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Very big returns for Los Banos

LOS BANOS -- Damon Bragner knows there are expectations.

He can feel them everywhere he goes -- every time someone asks him about the Los Banos football team.

The whole city has a buzz.

Some might see an entire town's hopes as too much pressure, but in a city where the team barely generated

any excitement in the last decade ...

A few expectations can be a good thing.

"It feels good," Los Banos' 6-foot-3 right tackle said. "There's a lot of talk about the team right now in Los Banos.

"We showed we could go 5-5 last season and now we have to show we can do even better."

Coach Dennis Stubbs brought a new attitude to a program that compiled 12 total wins in the six years before his arrival last season.

And the town's adopted that winning spirit.

"I don't think anyone can remember the last time we were playoff contenders," Bragner said. "Now we need to take it that extra step.

"Making the playoffs would mean a lot to everyone."

Bragner and the rest of his offensive line mates will likely play a big role in making LB's playoff dreams a reality.

Quarterback Julio Cortez and running back Casey Cotta both drew most of the attention with monster offensive campaigns in 2007, but it was Los Banos' offensive line giving them the time and space to make things happen.

The quartet of Bragner, right guard Luis Santillan, left guard Tony Faria Jr. and left tackle Nick Aguirre all return.

"We're really proud of what we did last year," Faria said. "There are a lot of offenses that don't run for 1,800 yards.

"But you can always get better. We know what the other guys on the line are going to do.

"I'm not saying we're going to be the best offensive line in the league, but we're definitely going to be among the best."

The veteran line gives Stubbs some options as he attempts to break in a number of knew offensive pieces.

Junior Erik Martin replaces Cortez behind center and sophomore Darrin Brown will split touches at running back with returner Saul Zavala, as the duo attempts to fill Cotta's sizable production.

"We lost some big-time players on offense, but we have some excellent guys coming in," Stubbs said.

"Darrin (Brown) is more of a speed guy than Cotta was, but he's a really talented kid that's going to help us out.

"Erik (Martin) has a big strong arm, but he can run, too.

"Julio (Cortez) was more of a pocket passer. Erik's going to give us another dimension."

Martin also has a couple talented senior receivers as targets.

Rubal Sangha looks to establish himself as one of the top wideouts in the CCC, while 6-foot-3 Zach Deges is a big target at tight end.

"I think we have the pieces to be a very good football team," Stubbs said. "Of course, we'll know a lot more after our first four games."

With arguably the second toughest non-conference schedule in the CCC -- only Merced has a more difficult task -- improving on last year's 5-5 record may prove difficult.

Los Banos opens at home against Fresno and then hits the road for games against Tracy and Dos Palos in the emotional Westside War.

LB closes its non-conference schedule at home against St. Mary's.

"It's a tough challenge," Stubbs said. "They were all playoff teams last year.

"But if you want to get better, you have to play the best and that's what we're trying to do."