Weston Ranch is starting over.
This time, things are a little different at the South Stockton school.
Sal Reyes is the seventh head coach for the Cougars football program and third in a year but is a familiar face on campus as its JROTC instructor. The revamped coaching staff features some of the old and some of the new, and Reyes considers recently-hired principal Troy Fast and athletic director Brett Lewis — both of whom arrive from tradition-rich district rival Manteca High — as an essential extension of the staff.
“The energy is very high and there is a sense of newness on campus, not just for the staff but for the players, too,” Reyes said.
The most noticeable difference will be the refurbished football stadium adorned by an all-weather track and new infield grass. Weston Ranch will showcase the upgrades, as well as new jerseys, on on its home opener Sept. 6 against Franklin.
“I'm excited,” senior quarterback/cornerback Atlantis Gholston said. “I've been dreaming about that moment, walking through the tunnel for our first home game in new uniforms. It's my senior year and it's as if everything has been put in line perfectly. I'm going to go out and give it my all.”
The Cougars are ready to put a tumultuous 2018 season behind them. Then first-year coach Kevin Breaker was fired after just three games, and the team's Week 2 win at Franklin was forfeited for using an ineligible player. Additionally, work was expected to begin on the stadium at the start of the season but got postponed. As a result, the Cougars did not host a game until the seventh week for homecoming. They finished 0-10.
In 16 years, Weston Ranch has had just one winning season — the Cougars were part of a three-way share of the Valley Oak League title in 2005 — and two .500 finishes. Reyes isn't promising overnight success but is encouraged by the foundation set by his current group of players, coaching staff and administration.
“I've had some good talks with Mr. Fast and Mr. Lewis, and we just want to move on from last year and not make the same mistakes,” Reyes said. “I'm not taking anything from any of our (previous) coaches, they've all done a great job and I believe every coach brings something different to a program. Hopefully my leadership style and the rest of our coaches can have a positive impact.”
Michael Hale, varsity head coach from 2008-12, has returned to the program and will lead the JV. Joining him as JV offensive coordinator is Marcelo Zamarippa, who took over in the interim last season after Breaker's dismissal. Both are on-campus teachers.
Senior tackle/linebacker Isiah Maxie appreciates the enthusiasm that the coaches, both new and old, bring to practices.
“Going through a coaching change in the middle of the season was tough, but we learned to keep pushing and fighting through adversity,” Maxie said. “Everyone in league doubted us. The score didn't define who we are. Every game Weston Ranch played their heart out, things just didn't fall our way.
“It's definitely a fresh start now, a whole new environment. I'm really excited to seeing how the season plays out and to step out onto the new field.”
Ethan Taylor, Gholston and Maxie are the only players who are going into their fourth season with the program. The rest either come up from a promising JV group that went 6-4 last year or are first-yer players.
Gholston returns to the quarterback position after being moved to receiver early last season in favor of Amier Bowen, the school's single-season record holder for passing yards. The Cougars are shifting to a veer offense but will occasionally go to the previously-used spread system to take advantage of their speed.
“I feel like we can outrun anybody,” Gholston said. “If we can get our timing and blocking assignments down, we can be pretty good.”
Reyes likes the potential of the running game. While Gholston is threat to make plays outside the pocket, he can also hand it off to the speed-power combo of 5-foot-3 scatback Aaron Vickers and Marcel Phillips — both first-year players. Junior Jose Sanchez and Phillips book end Maxie at linebacker to help fortify the 3-3-5 defense.
Overall, Reyes is pleased with the progress of the program and the excitement it can bring to the campus.
“We look forward to bringing that positive energy back to our program and to represent the Weston Ranch community the best we can,” Reyes said. “We want to bring out the parents, families and friends on Friday nights to cheer on these young players.”