To the outsider, it may not have been an ideal first year for Ron Wayman as Weston Ranch coach.
His Cougars only got to play three out of five possible contests this past spring season with two getting cancelled because of coronavirus health and safety protocols. Additionally, many of his players were splitting their time practicing for other teams on campus since the football season went into the Valley Oak League’s combined winter-spring sports calendar.
Because of low numbers, Wayman had to consolidate the program into one team, meaning his young freshmen were forced to play against full-fledged varsity athletes. The Ranch went 1-2 in the short season, suffering blowout losses at the hands of Sierra and East Union while defeating non-league opponent Denair on the road, 26-6.
The Cougars’ Week 3 game at Ripon was called off, as was their lone home game against Kimball in the finale. Players and coaches were looking forward to christening the revamped stadium, where they last hosted a game in mid-October of 2019.
Despite all these challenges, Wayman felt that the whole year — much of it spent in the weight room while wondering if there would even be a season — served as a productive trial run for a program that is once again in transition. He is the school’s eighth head football coach since its inaugural varsity campaign in 2003.
“It was a great learning experience,” Wayman said. “If you’re going to start out as a head football coach, why not have everything that could go wrong get thrown at you pretty much at once? The greatest thing about this last year was that these core players coming back embraced the change 1,000 percent more than I could have asked. It showed in our spring season. They never lost heart and they continued to fight through everything.
“After the East Union game and quarantine we took the next week off. And literally the next Monday players started calling me saying, ‘Coach, when can we start practicing again?’ The excitement for this year is such a great stepping stone.”
The quick turnaround from the spring season to summer workouts, he believes, benefits the program as the returning players don’t have to relearn everything. Wayman anticipates having the numbers to field a junior varsity team this fall and remains hopeful to have a freshman squad.
“We’re consistently averaging around 35-45 and sometimes up to 50 players,” he said. “It’s such a different learning curve (from last summer) because our younger players are able to (help out) the incoming freshmen. You can see that we’re a team. It’s a pretty fantastic first step.”
The team has been working on its “modified spread” offense with junior Namir Brown-Sanger under center. He and his brother, senior lineman Zyale, have emerged as leaders. Namir will continue to start at middle linebacker, where he thrived last season as the team’s leading tackler.
Marcelo Zamarripa takes over as defensive coordinator for former Weston Ranch standout Torijean Saffold, who has taken over as head coach at Bear Creek. Wayman is encouraged by the defense with much of their key players returning, and the offense continues to operate under Clayton Buttram.
“We’re still going to be young this year, but a lot of these guys have varsity experience now,” Wayman said. “Our line is going to be pretty well solidified — we only lost two seniors that rotated in and out in the spring. We have a little bit of size this year to go with the speed.”
Wayman likes what he has seen so far out of his team in 7-on-7 scrimmages against Stagg, and the Cougars are facing Lodi this week. Following the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Dead Period, beginning July 12, official practices for football may start on July 26.
Wayman said the team’s focus for this summer program has been on discipline and execution. The Cougars will get to put it all together in mid-August when they participate in a four-team scrimmage at Stagg. The season kicks off Aug. 20 at Grace Davis, and their much-anticipated home opener is Aug. 27 against Mountain House.
Weston Ranch’s non-league schedule resumes with the revival of the “Battle of I-5” rivalry game with Lathrop on the road and at home against Franklin.
“It’s a solid lineup of opponents and hopefully it’ll get us ready for the VOL,” Wayman said.