Le Grand football embraces winning tradition

slynch@mercedsunstar.comNovember 25, 2012 

— The Martinez family Christmas card just got a little more decorative.

Three years ago Le Grand football head coach Rick Martinez and his two sons Ricky and Ryan began wearing their Sac-Joaquin Section hardware to go along with their Sunday's best during the family's annual photo.

With Saturday night's 30-12 victory over Southern League rival Waterford in the Division 5 title game, the family ring count is now up to six.

The Bulldogs completed a third straight run to a blue banner and extended one of the best four-year stretches a local senior class has ever enjoyed.

Le Grand is 40-10 the last four years, has four straight appearances in the section final, has won the last three and was a CIF State Bowl runner up in 2011.

Despite the family and school's unprecedented success the last four years, Martinez isn't about to toss around the "D" word.

Fans can argue whether the four-year run and three straight titles constitute a Bulldog dynasty, but with 29 of the 39 players on the roster set to return next season, it doesn't appear Le Grand is going anywhere.

"People can call it whatever they want," Martinez said. "I just call it hard work.

"The preparation and dedication that our coaching staff turns in, and then the effort by the kids to go out and do what we ask of them is what's gotten us here.

"You look at what coach (Mark) Loureiro and Escalon have done and the tradition they've created. That's what we want to do."

The Bulldogs certainly appear to be on their way.

Like most small communities, the Tri Cities have always been passionate about their high school athletics. But it became more than that four years ago.

The community embraced the football team in a way that transcends sports. Friday nights became family reunions and opportunities to catch up with old classmates and friends.

Things came to a head last winter when most of Le Grand shut down so the town could travel down to Carson for the State Bowl game.

"I think it really started with that first section final team," Le Grand athletic director Frank Ferreira said. "The way the community came together was amazing. It keeps getting bigger. That feeling of community just kept generating and snowballing, and now it's just a regular part of what we do.

"I don't know that anyone saw this run coming, but all the tools were in place for the program."

The third straight title might be the sweetest of all.

After a dream run to the State Bowl game, the Bulldogs were expected to take a step backward in 2012. The losses of stars like Zach Moreno, Daniel Guizar, Alex Bucio and A.J. Salcido was supposed to erase Le Grand's explosiveness and return it to the rest of the pack.

Throw in a young and unproven roster and the formula appeared to be there for a trying season.

"We knew we still had some pieces, but that we probably wouldn't be blowing people out this year," Martinez said. "It was a young team, so we just needed to be patient.

"We believed we still had the talent. As long as we coached them up properly things should fall into place. Tonight, we showed they did."

Martinez concluded Saturday night by praising his seniors for finishing their careers as winners and urged his returners to keep it going next year.

The school's culture has changed so much that victory is now an expectation.

"We want next year to be like this year's senior class," said junior running back Ryan Martinez, who rushed for 225 yards and a touchdown.

"They've never seen a team not go to the title game. I don't ever want to know what it's like to just play your 10 regular-season games and be done.

"We've set a standard and we expect to be back next year."

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