Christian Williams knows it’s his time.
One of the most dynamic players in Merced County the last two years, the senior wide receiver has often served as a secondary option as Le Grand High School pounded the ball on the ground with former star Ryan Martinez.
First-year head coach Raul Alvarez isn’t just going to abandon the formula the Bulldogs have ridden to four straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division V titles and five straight appearances in the championship game.
But, you can believe Williams is going to get his share of touches.
The Le Grand faithful hold their breath every time the ball is in his hands, and for good reason. Williams found the end zone 24 times in 2013, with seven receiving, seven rushing, two defensive and eight kick or punt return touchdowns. And, he has a chance to be even better this year.
“I’m definitely ready to embrace a new role this year, but at the same time, I’m not the kind of guy that needs to get the ball every play,” Williams said. “I’m more about the team having balance and whatever is going to help us win.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill with the leaders we lost, but I’m very comfortable with being that guy.”
In fact, Alvarez said he’s been most impressed with Williams’ maturity and development.
“I’m really proud of how far he’s come and how he shows up to practice every day ready to set the example,” Alvarez said. “He’s not a real rah-rah guy, but he’ll talk when he needs to and he has his teammates’ respect.
“He’s the kind of guy that gives us a lot of options on the field, and we’re certainly going to take advantage of that.”
As Williams pointed out, there are shoes to fill – on the field and the sideline. Alvarez takes over for longtime coach and friend Rick Martinez, who left to assist Dennis Stubbs at Golden Valley. Alvarez was hired to serve as co-head coach with Jeff Slaughter. However, Slaughter resigned before the season started.
Alvarez isn’t inheriting an empty cupboard.
The passing game in particular looks to be stout with Frankie Contreras returning at quarterback and Victor Martinez lining up opposite Williams at wideout. Alvarez said Miguel Granados will shift to tight end and Cristian Nava showed what he can do at fullback with big-time runs in the section title game.
Sophomore transfer Carlos Iniguez will take over at tailback and will run behind a relatively new offensive line. Juniors Nathan Sherriff and Junior Villagomez gained experience last year, getting called up for the title run, and will provide beef to the line.
The defense has the most turnover, but few programs have shown the ability to retool like the Bulldogs.
The front seven in particular will have plenty of new faces with Nava and Granados anchoring the linebackers. The defensive strength early should be the secondary as Williams, Martinez and Isaiah Alarcon all return.
“We definitely have some question marks going into the season, but it’s nothing we haven’t been through before,” Alvarez said. “There’s been a few times during this run where we lost a lot of key guys and had to fill holes the next season.
“The main thing we decided then was we needed to be ready as a coaching staff to help lead things back when we hit that adversity. It’s something we may need to be prepared for this season.”
Candidate profile: Christian Williams
Position: Wide receiver/defensive back
Last Year: A scoring threat every time he touches the ball, Williams caught seven TDs, rushed for seven, returned eight and took two interceptions for scores in 2013.
Qualifications: Elusive, nimble and possesses a quick first step while always looking for his cutback lane.
Endorsement: “Obviously, the logical step is to get him the ball in as many ways as we can. He’s so versatile, we need to be creative in how we get him the ball and make sure we’re doing it in key spots.” – Le Grand head coach Raul Alvarez
Le Grand Bulldogs
Last season: 12-0
Key returners: Frank Contreras, Sr., 6-1, 180, QB; Christian Williams, Sr., 5-9, 165, WR/DB; Victor Martinez, Sr., 5-11, 175, WR/DB; Cristian Nava, Sr., 5-8, 185, FB/LB; Isaiah Alarcon, Sr., 5-8, 150, WR/DB.
Key losses: Ryan Martinez, S/RB; Juan Gomez, TE/LB; Dustin Slate, FB/LB; Santos Caballero, LB; Shane Grissom, DB; Martin Zaragoza, OL.
Key newcomers: Carlos Iniguez, So., RB/DB; Junior Villagomez, Jr., 6-1, 240, OL; Nathan Sherriff, Jr., 6-1, 220, OL; Miguel Granados, Sr., 5-9, 155, TE/LB.
Rivalry Game: Green & Gold Game against Mariposa
Stadium (Capacity): Joseph Fontes and Richard Geary Stadium (2,000)