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Ripon welcomes former coach back as assistant to help lead young team
Ripon summer football
Chris Johnson coaches up the linemen in a drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Chris Musseman has added a familiar face to Ripon’s coaching staff.

Chris Johnson is at his old stomping grounds after five years as head coach for Sierra, where he still teaches. In 2019, he led the Timberwolves to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship, just as Musseman did with Ripon in Division V. The Indians went on to claim the Division IV-AA state title.

Johnson previously coached Ripon, his alma mater, for 12 years with Musseman as his right-hand man. He’s back as an assistant, coaching the defensive line.

“It’s always nice when you find a guy with great character, and it’s a bonus when they have great football knowledge,” Musseman said. “It seems like he’s enjoying it because he just gets to do the football stuff. It’s nice to have him back. We’ve been friends for a long time.”

It’s a welcome addition to an already-experienced staff that is tasked with developing a very inexperienced team.

The final remnants of that state championship team is gone, and what was a senior-loaded team last season is replenished by a group with very little game experience at the high school level.

In the spring of 2021, schools in the SJS had up to five weeks to play football amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ripon was one of many teams that had to miss games because of health and safety protocols. The Indians only got to play three of their five games, which Musseman believes stunted the development of his lower-level players.

“Everything is brand new,” he said. “We have three kids returning with any real varsity playing experience. This (senior) class is going to get the worst of the COVID thing. In fact, they missed the most development time in their high school career. These kids as freshmen had no season and as sophomores had no season, and then they hardly got to play as varsity players because we were super senior-heavy last year and the numbers were not great so those seniors had to go both ways.

“(The current senior class) never got that developmental year. We’ve had to scale way back and go very basic, almost as if we’re starting from scratch. We did not have much of a chance to prepare very many of them.”

Emiliano Acosta is the lone returning All-Trans-Valley League selection from Ripon’s 8-5 team. Fellow lineman Camryn Acosta and outside linebacker/fullback Aiden Krupa are the other returners with significant varsity experience.

Musseman anticipates a few sophomores getting called up to help reinforce key positions. Senior Trent Vink and junior Ty Herrin are in competition for the starting quarterback spot. Overall, the program has averaged 100 participants in its summer workouts.

“The youth in our program is strong, which is a real positive,” Musseman said. “The combination of juniors and seniors we have is a good mix because what one class may be missing the other has, but we lack so much experience that it’s hard to know what it’s going to be like on a Friday night.”

They’ll find out Aug. 19 when the Indians kick off the season at East Union. Home games against Sonora and McClatchy follow, and then they head to Calaveras for their final non-league tune-up. The first three opponents qualified for the postseason last year.