Football entering this year with cautious optimism

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It’s been a long wait, but football will tee it up tonight, and head coach Sal Reyes can’t wait to get started. On campus, students and staff have seen many changes: new principal, new assistant principal and vice-principals, new teachers, etc. The school looks different, and the direction is positive for a change. Hoping to capitalize on the changes, Reyes begins his era as head football coach as he takes the Cougars to Ripon High School for a 7 pm kickoff.

To say Reyes has his work cut out for him is not only an understatement but a daunting challenge not many would consider. Last year, the Cougars were 1-9 on the field and in a big mess off the field. The team lost its original head coach early in the season, dealt with significant adversity, and watched the promise of a successful season slip away. Although interim head coach Marcelo Zamarripa stepped into the coaching position with bravery and dignity, the season was doomed because of the turmoil deposed coach Kevin Breaker heaped upon the program.

But that was last year.

This year’s football team has new uniforms, new helmets, a newly renovated stadium, a new outlook, and perhaps a glimmer of optimism for Cougar Nation. The process of re-building a once-proud football program and tradition is not easy. The construction takes time and patience, two things Reyes hopes the players and the fans will consider as they play and watch.

“Building a program is a process,” Reyes told The Prowl from his football office. “Finding kids who want to play, who want to buy into being part of the process was the first step towards fixing this and righting the ship.”

Once the school year ended last May, Reyes began to build what he hopes is the foundation for many bright years to come. He started the summer with 16 potential football players.

“It was a challenge to get players to come out for summer practices. But, you know what, we kept moving forward and kept talking to kids, and now we’re up to 33, which is awesome.”

Considering the Cougars ended last season with as few as 21 players, having 33 to start the year is a significant step in getting the buy-in from players.

“There’s lots of excitement amongst the team,” Reyes added. “They’re united as a group and excited to be out here during practice. We didn’t have a lot of that last year, and practice was more of a chore than an opportunity to get better. I’m excited to be at practice with this group every day. Excitement is contagious, and I see this in our team and our players.”

So, what can we expect from the Cougars? Weston Ranch plays in the Valley Oak League, which is routinely the toughest league to compete in, regardless of whether you’re an established program or not. While wins may not pile up, Reyes said fans could expect to see an improvement in skills, experience, and attitude.

“The seniors we have are doing a terrific job of leading the team,” Reyes beamed. “They are great leaders. They know it’s going to be tough, but they have great drive and determination, and they’re not letting the younger guys get away with anything less than their best efforts.”

Three players fans can look forward to having good seasons are seniors Isaiah Maxie, Atlantis Gholston, and Ethan Taylor. Maxie will anchor the offensive line and play linebacker for the Cougar defense. Gholston returns at QB where he spent time spelling graduating senior Amier Bowen. Gholston, like Maxie, will also be counted on to help defend for the Cougars in the defensive backfield. Taylor will split time with Gholston at QB where Reyes plans to use a two-QB offensive attack to begin the year. Maxie, Gholston, and Taylor are also the only players who come into this year as four-year members of the football program, meaning they are the only ones left who have played their first three years. Reyes is counting on them to be great examples for the rest of the new and inexperienced Cougars.

“It’s going to be tough in the VOL,” said Reyes. “The preseason will tell us a lot because the matchups will be more competitive for us. They’re not going to be easy, but I think the early games will help us gain and build confidence heading into the VOL.”

It’s a new year for the Cougars — best of luck to coach Reyes and the Cougar football team. Friday night lights are back.