A new era begins for the Badger football program Friday as, for the first time in its history, Yosemite will play as an independent school, free of association with any league.
The historic move was made by coaches and administrators to play a competitive schedule against smaller schools with similar enrollments. However, the 7 p.m. season opener will by no means be easy.
Yosemite will open against Sac-Joaquin small school power Le Grand. The Bulldogs compete in the eight-team Southern League in D-V. The league includes Mariposa and is a perennial factor in the D-V football championships of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
The 2015 Bulldogs, coached by second year head coach Raul Alvarez, were 2-8 overall and 2-5 in Southern League play. Alvarez was 7-4 in his first season leading Le Grand to a playoff berth.
Last season may have been a down year, but the Bulldogs will visit Badger Stadium with a lot of tradition. From 2010-2013 under head coach Rick Martinez, Le Grand was a combined 45-5 with three D-V Sac-Joaquin titles and a 2013 state championship game loss.
The new era in Badger football starts with a challenge, and head coach JD Burnett wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We were looking for a challenging season, not an easy one,” said the second year Badger head coach. “I’m excited about the new schedule and facing a school like Le Grand with a great tradition. The community will see a team that has made a strong commitment this summer to get better. We have 30 players on varsity with great energy. The fans will see a fun brand of football.”
While the Bulldogs soared to new heights, the fortunes of the Badger program are well documented. YHS is 1-38 in the last four seasons. That is soon to change in 2016, according to Burnett.
“When I see this group, the commitment we had this summer, I know we have a chance to do something special this year,” Burnett said. “The attitude of the players is different. We are bigger, faster, and much more physical than last year. There is more depth. Our skill players are quick. It is going to be a great season.”
The Badgers will be led by fourth year senior starter Tristan Eames at quarterback. Eames, a team captain, brings a wealth of experience and leadership. Brought up as a starter midway in the 2013 season, Eames comes off his best year overall in 2015. He was 85-177 for 1,033 yards with 12 TDs, and just five interceptions. He also rushed for 202 yards on 41 carries and one score.
Eames, who had little time to throw last season, will have much more support this year with an improved offensive line.
“The O-line will be so much better, especially in pass blocking,” said running back Jesse De La Cruz, who along with two-way starter Caleb Bachelor sustained knee injuries at practice that could severely impact playing time this season. Still, De La Cruz, a team leader, spoke with passion and optimism for this season.
“It all starts in the summer,” said De La Cruz. “Everyone worked hard in the weight room. There was a fantastic commitment from last year. You will see the difference.”
Lineman Kevin Bulawsky, Peter Martinez, Klay Kliest, Clay Burke, and Ty Peterson are taller and stronger this year and all have a high football IQ.
Despite the injury to De La Cruz, YHS has depth at running back but little varsity experience. Senior wing back John Varian (5-foot-6, 145 pounds) and junior running back Luke Howell (5-foot-5, 160 pounds) are small, but have heart and breakaway speed. Last year Varian had eight carries for 119 yards, and Howell is coming off injuries in his first two seasons.
Defensive lineman Dylan De La Cruz will have spot duty at fullback and is set to be a devastating lead blocker.
Eames will have a solid core of receivers, including juniors Austen Burgeno and Cannon Eames and senior Cass Moreno. All three have great hands and the ability to break a play wide open after a catch. Last season Cannon Eames led YHS with 31 receptions for 391 yards and seven touchdowns. Moreno caught 25 passes for 385 yards and had four touchdowns. Burgeno had 13 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Moreno and Burgeno along with Varian and Howell will also be breakaway threats in the return game.
The kicking game will be in good shape with the addition of Joe Campbell. A soccer player and cross country athlete, Campbell is kicking field goals from beyond 35 yards, giving the Badgers another solid offensive threat.
Defensive coordinator Erik Peterson is very positive about his defensive unit. This year the Badgers will employ the ‘Bear Defense’ that utilizes single coverage with defensive backs.
“The talent is there for the Bear,” Peterson said. “Our guys are fast and have good recognition.”
Junior strong safety Ty Peterson had a monster 2015 campaign. He lead the Badgers in tackles at 96 (10 per game). Burgeon and Cannon Eames will cover the corners.
Peter Martinez, Howell, and Tyler Matyshock will handle the linebacking corps. The D-line consisting of senior Bowen Cunnings, Bulawsky, Dylan De La Cruz and Rocky Lapham will have bulk and toughness.
“Our defense will be really good at stopping the run,” Peterson said.
Le Grand Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback Beto Marquez. Marquez had a stellar 2015 campaign throwing for 1,770 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“Marquez may be the best pure passer we have faced,” said Burnett. “Our defensive backs will be challenged Friday night.”
Marquez’s main target is senior wide receiver Rigoberto Mares. Marez caught 48 passes for 681 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
“We will have a challenge,” said Burnett. “We need to play smart and be the more physical football team.”
JV beings inside Badger Stadium at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, with varsity scheduled for 7 p.m.