Justin Stefani said 2013 was a humbling experience for Buhach Colony’s incoming senior class.
The 4-6 season was the first time the group hadn’t excelled on a football field after an undefeated freshman campaign and a solid JV season.
Coupled with the end of the Thunder’s run of three consecutive trips to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals, it certainly got the group’s attention.
“I feel like last year’s team just kind of went through the motions,” Stefani said. “We talked a good game. Everyone said we could beat Merced, but I don’t know that we really believed it.
“Finishing 4-6 was brutal, but I think it’s something the juniors needed. We learned we weren’t invincible and we need to put in the work to be successful.”
Stefani has been among those raising the bar in the work department. Kevin Navarra, who takes over as head coach after sharing the job with Kevin Swartwood a year ago, said Stefani is pound-for-pound the strongest kid Buhach has had in the program.
The weight room isn’t the only place that the Thunder seniors have upped their game, however. Running back and defensive back Aundre Sherman said the team has a lot more peer accountability this season.
“The coaches are there, but they aren’t having to say much,” Sherman said. “There’s much more focus during our training and practices.
“Everyone is pushing each other in the weight room and off of the field. We’re not allowing anyone to slack off and let the rest of the group down.”
Sherman (739 rushing yards, six touchdowns), Stefani (539 yards, six TDs) and Stefon Eastman (223 yards, two TDs) give Navarra a talented and experienced trio to run the Fly offense. They’ll run behind a line that Navarra believes is improved over last season with a combination of athleticism and size in Hunter Stefani, Alex Santiago and Christian Lopez.
The big question on offense going into Week 1 is who will be under center with transfers Nathan Duran and Brandon Sanchez battling for the job.
“At the end of camp, I thought one for sure had distinguished himself,” Navarra said. “But since then, the other has really stepped up with some good demonstrations of leadership and fought his way back in.
“You kind of want one to emerge as the obvious guy, but it’s also nice to have them competing with each other.”
The Thunder a lot of experience back on defense.
BC has eight returners, including the Stefani brothers, who will anchor the defensive line. Navarra has returning linebackers in Louis Flores and Austin Ekizian and should greatly benefit from the addition of senior transfer Quian Newson. BC also has three of four returning regulars in the secondary, led by the speedy Sherman.
“We definitely like all the experience we have coming back defensively,” Navarra said. “We’ve added a couple guys that have made us even better. We’re a little undersized, but that was definitely the case last year and just something we’ll have to fight through.
“I think last year’s team gave up on themselves a little bit after having our (Central California Conference) streak come to an end. This senior group learned a lot from that experience and I think we’re going to be much more competitive this time.”
Candidate profile: Aundre Sherman
Buhach Colony Thunder