Weston Ranch may be young, but second-year coach Ron Wayman said not to mistake that for inexperience.
The 2021 pandemic-shortened spring season presented his team some difficult circumstances, starting with low program-wide turnout that forced Wayman to bring up freshmen and sophomores and form a single cohort of Cougars. Numbers continued to dwindle as traditional winter and spring sports began during football season, leading to some busy nights for multi-sport athletes. When senior players were practicing or playing for other sports, younger players got the first-team reps.
“All of our freshmen and sophomores were varsity last year, and they had significant playing time,” Wayman said. “They gained that varsity experience against (Valley Oak League) schools. Even though we’re young on paper, we’re not young as far as VOL varsity experience is concerned.”
Ultimately, Wayman’s trial-by-fire project was cut short because of coronavirus health and safety protocols. Weston Ranch only got to play three of its five games, losing to established Manteca Unified rivals Sierra and East Union while defeating small-school non-league opponent Denair, 22-6. Its finale against Kimball was cancelled following the 53-0 loss to East Union, but Wayman was impressed with how his athletes responded.
Returning players were not discouraged by the results and the adversity, however — it left them wanting more. Many reached out to Wayman soon after their season ended, asking when they are allowed to begin training again. More players came out for summer workouts, and the coaches are high on what appears to be a strong freshman class. Wayman opted again to not have a JV team, but having the numbers to cover two levels is a step in the right direction.
“Honestly, I could not have asked them to do any more than they’ve already done,” Wayman said. “They’ve proven that as we change the culture, they’re willing to work harder, work faster and work smarter. It shows with the numbers we have. They’ve embraced everything we’ve asked them to do and more.”
Zyale and Namir Brown-Sanger have bought in and emerged as leaders on the team. The elder Zyale heads a promising — and large — offensive line as its center. Behind him at quarterback is Namir, a junior whose downfield throwing ability allows offensive coordinator Clayton Buttram to expand the playbook of the hybrid spread/Wing-T attack.
The Brown-Sangers also spearhead the 4-3 as linebackers.
“We want to prove we are changing the culture at Weston Ranch,” Zyale Brown Sanger said. “We’ve been known as a rag-tag team, but now we’re an actual football team and we want to show that to the VOL.”
At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Zyale is dwarfed by some of the linemen next to him. Weston Ranch has a solid three-man rotation at the offensive tackle spots between senior Elian Urbina (6-0, 270) and sophomores Alex Walker (6-4, 280) and Joseph Richardson (6-4, 290). The group is mentored by 2006 Weston Ranch grad Shawn Holmes, who was part of the school’s only VOL championship football team.
“We’ve gotten some bigger guys but we have numbers as well,” Zyale Brown-Sanger said. “I’m really proud of the work they’ve put in.”
As for Namir, Wayman said he’ll be splitting time at quarterback because of his importance to the defense — he was the Cougars’ leading tackler last spring.
“He’s actually a better defensive player than a quarterback, and we’re pretty blessed to have a returning sophomore who can split with him,” Wayman said.
Noah Deed performed admirably in spot duty as a freshman in the spring, completing 9 of 16 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions spread across three games. Receivers Chris Buttram and Mauricio Gonzales also gained varsity experience as underclassmen.
First-year seniors Jesus Gonzales (RB/DE) and Stephon Nelson Phillips (WR/DB) are expected to make an impact on both sides of scrimmage. They did not play last season but were two-year players at the lower levels.
Weston Ranch is eager to see what it can do over a normal 10-game regular-season schedule, but the Cougars are especially looking forward to their home opener against Mountain House on Aug. 27. That’s because it will mark their first game at the school’s renovated stadium. The last time they hosted a game was Oct. 18, 2019, and the team was denied a home game in the spring because of the cancellations.
“We’re really looking forward to doing a whole season and with our new field,” Zyale Sanger-Brown said. “We didn’t get to play on it last year and that was unfortunate. It was real tough because we had been working for so long and it would have been great to show the school what we’ve been pushing for and the changes we’ve made in the program.”
They’ll get their chance soon enough.
“We’re just excited to have a full season after 18-19 months of hard work,” Wayman said. “It’s going to be fun.”
AT A GLANCE
WESTON RANCH COUGARS
HEAD COACH: Ron Wayman (second year)
STAFF: Marcello Zamarippa (assistant HC), Clayton Buttram (OC), Luis Ruiz (special teams), Damian McMiller (assistant), Chrispin Gonzales (JV HC), Jose Garcia (JV OC), Jesse Watson (JV assistant).
KEY RETURNERS: LB/C Zyale Brown Sanger (12), OL Elian Urbina (12), LB/QB Namir Brown Sanger (11), DB/WR Chris Buttram (11), WR Mauricio Gonzales (10), OL/DL Alex Walker (10), OL/DL Joseph Richardson (10).
KEY NEWCOMERS: RB/DE Jesus Gonzales (12), DB/WR Stephon Nelson Phillips (12), DB/WR Andre Hughes (11).
Aug. 20 at G. Davis
Aug. 27 vs. Mtn. House
Sept. 3 at Lathrop
Sept. 10 vs. Franklin
Sept. 17 at Kimball
Sept. 24 at C. Catholic
Oct. 1 vs. Sierra
Oct. 8 at Manteca
Oct. 15 vs. East Union
Oct. 22 vs. Oakdale
Oct. 29 BYE