RIPON — Chris Musseman was in no hurry to get the Ripon High football program back into the weight room after the school year ended in the final week of May.
Student-athletes endured an exhausting year of uncertainty, coronavirus protocols and even game cancellations, so Musseman and his assistants didn’t mind taking an extra break from it all. The football season lasted just five weeks for Manteca-area schools in the spring, and the reigning Division IV-AA state champion Indians got three games.
“We started June 14, and I know a lot of (other teams) started at the beginning (of June) but we felt as a coaching staff that the kids, and even we as coaches, needed a break after that awkward spring football thing that just happened,” Musseman said. “All we did was lift weights for about seventh months only to get three games, so the kids were kind of burned out. We’re a little bit behind but hopefully we can get a little caught up.”
Ripon lost all three of its contests, getting blown out by East Union in the opener but showing promise in competitive losses to Valley Oak League power Manteca and Trans-Valley League rival Escalon. The Indians also had games scheduled against Weston Ranch and Oakdale but those were cancelled because of positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing.
Musseman was encouraged by what he saw out of some of his younger players who are expected to make more of an impact this fall but also concerned about the development of players at lower levels.
“We got some experience,” he said. “We brought up a few sophomores in the spring for that purpose. It really was like spring football for us. We wanted to get seniors some games in and unfortunately it didn’t go very well for them only having three games, but it was really a chance to get some experience.
“A lot of people forget that sophomore year at the JV level is huge for their development and they didn’t get a full season. Developmentally, we’re way behind because our kids didn’t get to play enough football. Our current sophomores played three games as JV last year.”
With some players quitting football leading up to the season, Ripon struggled with depth when facing larger schools like East Union and Manteca. Turnout remains low for the JV and varsity teams this summer, but the freshmen have provided a glimmer of hope with roughly 45 players consistently attending workouts.
“We have a huge freshman class this year and it’s going to pay dividends down the road for us,” Musseman said. “It’s the biggest freshman class in my 20 years at Ripon.”
There are big decisions at key positions ahead for Musseman and his staff in the coming weeks, most notably at quarterback. There are three players competing for the starting job in seniors Dylan DeGraaf and Brandon Molthen and sophomore Ty Herrin. DeGraaf was the top back-up this past spring behind Aaron Wood, while Herrin started behind center for the JV.
They got to work on their skills as passers in a 7-on-7 jamboree at Tracy. The Indians also went head-to-head with Central Valley, Sierra and Oakdale.
“Whoever wins the quarterback job will definitely dictate what our offense looks like,” Musseman said. “With one kid under center it’ll be old-school Wing-T, and if it’s the other kid it could look like it did the last few years and be more spread out.”
Teams may begin holding official practices July 26 with scrimmages on Aug. 13. Ripon is hosting a three- or four-team jamboree that will include Sierra. The Indians open at home Aug. 20 against East Union before heading to Sonora and East Nicolaus the following two weeks. Their challenging non-league schedule wraps up Sept. 10 with visiting Calaveras.
“I think the kids, the coaches and everyone involved are just really excited to have a normal season,” Musseman said.