Ryan Torres has a positive outlook on the upcoming season for Sierra, even if some may have their doubts.
Long gone are the key contributors to the 2019 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship, including the school’s all-time leading rusher in Kimoni Stanley. A midseason injury to the explosive running back was deflating for the Timberwolves this past spring, and they finished the pandemic-shortened campaign with a 1-4 record.
Torres was among the few sophomores two years ago who were called up to the varsity for the SJS title run and is one of the very few fourth-year players within the program. The 2021 team is a relative unknown to the outsider, and Torres is alright with that.
“Especially with Kimoni gone, I think people already look down on Sierra,” Torres said. “We might shock some people this year if we just keep practicing the way we are.
“For me, it helps (being part of the 2019 postseason team) because I know what it’s going to take to lead us there again. That team had a lot of skilled players but it wasn’t all just because of that. We have skilled players, too, but what they had was they worked hard every day. I always tell my team we don’t have to have all the talent in the world, but if we can work hard and play together we can go places like they did two years ago.”
Fifth-year coach Chris Johnson loves the attitude of his players and enjoys coaching them up, but there is a steep learning curve for a team lacking varsity experience. There are only three players returning who started on offense in the spring and two on defense, and players with no prior football experience are expected to get reps.
“They are still learning a lot of the basic football skills, but it’s a tough-minded group of kids,” Johnson said. “They are not going to back down. We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen so far under the circumstances we are in.
“It’s like I tell the (assistant) coaches, what a great opportunity for us to have a bunch of new kids to really work with from scratch. We have the opportunity to rebuild this thing from the ground up.”
What has made things harder for Sierra is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Multiple players have self-reported positive tests in recent weeks, forcing the junior varsity and varsity teams to begin official practices one week later than everyone else in the SJS. One of them is a two-way starter who is missing the zero-week opener at Hughson because he won’t have the minimum required practices to participate in games.
“With the setback, I feel like that actually helped us a little bit,” Torres said. “It gave us a sense of urgency to work harder and be on top of things more than usual. We have to push harder than other teams because we know they didn’t have to wait a week (to practice).”
Torres is an unquestioned team leader on both sides of scrimmage along with Christian Moore. Torres starts at one of the slotback spots in the triple-option flexbone offense and is the free safety on defense. Moore plays on the line with the imposing Sean Brink, a center/defensive lineman who is 6 foot 4, 320 pounds.
Tyler Looney has taken over the quarterback position after getting some varsity experience as a sophomore last spring. Johnson thinks Looney’s size and natural athleticism can make him a weapon from behind center, but the team will always look to its fullback and slots to establish the run game first.
“The one thing we do have is size,” Johnson said. “I’m an old school guy and a believer that you have to be able to execute and run the ball in order to set everything else up. In our league (Valley Oak League), when you look at the Oakdales, Central Catholics and Mantecas they come at you. Not everyone is going to be able to play their style of football, but this is the VOL and that’s what this league is about. It is really an old school league.”
Tyler Nunes, Victor Serna and first-year player Joey Obrochta are other threats from the slots, while Maximus Morales and Ben Wheeler carry the load at fullback.
While he appreciates the character of his players, Johnson won’t know what type of football team he has until after it gets through its four pre-league contests.
“It’s a very team-oriented group,” Johnson said. “Watching them on film, they all look same to me. The backfield is all the same cookie-cutter guys and there’s a really good energy around them. They may not have a lot of football experience but they are super coachable, they work real hard and ask good questions. As far as having an identity, we’ll know more about this team in three or four weeks.”
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Chris Johnson (fifth year)
STAFF: Jeff Abrew (OC), Nick Hardenbrook (RB), Loren Johnson (OL), Mike James (DC), Tony Jimenez (ILB), Frankie Vela (OLB), Matt Tate (DB), Willie Juarez (DL).
KEY RETURNERS: RB/DB Ryan Torres (12), OL/DL Christian Moore (12)
KEY NEWCOMERS: QB Tyler Looney (11).
Aug. 20 at Hughson
Aug. 28 vs. Acalanes
Sept. 3 vs. Pacheco
Sept. 10 vs. Stagg
Sept. 17 vs. Manteca
Sept. 24 at East Union
Oct. 1 at W. Ranch
Oct. 8 vs. Oakdale
Oct. 15 at Kimball
Oct. 22 BYE
Oct. 29 vs. C. Catholic