Noach Wood didn’t know much about football when a friend talked him into playing during the fifth grade.
“I wasn’t raised on it,” he said. “My older brother, Koby, didn’t start playing until after I did, when he was a junior.”
But Noach grew up quickly in the sport, finding himself on the defensive line for the Santa Barbara High varsity when he was a freshman just four years later.
“I’m not going to lie, I was scared that first game,” Wood said. “But after that, I realized they might have 20 pounds on me, and maybe a couple of inches, but I’ve got leverage.”
He is now bigger, stronger, older, and wiser — and leading the Dons as their 5-foot-11, 250-pound junior nose guard.
“Noach is my guy,” Santa Barbara coach J.T. Stone said during Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table at Harry’s Plaza Café. “I think Noach has done a great job of taking the bull by the horns and leading this team.
“I don’t have to come down and tell them to stretch. I don’t have to come down and tell them to prepare. He is valuable in so many ways. We couldn’t do the things we do as a team without Noach.”
He took the San Marcos High Royals by the horns, as well, making two quarterback sacks and throwing several other ball carriers for losses in the Dons’ 38-12 victory in the 60th annual Big Game.
Wood wasn’t nervous even though 10,000-seat La Playa Stadium was packed with fans, which included many alumni who had come for the All-Dons Reunion. But then, he was paying more attention on his assignments than the crowd.
“I didn’t really notice it until after the second half, when people started pointing it out to me,” he said.
Wood became only the second defensive player to ever win the Gary Blades Memorial Big Game MVP Trophy. He was also honored with Monday’s Athletic Round Table Male Athlete of the Week Award.
He said it’s really a group effort up front for the Dons’ defense.
“Our coach, Ralph Molina, is a great defensive coordinator,” Wood said. “He’s really smart and has a great football IQ. Our linebackers are great and our D line is usually able to stop runs.”
He played varsity in the final three games of his freshman year and even started the season finale against Buena. He then asserted himself as a sophomore, averaging 7.9 tackles per game to rank second on the team to linebacker Johnny Valencia.
“He’s the best D lineman in the tri-counties,” Stone said. “Colleges should be recruiting this guy.”
Wood was actually started out as a running back, tight end, and defensive end after “my friend, Andrew Douglas, and his mom” got him to start playing.
“But I like the D line a lot more, and I really like playing nose guard,” Wood continued. “I like dealing with the center, especially since he has to focus on two things: me and snapping the ball.
“I like to disrupt the middle of the line and cause problems … It’s fun.”
The Dons (4-2, 1-0 Channel League), who were ranked fifth in last week’s CIF-Southern Section Division 8 poll, bounced back to beat San Marcos after having lost their previous two games against highly ranked St. Bonaventure and Pacifica. Offensive tackle Chase Kamin got a pep talk from Stone after the St. Bonaventure game and has been paving the way for Santa Barbara’s offense ever since.
“I think he really understood what we were talking about and as it turned out, has had two wonderful games against Pacifica and San Marcos,” Stone said. “He accepted what he needed to do and has been just a very good rock for this team.”
Santa Barbara will look to avenge the crucial defeat it suffered at Santa Ynez last year when it plays host to the Pirates at Dos Pueblos High’s Scott O’Leary Stadium.
“I didn’t actually get to play in that game last year,” Wood said. “I had a hyper-extended elbow or something. But I’m ready now.”
The rapid emergence of Lance Sterndahl from a scout-team player to a stalwart in San Marcos’ secondary has coach Jason Fowle optimistic about the rest of the Royals’ season. They play host to Cabrillo on Friday.
“Mainly, it was Lance Sterndahl’s effort that stood out to me (against Santa Barbara),” Fowle said. “He had an interception that got us a little bit of momentum and had a fumble recovery. He just gets better and better every week.”
Dos Pueblos High has an emerging player of its own in Alejandro Castanon, who missed most of the last two seasons with a health condition. He’s making the most of his senior season, however, switching from cornerback to outside linebacker to help the Chargers get their first win of the season, 40-13, in Friday’s game at Cabrillo.
“The two big-time sacks we had to finish off that game were a testament to his commitment to getting better in learning a new position in his senior year and causing some of those coverage sacks,” coach Doug Caines said.
Jesus Aguilar also switched positions several times to fortify the DP line.
“He had some pivotal plays and blocks on the offensive line as well as some huge, disruptive plays on the defensive line,” Caines said.
Laguna Blanca (0-4) is still in search of its first victory, but coach Shane Lopes feels good about the future now that senior quarterback and captain Christian Branch is back from an injury.
“He’s not only athletic, but he also stands in the pocket and is composed,” Lopes said. “It’s a tough skill to teach.”
Freshman Francisco Baron, the third of three brothers to play for the Owls, has been showing off his own athleticism, he added.
“He definitely doesn’t play like a ninth grader when he’s at running back and at corner,” Lopes said.
Individual winners Joseph Pearlman and Phoebe Wolfe Lyons, only a freshman, led Dos Pueblos to victory in the team event for both the boys and girls at the Channel League Midseason Meet at Cabrillo.
“I’ve just been really impressed by the way they run and also their character and the leadership they show,” new assistant coach Jenessa Rosenberger said.
San Marcos High handled adversity well when its bus broke down on the way to the meet.
“Instantly, they break out in an ‘Amazing Grace’ serenade to the bus as it died there on the side of the road,” coach Lawrence Stehmeier reported. “The girls got there in time to get off the bus, run to restroom, run to the starting line, and the gun went off.
“They had no idea where the course was, no warmup, and they ran a great race.”
He added that freshman Shaina King placed third to lead the San Marcos girls when their No. 1 runner couldn’t finish because of an injury. Also running well for San Marcos were senior Louisa Zadeh and, on the boys’ side, sophomore Jacob Snodgrass and junior Chase Plourde.
Santa Barbara coach Moki Nacario said the prospects for his boys team were brightened with the return of senior captains Jake Ballantine and A.J. Reyes. Ballantine placed second at Cabrillo and Reyes was 12th. Freshman Daisy McToldridge showed that the Dons’ girls have a bright future, as well, placing ninth.
Carpinteria soccer coach Lucy Carleton, speaking for coach Angel Silva, introduced two of her soccer players who are running cross country: junior Monse Alpizar, who placed third at the Raider Invitational, and Kate Cooney, who also medaled at that meet.
The boys team, she added, has both experience with senior captain Victor Rinaldi and a budding start in freshman Hugo Alvarado.
In girls golf, seniors Maddie Mamsten, a surfing champion, and Allie Womack, a 4.7 GPA student, are both averaging 46 strokes per nine holes for undefeated Santa Barbara High (13-0, 6-0 in the Channel League).
“A lot of depth has allowed us a lot of success,” coach Ryan Throop said. “Allie and Maddie are super-positive and don’t get down when balls don’t go straight.”
San Marcos High has several inexperienced golfers on its roster, but coach Sarah Ashton said they have three outstanding mentors in Alex Manion, the Royals’ medalist seven times this season with a best of 40; Sofia Tasca, who’s shot as low as 38, and Caya Castelo, who’s bettered her score four times this year.
Dos Pueblos coach Daniel Choi has seen major improvement in several of his players, including senior Maggie Tang, who is coming off her all-time best score last week, and Chelsea Ramirez, who tied her season-best.
In girls volleyball, Santa Barbara High is “facing a learning curve,” coach Ariana Garner said, while starting four sophomores. But senior co-captain Anabel Caesar, a senior middle, and junior Hayden Randolph, a libero and star beach player, “have really taken the underclassmen under their wings.”
Carleton quoted Carpinteria volleyball coach Dino Garcia as saying that junior captain and outside hitter Malia Shellabarger “has excellent leadership qualities and fights hard on the court, win or lose.” Sarah Weitzman, she added, is “a go-to hitter on the team” at the opposite position.