, the flame was lit by Ernie Kent, who rode "Big Continent" Brad Millard and David Sivulich to an NCAA tournament birth in 1997 where they would face off with Tim Duncan and Wake Forest.
By the fall of 2001, both the Zags and Gaels had welcomed in new coaches with the inflated dreams of somehow turning their tiny schools into major stalwarts of college basketball. With Mark Few at the helm at Gonzaga, and Randy Bennett at St. Mary's, basketball fans have been treated to a steady rise in both programs. Every year, the two schools play each other at least twice and usually a third time in the WCC tournament championship. The rivalry, once lopsided and predictable, has turned into what announcers love calling, "the best college basketball rivalry on the west coast."
For roughly the last 20 years, both Few and Bennett have recruited some of the most colorful, fun-to-watch players in the world to come to their campuses and battle it out for the all-important WCC automatic bid each year. Section925 decided to take a look back and compile and "All-Time Team" that has played for each coach. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Randy Bennett's Saint Mary's Gaels
1. Matthew Dellavedova
2. Mickey McConnell
3. Patty Mills
4. Omar Samhan
5. Jock Landale
1. Daniel Kickert
2. Adam Caporn
3. E.J. Rowland
4. Diamon Simpson
5. Paul Marigney
6. Stephen holt
7. Emmett Naar
Mark Few's Gonzaga Bulldogs
1. Matt Santangelo
2. Kevin Pangos
3. Adam Morrison
4. Ronny Turiaf
5. Przemek Karnowski
1. Dan Dickau
2. Casey Calvary
3. Robert Sacre
4. Nigel Williams-Goss
5. Derek Raivio
6. Kelly Olynk
7. Richie Frahm
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
The biggest game on the west coast this week will undoubtedly take place inside the sweaty bandbox that is McKeon Pavilion on the bucolic campus of Saint Mary's College. The 7pm tip on ESPN2 will likely feature a Saint Mary's team gunning for an unprecedented 20th straight win (assuming a Thursday night victory at LMU) versus a Gonzaga team coming off last year's run to the National Championship game. Their first meeting up in Spokane earlier this year was a back and forth affair that eventually ended in the Gaels' favor 74-71, but not before 22 lead changes took place inside the Kennel. On Saturday, the two titans of the West Coast Conference will trade blows in round 2 of their season series.
If you don't already have a ticket to Saturday's game and find yourself browsing StubHub at the last minute, you'll see there's nothing on the market for less than $100. The rivalry has gotten so big that one could argue it's cheaper and easier to find a ticket to see the world champion Warriors inside Oracle Arena than it is to witness a Zags-Gaels tilt on a Saturday night.
Even in a season where Mark Few has been forced to replace three starters from a year ago, it goes without saying that he still expects to beat St. Mary's. Since they built a new arena and signed a splashy Nike sponsorship, the Zags have turned their attention to beating the blue bloods of college basketball including Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina. In the process, they've become a household name in college hoop themselves. A marquee team with name-brand value reaching across America and beyond.
During Randy Bennett's illustrious run as SMC's head coach, the Gaels have constantly been nipping at the Zags' heels, finishing in second place in the WCC nine times since 2004 and winning the league three times (tying for first twice). Never once, however, has St. Mary's been able to sweep all three games away from Gonzaga in a single season since Mark Few arrived in Spokane. Could this be the year where the Gaels finally break through and prove wire-to-wire supremacy over the Zags?
As long as Jock Landale is being fed the ball in the painted area, there's no reason to think the Gaels can't pull this off. The 6-11 senior has developed into a All-American candidate who averages 23 points a game and is virtually unguardable when he catches the ball near the basket. It doesn't hurt that his fellow Aussie countryman, Emmett Naar is currently second in the nation in assists with nine a game. (Oklahoma's Trae Young produces 9.7).
Purdue currently owns the nation's longest winning streak at 19 games, but by the time things tip off on Saturday, there's a good chance the Boilermakers will be upended by either Ohio State or Michigan State who they see on Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon, respectively. For the Gaels, waking up on Sunday morning with a nation-leading 20 game win steak would be quite the feat. A far cry from Bennett's first year on campus in 2002, a year in which he lost 20 games. Back then, ESPN cameras and $100 general admission tickets were unthinkable in Moraga. Somehow, we've reached that exact destination.
The 50th year of A's baseball in Oakland is fast approaching as players will be packing up their tools of the trade and heading down to Arizona for some Cactus League baseball starting next week. Below, Section925 outlines the projected starters at each position for the 2018 Athletics.
Designated Hitter: Khris Davis
Catcher: Bruce Maxwell
First Base: Matt Olson
Second Base: Jed Lowrie
Shortstop: Marcus Semien
Third Base: Matt Chapman
Left Field: Matt Joyce
Center Field: Dustin Fowler
Right Field: Stephen Piscotty
1. Kendall Graveman
2. Sean Manaea
3. Jharel Cotton
4. Daniel Mengden
5. Paul Blackburn
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
As is almost always the case, the St. Mary’s Gaels head into Thursday’s 6pm (ESPN) matchup at #13 Gonzaga knowing full well that the Zags are an outstanding team, bound for yet another NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gaels will get at least two shots at Mark Few's squad, if not a third in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. And if the lads from Moraga want to avoid having their bubble burst on Selection Sunday come mid-March, at least one win against their rival from the great Northwest is all but essential resume material.
Since 2001, Gonzaga has won the WCC regular season crown every single year, save for 2012. That’s the year the Gaels trotted out Matthew Dellavedova, Brad Waldow, Mitch Young, Clint Steindl, and Stephen Holt to counter Few’s college basketball mid-major machine. Not only did the Gaels win the regular season league title that year, but they also won the conference tournament in Vegas, outlasting the Zags in overtime. Something not even Omar Samhan can claim.
Coming off their best year in program history in which they narrowly lost to North Carolina in the National Championship Game, Gonzaga looks to be relatively vulnerable here in 2018, having lost three key starters from a year ago (Jordan Mathews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski). Returning starters include guard Josh Perkins and forward Jonathan Williams who are supported by Killian Tillie, Silas Melson, Rui Hachimura of Japan and Zach Norvell, a star freshman guard from Chicago.
Unlike St. Mary’s, Gonzaga has a tough non-conference schedule under their belt in addition to their undefeated WCC record thus far. Gonzaga’s three blemishes came to Villanova (currently #1 in America), Florida (in Double OT) and at San Diego State (certainly their worst lost). Meanwhile, Gonzaga has squared up with Ohio State, Texas, Creighton and Washington and beat them all, proving that a post Final Four hangover isn’t in the cards if that was what the rest of the WCC was hoping for.
An impressive six different Zag players score more than 10 points a game, making it tough for Randy Bennett to drill down during game planning. As usual, Gonzaga is good in all facets, with players that can beat you wherever you look.
That being said, St. Mary’s should have their best chance since 2012 of claiming the pole position in the WCC. Trusted point guard Joe Rahon is gone from last year’s team, but beside that, everyone is back, including Aussies Tanner Krebs, Emmett Naar and Jock Landale as well as Calvin Hermanson of Oregon and Jordan Ford from Sacramento. Ford has stepped up big as the Gaels new point guard, running an offense led by Landale who is perhaps the best player in the entire conference (see 21 points, 10 rebounds a game). Hermanson is a lethal 44% from beyond the arc, featuring a quintessential jump shot that is tough to guard. Meanwhile, Naar leads the team in assists by a huge margin with nine a game. Ford is second on the team with only two a game.
SMC comes into Thursday’s matchup with the best overall record in the league at 17-2, but that can be deceiving considering who’ve they played thus far. Beside Cal, the biggest name schools Bennett was able to schedule came in the Wooden Legacy Thanksgiving tournament held at Cal State Fullerton against Washington State of the Pac-12 and Georgia of the SEC. St. Mary's dropped both, albeit by a total of just seven points combined. As it stands today, the only ranked team the Gaels will play all year before the tournament will be 13th ranked Gonzaga. This will only make the stakes that much higher inside The Kennel.
Despite losing to Gonzaga all three times last year, Bennett’s Gaels managed to punch their ticket to the Big Dance and do damage by beating VCU and playing Arizona tough in the second round. But it’s not every year that the WCC will be a “two bid league” in the eyes of the Joe Lunardi’s of the world. Gonzaga has come back to earth and appear to be as beatable as they’ll ever be. Especially against a team as experienced and savvy as St. Mary’s. We’ll see if the Gaels can head inside The Kennel and silence the big dogs of the west coast. It promises to be as entertaining as ever.
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
The San Francisco Giants may have fallen short in the Giancarlo Stanton Mega Millions Sweepstakes in December, but since then, the club has acquired the face of two franchises, Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay and now Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh. Say what you will about the Giants being too old, or not hitting enough homers, but you have to hand it to their front office for doing everything in their power to put a winning product on the field each and every year. Especially this “even year” coming up in the spring of 2018.
Since being drafted out of a Florida high school in the first round of the 2005 draft, McCutchen or “Cutch” has spent nine years roaming the outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lifetime, McCutchen is a .291 hitter who averages 24 long balls a year. In 2018, advanced metrics predict him to provide 23 homers and a .268 average as a 31-year-old in SF.
From 2011 to 2015, McCutchen was a National League All-Star for five years in a row, finishing in the top five in MVP voting for four of those years. McCutchen was MVP in 2013, but his best year was arguably in 2012 when he scored 107 runs, hit .327, homered 31 times and stole 20 bases. Most recently in 2017, Cutch scored 94 runs, hit .279, homered 28 times and stole 11 bases.
It was no secret that the Giants desperately needed an outfielder who could hit for power and play good D, so it makes sense that they decided on McCuthen, but one has to wonder if this is enough to result in a deep playoff run for San Francisco.
The naysayers will point to the fact that McCutchen is north of 30 with a declining stat trend who will be a free agent in 2019 who will make $14.5 million in 2018. A Gold Glove winner in 2012, McCutchen’s defense is said to have dipped as of late, as evidenced by this demotion to right field in favor of Starling Marte last season, before Marte was lost to a PED suspension. Meanwhile, the exciting speed that McCutchen is known for has also dipped with age. Back in 2010, McCutchen was good for 33 stolen bags, while over the last two years (309 games), McCutchen was only able to swipe a total of 17 bases.
Similar to the narrative with 32-year old Evan Longoria, the Giants are clearly hoping that McCutchen benefits from a second-wind of sorts when he arrives in The City by the Bay. Both are superstar type players that have carried their franchises in the past. Both had breakout rookie years, have won Gold Gloves, put up MVP type numbers and been extremely durable. The question remains then, will these two stars shine bright yet again in 2018? AT&T will certainly be sold out to see first hand. They will have good reason to expect a winner.
Hyperlocal San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Steve Kroner comes inside the Section925 Hoop Cave to talk about his writing career, WCC basketball and the future of "Bay Area Big 6 Basketball" while reminiscing about Cal Football and his favorite Bay Area sports personalities.
The next superstar quarterback just might be coming up out of Oakland, California. His name is Safdar McCrary. The 13-year-old is the top dual-threat QB in California. He's already attracted attention from Division I college programs. But first, he has a championship to win. View Safdar's exclusive from Section925 Films below:
Do yourself a favor and listen to this masterpiece before you sit down to watch the NFL's Wildcard Weekend, which kicks off with Titans V. Chiefs on Saturday...