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Indians hungry for another playoff berth out of beefed-up TVL
Aug. 27: at Ceres
Sept. 3: vs. Linden
Sept. 11: vs. Ripon Ch.
Sept. 17: at Argonaut
Sept. 24: vs. Hilmar
Oct. 8: at Escalon
Oct. 15: vs. Hughson
Oct. 22: at Modesto Ch.
Oct. 29: vs. Riverbank
Nov. 5: at Orestimba
After suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Summerville in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Division IV playoffs last season, Ripon High is poised to bounce back in a big way.

With returning starters on both sides of the ball bolstering a team that garnered a playoff berth twice in the last five years, the Indians are looking forward to a season where they’ll be able to gain an edge with a zero-week game and a chance to take a week to rest before taking on annual Trans Valley League powerhouse Escalon to start their league campaign.

And they’re also looking to field a defense that was just as aggressive as the squad from last season that helped secure their first playoff berth in three seasons.

“I think that strength and skill are going to help us field a solid defensive team,” said senior defensive lineman Andy Bunting, who finished last season with 48 tackles and nine sacks, in addition to recovering a fumble and forcing two more. “We have a lot of experience against the teams that we’re going to be lining up against, and we’re coming back stronger than we were last year.

“We know what we have to do week-in and week-out, and that’s what we’re going to have to focus on as we prepare for every team that we’re going to face.”

 Just last season Modesto Christian won the TVL title, the Sac-Joaquin D-IV title and the California small-school title in a year that showcased how strong the squad was from top-to-bottom. Hilmar, which joins the fight this year from Western Athletic Conference, won the Sac-Joaquin Section
D-V title in 2008.

Returning quarterback Alex Gustin will lead an offense that had the luxury last season of only having to score more points that the defense allowed in their 7-3 regular-season finish – a ratio that fell very much into Ripon’s favor before the 33-0 playoff loss during a stormy night in Summerville.

Rebounding from that, Gustin says, is a priority of the team as they ready themselves for a season that gives the squad some flexibility in determining when their games are going to be scheduled and when the team will take a bye week not afforded to them last season.
The extra week before league, said Gustin, will have a big impact on how ready Ripon is for the battles that will come against Escalon and Hilmar during the run up to the playoffs.

“This year we’re going to have speed outside, and combined with the hard work that we’re putting in right now we should really be ready by the time the TVL season starts,” said Gustin, who finished the season with 612 yard passing and seven touchdown on the season, and rushed for another 623 yards and another seven touchdowns. “I think that Hilmar coming back into the TVL is going to make it more competitive, but I have a lot of faith in our team and how far we’re going to be able to make it.”

When it came to getting players to the summer workouts this year, head coach Chris Johnson said the turnout was beyond belief.

Johnson said that the average attendance for the workouts during the hot summer months was between 50 and 60 players every time – showing the sort of dedication that is necessary to really make a difference in the overall strength of a team and the unity among the active players.

“Our turnout this year was excellent, and seeing so many kids stepping up and showing up for a team camp in Dublin is a really good sign,” said Johnson. “We have a lot of depth this year at our quarterback and other skill positions, and getting a team like Hilmar back in the TVL is huge because we’ve played them for years. Everyone is really excited about upcoming TVL season.

“Week zero is unique because it puts somewhat of a crunch on your time, but you’re able to make that back because you get a week somewhere in the season to rest up. We think that’ll be best used as we prepare for Escalon, and hopefully we’ll be firing on all cylinders by the time we take the field that night.”