With the first game 50 days away, the Yosemite High football team and the Badger faithful are excited about the 2017 season, and they have every right to be. After all, the Badgers are coming off a very successful season last year, with a 9-4 record including two playoff games on the road before losing in the CIF Central Section D-V semifinals at Firebaugh 37-20.
The Badgers moved out of the North Sequoia League last season to play as an independent against schools comparable in size to Yosemite - a season that proved to be a complete turnaround for third year head coach JD Burnett. The former YHS football great, Burnett has rebuilt the once vaunted Badger football program, putting to rest a 27-game losing streak.
Spring and summer football is critical to a successful season - for players it’s working out in the weight room and practicing on hot summer days with the commitment by every player to be the best they can.
“Overall, we had a great summer,” Burnett said. “We had an excellent turnout and the players have a great attitude. You have to be committed in the summer. The team needs to understand a routine and bond. Really, commitment is our foundation. It is the foundation of life.”
The summer attendance proves the team’s buying in.
“When I started three years ago, we barely had 20 players attend summer workouts,” said senior playmaker Cannon Eames. “This summer there were 55 players out here every day. It’s great ... everyone is working hard. I remember just a few guys lifting weights last summer, but this year we barely have room in the weight room. We know what we do in the summer really makes a difference.”
The Badgers’ hard work in the weight room is paying dividends.
“We are definitely stronger,” Burnett said. “Two years ago we had only one player who could power-clean 225 pounds, and this year we have eight. Our agility and quickness are better.”
Besides the practices and weights, Burnett and staff have built a strong team unity. Much of this started at a team camp at Hume Lake.
“Prior to our summer program our team participated in the Hume Lake Football Camp,” Burnett said. “It is an old program tradition we wanted to revive. We participated in 7 on 7 passing drills but it was much more than football. We had a lot of fun team-building exercises. Participating at the Hume Lake Camp is one of the most important things we do as a team.”
The Hume Lake mission is to create successful teams by challenging student-athletes mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a Central Valley high school football tradition.
The Badgers open the season on the road at Le Grand on Aug. 25. YHS will then have four straight home games: Sept. 1 Desert High of Edwards Air Force Base - Sept. 8 Caruthers - Sept. 15 Mariposa, and Sept. 22 Minarets. From there the Badgers are back on the road playing at Bishop Union on Sept. 29 - Farmersville on Oct. 13 - and Parlier on Oct. 20. The Badgers will play Amador at YHS on Oct. 27 and wrap up the regular season at Sierra in the 2017 edition of the Mountain Bowl.
The 2017 schedule is similar to 2016 but a bit more challenging, with Laton and Mammoth being replaced in the schedule by Desert High and Farmersville. Desert and Farmersville were both playoff teams in 2016, while Laton and Mammoth were not.
At this point Burnett has not named any starters. The coaching staff said no player will be handed a position because each player has to earn it.
The Badgers return a core group of starters, including eight on defense and four of five on the offensive line. A key on offense will be at the quarterback position with 3-year starter Tristan Eames graduating.
For Burnett, it isn’t about the wins and losses or even playoff appearances.
“We only want to be the best we are capable of, each and every day ... that’s our only goal,” Burnett said. “We grade our success by doing our personal best.”
It is a philosophy that translated into a season to remember in 2016 and should continue into the upcoming season.