Prep football: Cardinal Newman speedster Tsion Nunnally fueling big plays

Watching Cardinal Newman wide receiver Tsion Nunnally catch and run is like seeing a fine sports car shift into gear as it leans into a curvy mountain pass.

The 6-foot-3, 175-pound junior is long and lean, and when he gets into full stride - look out, he’s gone.

Nunnally had just four receptions last week in the Cardinals’ 49-0 trouncing of Piner in the North Coast Section Division 4 football semifinal, but he made them count. He had two touchdowns, including a 74-yarder to open the game and a 67-yarder to end the first half. He added another rushing touchdown later.

“He has a lot of spring to him,” head coach Paul Cronin said.

Nunnally and his fellow wide receiver Giancarlo Woods account for 21 of the team’s 28 TD receptions and hope to lead the top-seeded Cardinals to an NCS Division 4 championship over No. 2 Marin Catholic Saturday at Santa Rosa High School.

The Wildcats are 11-1, their sole loss Aug. 31 to McClymonds of Oakland, which is playing in its own section title game Saturday. They have won 10 games since that 19-7 loss.

Newman, also 11-1, lost only to Liberty, 17-13, on Sept. 21, and brings an eight-game winning streak to the title game.

The teams are 1-2 in the divisional rankings, and the Cardinals are ranked 82nd in the state to Marin Catholic’s 90, so the competition should be robust.

“It’s nice to see when the bracket holds true,” Cronin said. “You know it’s going to be a great matchup.”

Nunnally likely will be a huge part of the Cardinals’ game plan. He also plays defensive back, and will be tasked with guarding the Wildcats’ receivers.

Newman receivers coach Bao Alderson also used a speed metaphor when describing Nunnally.

“His acceleration, when he gets the ball in his hand, it’s like a Ferrari, or,” he corrected himself, “an airplane on a runway getting ready to take off. He has acceleration, strength, power. He’s extremely long - long arms, long legs.”

When Nunnally played Pop Warner youth football, he was a quarterback and running back, Cronin said. But he began to shoot up so tall that receiving appeared to be a slot to best utilize his natural gifts.

“He grew a ton. He grew so much as a freshman, he was trying to catch up to his body,” Cronin said. “He’s getting so smooth. He has a lot of potential. It will be fun to see how high he can go.”

So Nunnally is like an airplane, or a sports car. But Alderson said he’s also just outgrowing his “baby giraffe” stage.

“He’s real gangly,” he said. “But Tsion continues to work at the fundamentals, how you move your body, and he’s really working hard. Every year he’s growing into his body even more. He’s still not fully there.

“He’s kind of a special athlete. He’s beyond your normal ‘good athlete.’ He’s going to be really special when he finalizes his growth. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up 6-4, 6-5, 210.

“He still has several more years of growth to catch up to that body he was born with.”

That body excelled against Piner in the semifinal game, putting the Prospectors in a hole early.

Nunnally got the Cardinals on the board 20 seconds into the game when he outpaced his defender in the center of the field, caught a 38-yard pass from Jackson Pavitt over his shoulder, then ran 36 yards in, untouched, to put his team up 7-0.

Just before halftime, he did it again, taking a short pass from Pavitt at the Cardinals’ 30, zigging inside, shifting into that gear and running in, again untouched, for the score.

“Earlier in the season, he might have stumbled on that and they would have tackled him because he wasn’t fully in control of the Ferrari,” Alderson said. “He keeps getting better and better. Weekly, you notice growth in his hand-eye coordination, his foot speed and his balance ... The future for him is super promising.”

But more importantly, both coaches said, Nunnally is a good person. He’s humble, is committed, works hard and is an unselfish teammate.

“He’s got the right kind of values, the right kind of work ethic, how he treats people, how he is as a teammate,” Alderson said. “That is super important to us and our program, more important than football, by far.”

Saturday’s kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Santa Rosa High School.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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