How do you follow up a year in which you go undefeated in the regular season, win a league title and reach a section title game?
You try to do it again.
Despite losing 10 starters on defense, the expectations remain high for Hilmar.
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but our expectation is a section title,” Yellowjackets head coach Frank Marques said. “I know it’s lofty, but I feel you have to reach for the stars to get there. Of course for us, it always starts out with league. We want to win a league title. I think Ripon is going to be lights out. You always count Escalon in, and Hughson is up and coming. Our league is always tough. That’s why teams in our league last deep in the playoffs. If you can survive the rigors of our league, you’re a pretty good team.”
It’s easy to be confident when you return a quarterback like Jonathan O’Brien. The Yellowjackets star completed 64 percent of his 224 passes last year, finishing with 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also ran for 506 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Jonathan is the staple of our team,” Marques said. “He’s a great teammate, a great leader. I feel spoiled having him as a coach. He’s had a great upbringing from a solid family. They’ve instilled in him their ethics and morals. A kid doesn’t just get that way by accident.”
O’Brien has plenty of help coming back on offense, including receivers Hudson Harris and Jake Smith. Junior receivers Alex Chavez, Brock Tate and Nick Olvera should also contribute.
“Hudson really proved himself during the offseason,” O’Brien said. “He had a great seven-on-seven season. He spent a lot of time in the weight room getting bigger and faster. I’m confident he’ll do great things for us.”
The bulk of the offensive line returns with Nick Orozco, Chris Souza, Albano Silveira and Colton Ferris.
“When you lose guys like Joseph Bello and David Bisby on defense, it’s going to put more pressure on the offense,” O’Brien said. “I have no doubt our offense can carry the load. I really like our competitiveness. This group has a grittiness to it. Guys want to win and they’re willing to put in the work.”
Smith is the only returning starter on defense. The Yellowjackets expect big things from Souza, who steps in at middle linebacker.
“We had a special defense last year,” Marques said. “Our key returner on defense is our defensive coordinator (George Stavrianoudakis). The way we replace those 10 starters is to let Stav work his magic. He’s the best in the area at what he does.
“I think Chris Souza is being put to the forefront. He’s taking Bello’s position. He’s going to be a guy we look to as a captain of our defense. Jake Smith is our only returning starter and he was one of our leading tacklers from the safety position.”
Repeating last year’s success will be difficult, but the Yellowjackets feel up to the challenge.
“It’s tough to follow up a year where you win 13 games, win a league championship and get to a section championship game,” O’Brien said. “I think we have to focus on winning every single game and see where that takes us. We have a great class coming up. I like our team.”
Candidate profile: Jonathan O’Brien