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Loaded Pittsburg football team hungry for special year

Eli Brickhandler throws a pass at a March 3, 2021 Pittsburg practice. Gregory Moreland-Tuhn / Staff Photo
Eli Brickhandler throws a pass at a March 3, 2021 Pittsburg practice. Gregory Moreland-Tuhn / Staff Photo

Every Pittsburg football player has the same ambitions in mind.

With the shortened season reducing the Pirates and many others in California to a league-only schedule, Pirates athletes are not phased by the five-game schedule. They are embracing the challenge and read to add to a storied history of Pittsburg football.

One that includes an 11-win season and a Bay Valley Athletic League championship in 2019.

“I expect to go 5-0,” said Pittsburg sophomore receiver Rashid Williams.

While Pittsburg graduated a lot of talent from last year’s championship squad, including one of California’s top passers in Jerry Johnson (2,971 yards, 34 TD, 7 INT), a 1,000-yard rusher in Avant Muldrow, its top four receivers, top three tacklers and offensive lineman Ryan Lange to early graduation to Cal, its roster is loaded with a stockpile of talent coming through the ranks and some new additions.

Two quarterbacks joined the fray in senior Eli Brickhandler and sophomore Jaden Rashada – both of whom boast Division I offers.

Brickhandler was a winner at Rocklin’s Whitney High School, engineering a trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section finals after the team was winless the year prior, throwing for 2,259 yards and 18 touchdowns next to 743 rushing yards and eight scores. Brickhandler recently received a pair of Division I offers from Presbyterian and the University of San Diego.

Rashada is a consensus four-star prospect and rated as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback nationally in the 2023 class by 247 Sports. He was previously at Liberty behind current Oregon quarterback Jay Butterfield and holds offers from Auburn, Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon State, Penn State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Utah and Washington State.

They are joined by junior Khamani Blakeney, who is also a premier baseball recruit.

“Obviously Jaden I guess, a dual-threat and he’s one of the top dual-threats in the nation at his position for his class,” said Pittsburg head coach Victor Galli. “Eli Brickhandler took his team deep into the playoffs last year and had an incredible role when he was over at Rocklin at Whitney, and then Khamani is a young guy that we’ve been putting some time into and has loads of potential. Also a top baseball prospect.”

And Rashada is part of a special young crop of sophomores who are bound for special careers at Pittsburg.

Williams is another top 100 prospect next to Rashada, an all-league selection a year ago and the first freshman Galli can remember starting on varsity in his tenure there, going for 272 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His six Division I offers are from Arizona State, Arkansas, California, Oregon State, San Jose State and Utah.

But that’s only part of the 2023 class.

Sophomore receiver Israel Polk, whose brother transferred from Cal to Mississippi State, has a Cal offer. Running back/defensive back Will Stallings Jr. has Arkansas State, Charlotte and Nevada offers. Receiver Keynan Higgins has an Arizona State offer.

“It’s a good group, and they’re already guys that have notoriety,” Galli said. “It’s a hardworking group, and with grades coming in it’s important. When their time comes and as they get an opportunity to get a scholarship, there will be qualifiers. They’ve already got a good work ethic.”

Some senior returnees headline what is expected to be a strong defensive unit, too.

Maurice Jamison is headed to UNLV as a linebacker in a few months and tallied 53 tackles his junior year. Defensive back Lamont Fortenberry registered a team-high three interceptions, which was tied with Heritage’s Jaden Price for the most in the league. 

“We’ve got some dogs,” Stallings Jr. said. “We’ve got some real dogs and real competitors. There’s a lot of talent on this field.”

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