Ripon Christian looks forward to having some semblance of a normal football season, even with sanctions from the Sac-Joaquin Section hovering over the Knights.
Head coach Phil Grams, then in his first year at RC, helped launch a club football league that held a short five-week season in the spring amid the state’s coronavirus lockdown. The school opted not to participate in the California Interscholastic Federation season that soon followed, as its football players — who were joined by a few athletes from others schools — were already committed to the local club team led by Grams.
The SJS has since punished four of its member schools for their participation in the club season. As of now, Ripon Christian is ineligible for postseason play in football the next two years and under probation for three. School administration is likely appealing the sanctions, but in the meantime the Knights are preparing for their 2021 opener as they have in years past.
“We’re approaching it like any other season, putting in all the work we can,” returning lineman Jay Hoekstra said. “All we can do is let it all work out and let God take care of it. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not a reason to give up.”
Grams has had more than a year to acclimate himself to his new surroundings while installing the fly offense. A longtime coach out of the Sacramento area, he won a Section championship as head coach for Capital Christian before moving onto Lawrence University in Wisconsin where he served as offensive coordinator for three years.
He said the Knights picked up on the offense quickly — they went 5-0 in the club circuit last spring — and has even added wrinkles with a key addition at quarterback. The fly offense makes use of a speedy receiver in motion who stretches the field horizontally either as a pass-catching threat or ball carrier out of the backfield.
“We have a group of smart guys who have been willing to learn this offense, and they are real hard workers,” Grams said. “The level of their football IQ has allowed us to expand on the offense a little bit.”
What he has learned about his athletes in the pass year-plus is their close-knit bond and toughness help them overcome their usual disadvantage in depth. There are only 19 varsity players on the roster with three returners on each side of scrimmage, but they’re ready for the rigors of a full, 10-game regular season.
The Knights are still reigning champions of the Southern Athletic League, going 11-1 in 2019. The current seniors finished 8-2 for the junior varsity that year.
“This senior class has been together awhile,” lineman Zach Brouwer said. He and Hoekstra are team captains along with fellow senior Colton Bryan, who starts at center. “There are only 30 of us in our class and 10 play football. We’re pretty close and get along great with the class below. I think it will be a good experience this year.
“I’m just ready to play a full season again,” he added. “We’re finally getting everything back to normal.”
Grams said his youthful squad will lean on the two senior linemen for leadership. Brouwer (6-foot-2, 258 pounds) and Hoekstra (6-3, 210) give them size at the tackle spots.
At the skill positions, senior Micah De Jong figures to be featured heavily at receiver and fly back. At 6-2, 171 pounds, Grams said De Jong has the size and speed to torment defenses in the inside run game, fly sweeps and out wide as a pass catcher. He’ll also key the defense as an outside linebacker in the stout 4-4 front.
“He can really make us go,” Grams said. “With his athleticism, teams are going to have to stop him first.”
Quarterback Trey Fasani is back with the school after a year at Del Oro in Loomis. His dad, Randy Fasani, is Grams’ predecessor and returns to the coaching staff to mentor the QBs. The younger Fasani was in competition for the starting spot with junior Griffin Deabreu and senior Roger Postmus, whose talents will be used at other spots.
“He didn’t just come back and automatically be the starting quarterback, he had to compete for it,” Grams said of Fasani. “It helped us get better in the summer. A lot of times with a small roster there is not a lot of competition, but we now have three quarterbacks who know every position in the offense. (Fasani is) a junior who hasn’t started in a varsity game yet. He still has to prove himself.”
Postmus is in competition with other juniors at tailback, Ethan McGovern and Deren Van Elderen. Sophomore Grant Sonke is penciled in at fullback.
In the passing game, Fasani has a towering target in tight end Thys Van Der Hoek, who measures at 6-9, 240. He’ll also play defensive end.
If they can remain healthy, the Knights should again be in contention for another SAL crown. They’d also like a shot at a first SJS championship. Whether or not the playoff ban gets lifted, their focus for now is on enjoying the entire experience of their season opener.
“We definitely miss the fans, the Friday night lights and the real vibes of Friday night football games,” Hoekstra said. “I’m definitely looking forward to having that back and feeling the love and the hype that comes with it.”
AT A GLANCE
RIPON CHRISTIAN KNIGHTS
HEAD COACH: Phil Grams (second year)
STAFF: Michael Dotinga (JV HC/RB), James Vander Schaaf (DC/LB), Bill Kamps (OL, ST), Jeff Grondz (DB/WR), Randy Fasani (QB), Eddie Erdelatz (DL/ST), Jordan Goslinga (JV DC), Jake Beukelman (DL).
KEY RETURNERS: OL/DL Zachary Brouwer (12), WR/LB Micah De Jong (12), OL/DL Jay Hoekstra (12), OL/DL Colton Bryan (12).
KEY NEWCOMERS: TE/DE Thys Van Der Hoek (11), QB/LB Trey Fasani (11).
Aug. 20 at Galt
Aug. 27 vs. East Nicolaus
Sept. 3 at Calaveras
Sept. 10 BYE
Sept. 17 at Denair
Sept. 24 vs. Orestimba
Oct. 1 vs. Waterford
Oct. 8 at Le Grand
Oct. 15 vs. Mariposa
Oct. 22 at Gustine
Oct. 29 vs. Delhi