This year’s football season ushers in a new era for Yosemite High School under the direction of first-year head coach and former Badger standout JD Burnett.
Burnett will get a good feel for where his team is at during today’s three-way scrimmage at Minarets High School with the Mustangs and Mariposa High.
Many questions linger from both spring and summer workouts, but Burnett is very positive.
“The goal of our coaching staff was to re-establish a level of commitment of our players every day,” Burnett said. “A consistent, high level commitment in the off-season is crucial to success during the season. We felt we accomplished this.”
The varsity team currently consists of 21 players - a young team with eight sophomores, nine juniors, and only two returning senior starters.
“The players we have are solid and committed,” Burnett said. “They worked hard this summer. Yes, we are young and a bit raw, but all of our players love playing the game and will give it their all.”
Burnett inherits a program that has been struggling in recent years. Yosemite went 0-10 last season and is currently on an 18-game losing streak. Statistically, the Badgers may have been the worst in the Central Section last season. The team had the lowest offensive output in the section last season scoring just 66 points (6.6 points per game), and the defense gave up a section leading 533 points (53 points per game).
Last year Yosemite played a brutal schedule with eight of its 10 opponents reaching the playoffs. This season won’t be much easier. The schedule includes last year’s CIF Central Section D-V champion Corcoran, section D-IV champion Liberty-Madera Ranchos, and perennial small school power Mendota.
As bleak as all that sounds there is reason for optimism. Burnett is one of the most respected young football coaches in the Central Section, with a proven coaching record. He took over the Kerman program in 2013, after the Lions went 3-7 during the 2012 season. In his first year, Kerman went 7-6 overall and roared into the section D-IV playoffs.
The Lions defeated McLane 34-28 before losing to eventual D-IV champ Bakersfield Christian.
As an encore Burnett guided the 2014 Lions to a 7-5 overall record and their second straight playoff appearance. The Lions notched another playoff win defeating the always tough Exeter Monarchs 45-8. Like 2013, Kerman lost to the eventual D-IV champion, this time the Hawks of Liberty-Madera Ranchos.
Burnett did all this while commuting from Coarsegold to Kerman every day, an hour-and-a-half, 120-mile commute. As a long-time community member and former Badger, Burnett intends to instill his vision, passion, and work ethic to revitalize the team.
Small in numbers but athletic
Despite fielding 21 players overall the Badgers are athletic, have a strong set of skill players, and perhaps most importantly, an improved offensive and defensive line.
Junior quarterback Tristan Eames will lead the Badgers for the second straight season. Perhaps one of the best overall athletes at YHS, Eames will be looking for a breakthrough season. Last year, he was 52 of 160 for 865 yards, and five touchdowns with seven picks. He led the Badgers in rushing with 276 yards. The stats don’t tell the whole story. Eames typically had less than two seconds to get off a throw due to a porous offensive line. Burnett said that is going to change.
“You will see a huge improvement in our offensive line,” Burnett said. “This will be the best O-line group at YHS in a while.”
The line has size and is also athletic, with 5-foot-11,180 pound sophomore Clay Kleist starting at center. At left guard will be 5-foot-11, 195 pound sophomore Peter Martinez, playing his first year of football.
“Peter had an awesome summer,” Burnett said. “He got a lot stronger and really improved on his explosiveness. We expect a strong season despite this being his first year.”
Junior Steve Schumaker, 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, will handle the right tackle duties. Anchoring the left side will be 6-foot, 255 pound sophomore guard Chase Hatleli. First year player Kevin Bulawski will protect Eames ‘blind side’ at left tackle. The 6-foot-2, 220 pound junior will be an integral part of the offensive line success.
The Badgers bring a strong contingent of skill players. It starts with sophomore running back Jesse De La Cruz. De La Cruz brings a punishing attitude to the ground game. He can get yards inside, but also has breakaway speed once he turns a corner.
Last season De La Cruz ran for 627 yards and scored eight touchdowns for the Badger JV team, before being moved up to varsity. He accounted for 90% of all JV rushing yards and 75% of JV scoring.
Eames will have plenty of receivers to throw tofrom the spread offense utilizing four receivers. Senior Dylon Rounsivill and junior Cass Moreno, with varsity experience, will play on the outside.
Sophomores Austin Burgeno and Cannon Eames will start at slot receiver. Both are quick and athletic with good hands. Burgeno and Eames shared QB duties and were also receivers on the JV team last year.
On defense, YHS will employ a 40-front zone package or a 4-4-3 set.
“We adjusted our defense to best fit our personnel,” Burnett said. “This defense cuts down on big plays, and makes an offense work harder.”
Bulawski, Cunnings, Hatleli, and Shumaker will anchor the defensive line along with 5-foot-10, 200 pound junior Adam Van Zant.
The linebacking corps, a key for the new defensive scheme, has question marks with three newcomers to the program - Senior Tanner Meeks, sophomore Clayton Burke, and junior Armando Villanueva. Meeks is new to the program, Burke is a transfer from Georgia, and Villanueva transfered from San Diego. How this group jells as a unit will be critical for Burnett’s goal of turning around the defense.
Sophomore Ty Peterson, the son of defensive coordinator Erik Peterson, will start at safety.
“Ty is a hard worker with great decision making skills,” Burnett said.
At the corners will be Burgeno and Rounsivill, two of the fastest Badgers.
On special teams, Meeks will handle the kicking duties.
“Tanner has a really strong leg and we expect a strong season from him,” Burnett said.
First year player John Berian will be the primary kickoff and punt return specialist.
“John is super quick and athletic and we expect big things in the return game,” Burnett said. “John will add an excitement to the return game.”
Burnett will work with a solid coaching staff. Long time assistant Erik Peterson is the defensive coordinator. Pat Lynch, who coached the JV squad last season will handle the outside linebackers, and will be the JV defensive coordinator. Brent Cunnings will coach the defensive line.
Jonas Gardner will coach the defensive backs, and Scott Rold will coach the wide receivers and will be the JV offensive coordinator. Running backs coach is Larry Archer, and Brian Johnson is the offensive line coach. Former YHS great Casey Lucas will help out the kicking game on a part-time basis. Lucas holds the all-time scoring record at YHS.
Burnett has started a “Paint the Town Blue” campaign, encouraging businesses to purchase Badger shirts for their employees to wear on Fridays when the Badgers play at home.
“Since I arrived, we have received so much support as a program,” Burnett said. “It means a lot to me, my staff, and my players. This program will come back, but it doesn’t happen without the support of our mountain community. We look forward to a fun season and seeing everyone at our home opener on Sept. 4 against Selma.”