Shawn Garrick faced plenty of obstacles last year in his first season as the Dos Palos head football coach.
His late hire cost his team spring ball and left him playing catch-up as he tried to implement a summer program. Couple that with his kids having less time to learn new schemes and trying to sell an alumni base on a spread system that’s historically anything but Broncos football, and a slow start to the season was almost inevitable.
An 0-7 start, however, was something totally unforeseen.
“I just think we were kind of weak,” Garrick said. “I felt like we were weak physically and mentally, and you could see it on the field on Friday nights.”
Garrick worked quickly to rectify the situation, requiring more accountability in the team’s offseason workout regimen.
“You have the few kids that couldn’t make the commitment and quickly weeded themselves out, but for the most part, the team has responded really positively,” Garrick said. “You can just see how much stronger everyone is, and I’m hoping it’s going to have a huge impact.
“We’re much further along this year than we were at the same point last year.”
The Broncos return six players on both sides of the ball with the two lines serving as their strengths heading into the season.
Matt Elms is the West Sierra League’s reigning Lineman of the Year, and Garrick expects him to have an even bigger impact on both sides in his senior campaign. He may have some in-house competition for retaining his title with junior Lukas Hunger and senior Anwar Albusaisi.
“This year, everybody is much more on the same page,” Elms said. “Coming in last year, I think we thought it would be a lot easier than it was to switch systems. It was a big difference, and it took us a while to put it together.
“This year, everybody understands their roles and having experience on both lines is a huge help, because we can teach everyone else what to do.”
There will be plenty of new faces at the skill positions with Ozzie Suarez and Jacob Baker battling to replace Noah Croninger at quarterback. Adam Najera is the only returning running back to get a solid number of carries. He’ll split the load with speedster Rapheal Stewart and Alex Flores, while senior tight end Lee Navarro should be the team’s top target in the passing game.
The Dos Palos defense will have to overcome the absence of two expected returners (middle linebacker Juan Jimenez and defensive end Dominic DeFrancesco) who will miss the season. Elms will run the show on the line, Navarro will anchor the linebackers, and Ben Souza and Stewart lead the secondary.
“Our numbers are a little down from last year, but I cracked the whip a little bit and these are the kids that really want to be here,” Garrick said. “I’m feeling really good going into the season, but until you get out and hit somebody, you just never know.”
Candidate profile: Matt Elms