The 2014 campaign is going to be a season of transition for the Atwater football team.
The Falcons were a senior-heavy squad in 2013, with key pieces lost to graduation at nearly every position. Head coach Bob Valladao needs to replace his top five rushers, top two receivers and four of his top five tacklers.
At least those are expected holes. It’s the notable absences of the players Atwater thought would return that stings.
Quarterback Nathan Duran moved and transferred to Buhach Colony, defensive back Omar Sanchez opted to concentrate on baseball before injuring a knee and linebacker Tony Romo was told by doctors he needed to give up the sport because of his ailing knees.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Valladao said. “I’m just focused on coaching the kids that we do have. Obviously we’ve got plenty of holes to fill, but our JV team was pretty successful and I think we have the guys to fill them.”
Atwater returns four of its five offensive linemen, many of whom will serve on the defensive line. Senior center Isaac Perez and senior defensive end-guard Josh Rogers – both All-Central California Conference second-teamers – will lead the group.
“Since the lines often determine what happens in high school football, I think it’s a big advantage for us having so much experience back on both sides,” Perez said.
There will be no shortage of new faces suiting up, particularly at the skill positions.
The most anticipated addition is 6-foot-1 junior quarterback Frankie Cocio. Valladao said Cocio, coupled with returning receiver Daniel Uribe and newcomers Javier Valencia and Josh Wilson, will give Atwater an aerial threat not seen on the campus since Nathan Sanchez was under center.
“There’s no doubt we still want to run the ball, and a lot of our offense is catered towards that, but we have the weapons and are going to throw probably more than we ever have,” Valladao said. “A lot of what our offense sets up is the play action, and we haven’t taken full advantage of that the last few years.”
The Atwater defense will have its share of unproven starters, too.
Rogers will anchor the defensive line, and Perez could see time at nose guard. Valladao will try to rebuild the historically solid linebacking corps with Adonis Hill, Juan Mora and transfer Joel Andrade.
The Atwater secondary does have experience with returners Austen Clark, Sal Duran and Uribe. Junior Noah Torres will see time at safety.
The new guys will have to jell quickly with games against Franklin of Elk Grove, Central Catholic, Clovis and Patterson. The four teams combined to go 41-11 last year, with Central Catholic winning its second consecutive state championship.
“We’ve got a tough schedule to open the year, so we should find out what we have right away,” Valladao said. “If we’re going to make a run at Merced, that’s the type of competition we’re going to have to be able to play with anyway.
“I know there’s not a lot of names people know coming back, but I like the group we have. I think there is the potential to surprise some people.”
Candidate profile: Isaac Perez