New direction for Yosemite football

A once proud Yosemite High football program has endured a tough three-year drought. The 2014 season saw Yosemite go without a win for the second time in three years. The Badgers are 1-29 since 2012.

Last week the Yosemite High administration made the call to relieve three-year head coach Kent Lincoln of his duties. While all head coaches are ultimately responsible for their program, look deep into Yosemite football and there is shared blame all around for the direction the program has taken. Most situations like this usually contain a myriad of reasons and that is especially true for Yosemite football.

Whether you like it or not, football is still the highest profile sport at high schools across the country. But don’t confuse the high profile with being the best. Programs like Yosemite cross country, girls’ basketball, swimming, water polo, golf, boy’s track and volleyball have a litany of league and section titles.

It has been 10 years since Yosemite football last won a CIF Central Section Title. That was a long time ago in a different era. Back then, there was only one high school and the enrollment was around 1,200. Coach Aaron Eames and staff that included Lincoln and Eric Peterson won two D-III titles, played in another two championship games, and was a perennial playoff participant.

What happened in 2014?

What went wrong this year? What didn’t would be a more accurate question. We had the devastating fires that disrupted everything in our community. Prior to all that, Yosemite lost its best all-around athlete, junior Jason Lee whose family moved to Clovis. Lee, along with three other former Oakhurst area football players, are now playing at Clovis North. Lee’s loss was huge. Lee accounted for 1,023 yards rushing and receiving - almost one half of the entire Badger offensive output the season before as a sophomore. Lee also scored 10 of the Badgers 17 offensive touchdowns.

Then, in the team’s first scrimmage, four-year starting quarterback Joey Woolsey went down with a severe shoulder injury. Woolsey was poised to break Shawn Long’s YHS all-time career passing yardage record. Woolsey’s loss was felt in his leadership on the field and in the huddle. Losing Woolsey forced sophomore QB Tristan Eames to move up from JV to varsity. This decimated the hopes of the JV team.

Lincoln originally wanted to keep as many of the JV players together to “learn how to win and grow as a group.” Losing Lee and Woolsey changed all that.

From there, Brian Woolsey (Joey’s younger brother), the Badger’s best receiver and solid defender was out most of the season due to injuries. Other stalwarts such as Braveheart Sauceda did not finish the season due to a concussions.

On average, Yosemite would field around 18 players each game, and most never left the field. By halftime, YHS was still in most games, but in the third and fourth quarters, with no depth, energy was sapped and blowouts inevitable.

In football the old Vince Lombardi axiom of winning with “blocking and tackling” still hold true. The offensive and defensive lines were woeful. Eames had around two seconds to complete a pass as defenders were in the backfield and in his face virtually every play. Playing out the ‘shotgun,’ at least half of the snaps were high or low wasting what little precious time Eames had to throw.

Finally the schedule was bruta - 8 of 10 teams on the Badgers schedule made the playoffs. Two, Liberty (D-IV) and Corcoran (D-V) were CIF champions. Overall, the winning percentage of Yosemite opponents was .667.

Some will still blame the coaching staff - but even Lombardi could not win a game under these extreme circumstances.

Where do we go from here?

Lincoln’s replacement has not been announced, but I know Superintendent Jim Sergeant and YHS Principal Randy Seals understand the importance of a strong football program to the school and community. Both have sports backgrounds.

All the new head coach needs to do is to find players, revamp the JV program, build a strong youth program, and bring the community back to the games. A huge task. He will need a lot of help. Bottom line, there just aren’t enough players playing the game of football at Yosemite. Minarets High split the loyalties and gained players that would have been playing for Yosemite, prior to the new school being built. It is the number one reason why there are so few players at Yosemite. Yosemite’s enrollment has shrunken dramatically. During the glory years of the last decade, Yosemite had around 1,200 students. Now the enrollment is down to 740.

Still, YHS lost to teams with smaller enrollments including Liberty, Mendota, and Corcoran. These high schools are consistently in the playoffs and have between 40-50 players on their rosters. Many will say YHS didn’t have the talent. There was some talent on campus, just not on the field. Some didn’t want to play for a losing program. Some just lost interest in the game. Either way, the new coach needs to recruit players.

There are other reasons. Some parents don’t want their students playing with all the concussion issues. There are also many other sports to play at YHS, so many boys choose something other than football. A lot of students are planning or doing things other than football. Check out the cross country program where Ellen Peterson regularly has 60-70 runners. For those of you who were at the Homecoming game this year, the YHS Cadet Corps had more participants than the varsity football team. Peterson, who has just been named Oakhurst Women of the Year by the chamber of commerce, gets kids to run for her.

To the administration - you can help. Re-institute zero-period PE. This valuable class got the players into the weight room. The Badgers lacked toughness in the trenches that can be remedied to some degree in the weight room. The administration and athletic director also need to re-evaluate the division the school should be in for football. Yosemite is D-V, but has played a few D-IV teams - they need to play only D-V and D-V1 teams.

It is beyond overdue to develop mountain football rivalries. Minarets and Mariposa need to be on the schedule every year. Playing schools close to home and building positive rivalries would do much for the program and communities. Let’s play Minarets and Mariposa instead of traveling to Corcoran, Selma, or Mendota. The excitement a Minarets/Yosemite football game would generate would be amazing. For those who attended recent YHS vs. Minarets games in soccer and volleyball, you know what I mean.

Still, there are detractors to this - there shouldn’t be. Ask any athlete from either YHS or Minarets. They want to play each other. To the ADs and administrators who have the power to make scheduling changes, let’s make this happen.

The Positives

Still there are many positives. Even though the JV squad underperformed, don’t blame the players. The JV team had a solid core of players, especially on offense. The quarterback position at YHS is set for years. Tristan Eames is only a junior, and younger brother Cannon a freshman. The JV squad included a top-tier running back in freshman Jesse De La Cruz. On the receiving end, Brendan Gillaspy became a go-to receiver. Cass Moreno played at the varsity level and is ready to step up as a starting receiver and return specialist. Austin Burgeno split time at QB and WR. Burgeno is a playmaker who is a threat to score every time he touches the football. With a healthy Brian Woolsey back the Badger skill positions on offense looks as good as it has in a long while. All the above are also solid defenders.

The JV coaching staff split time between Cannon Eames and Burgeno at quarterback. I feel that was a mistake that hurt the offensive productivity and ultimately cost the JV team wins. Eames is a drop back passer with a strong arm vs. Burgeno who is more of a running threat. A nucleus of stronger offensive and defensive lineman is needed. There is a young core of underclassmen on the O-line who will contribute but will have inexperience at the varsity level. YHS graduated 16 seniors including many on the O-line.

It is still fun to go to games. The Yosemite boosters and supporters do so much to make fall nights in Oakhurst memorable. There is great food (barbecue, hot dogs, cinnamon rolls), and the Badger band. led by new director Francisco Marquez who is continuing the legacy built by Randy Hyatt.

Another thank you should go out to the two volunteer physicians now on the YHS sidelines. Dr. Jerry Chastain and Dr. Daniel O’Meara of Kaiser graciously gave their time and expertise to YHS players.

All the best to Kent Lincoln

Finally, and just as importantly, there needs to be a thank you to both Kent and Jennifer Lincoln. He was raised here and was one of the best athletes to graduate from YHS. He worked his tail off to try to make the program viable, but he inherited a program with so many issues. I know he gave it his all. Two years ago Lincoln was in a serious auto accident. By God’s mercy he walked away and that night was at the game. Don’t tell me he didn’t love this program.

Jennifer has been at Kent’s side all along as well as passionately coaching YHS Cheer and Pep squads. Coaching football isn’t a seasonal sport - you work all year at it. It involves a coaches’ whole family. The reward is positively impacting the lives of young men or women you are privileged to coach. I know this is a foundation for Kent and Jennifer.

To the next Badger head coach, I wish you all the best. To students who want to play football, play. Play for yourself, your family, friends, and your school. Play for fun. Football is still a great game.