The switch to an up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense was a successful one for Merced High School last season.
The Bears averaged more than 29 points a game en route to winning their first Central California Conference title since 2008.
“I expect us to be better than last year,” quarterback Tyrone Williams said. “We have better leadership. Even through the dead period, we worked without our coaches. We want to get better. I feel we can score 40 points a game with the way we practice and the way we work.”
The reigning CCC champs are the team to beat again. When you look at the weapons Merced has coming back, you understand why.
It starts with Williams. The senior threw for 2,060 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. The only blemish on Williams, who was named the CCC’s top offensive player last year, was 16 interceptions.
“I need to take care of the ball a lot more,” Williams said. “I need to make better reads. If it’s not there, I need to go on to the next play. I also need to get the ball out quicker.”
When Bears coach Rob Scheidt talks about Williams, he sounds as excited as he has with any of the quarterbacks who have come through Merced in his 18 seasons.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Williams has a quarterback frame. He has the intelligence and athletic ability needed to thrive in Merced’s system.
The plan is for Williams to be a dual threat after rushing for only 51 yards last year.
“We pride ourselves on having physical quarterbacks,” Scheidt said. “If we need 3 tough yards, we don’t want to have to put a fullback in the game. We want to be able to count on our quarterback to get those yards if needed.”
Williams’ toughest task may be finding a way to distribute the ball. Merced lost conference MVP Travante Richard, but it returns talented receivers A.J. Stewart, Nick Camper and Josh Taylor.
“We have good receivers who can catch a lot of balls,” Scheidt said. “Most of them are 6 feet or 6-1 and 180 to 185 pounds. These are not skinny guys running routes. These are big, physical guys. Tyrone isn’t going to have to throw a perfect ball. These guys can go get it.”
The running game should also be explosive with Jabar Byrd and newcomer Ulonzo Gilliam. Byrd averaged more than 10 yards per carry last year, finishing with 624 yards and six touchdowns. His looks were limited because the bulk of his time was spent playing defensive back.
“I know the offense completely now,” Byrd said. “As a junior, I learned the offense as the season went along. I learned more every game. I learned to adapt. Now, I don’t have to think about what I have to do. I can just do it.”
Gilliam made a name for himself on the basketball court last season as a freshman point guard, leading the Bears to the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals.
Defensively, the Bears have a strong secondary with Byrd, Gilliam, Lawrence Anderson, DeVonya Shepherd and Jamar Turner. Up front, Kenneth Hammel and Justin Solis will lead the way. Solis is a third-year varsity starter who returns after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. Jermon Cook gives the Bears one of the top linebackers in the CCC.
“Overall, we have a lot of experience on both sides of the ball,” Scheidt said. “It’s not like we don’t have any question marks. I like our leadership. We have question marks up front. I think we can still be strong tackle to tackle. We have guys in those positions that can be good players. It’s a matter of putting the right groups together.”
Candidate profile: Tyrone Williams