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Turning the corner
Cougars optimistic thanks to improved depth, returning RBs
Tremain Buntan leaps over the pile as linebacker Eduardo Melero (44) closes in. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Throughout Mike Hale’s four-year tenure as Weston Ranch head coach, the Cougars have been plagued by minimal player turnout. This season, the issue still remains, yet Hale and the Cougars are adamant about their chances to improve on last season’s struggles.

Weston Ranch has been marred in mediocrity since its Valley Oak League title run in 2005, and the same obstacles stand directly in front of the program. The Cougars opened camp with the most players the team has seen in years, yet still have holes that need to be filled.

“Right now, we are looking at our depth and seeing the guys that are going to be able to come in and fill a void,” Hale said. “We’ve got to find guys that come into the game and give a guy a breather. We have a few guys that are only going one way, and we would like to be able to do that.

“I know that we are starting off with more depth than we had last year.”

The goals have not changed. They want to execute, they want to stop teams on defense and they want to compete. The glowing strength for the Cougars will be the returning depth in the offensive backfield. Starting quarterback James Simerly’s primary responsibility will be guiding the ground game.

“Our ground attack is what we are going to be relying on,” Hale said. “(Tremaine) Buntan and (Donnell) Sims are our leading returning rushers, so we just plan on getting behind our offensive line and big Willie Cervantes at left tackle.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that we stay right behind.”

The Cougars will depend heavily on Sims on both sides of the ball, as he leads a defensive unit that  hopes to thrive in its ability to go man-to-man in defensive coverage and increase pressure up front. Regardless of the Cougars’ scheme, Sims will be responsible for something the coaching staff can’t teach.

“I just bring a lot of experience,” Sims said. “For the most part I have always been a leader on every team I’ve been on, so I’m just trying to help get my team better. Help us learn how to work and help players get better, which will make out team better.

“We’ve been in the weight room, we’ve been working hard, we’re getting more players, now we’re just all getting bigger and better.”

The Cougars were only able to muster a pair of victories a season ago after posting three in 2009. The schedule never gets any easier in the VOL. That doesn’t change this year with home games scheduled against Manteca, Oakdale and East Union.

Making the gigantic leap to become a consistent postseason program is not necessarily the objective for the Cougars, at least not going into the upcoming season.

“It’s about continuing to grow within our system,” Hale said. “We are trying to create some stability and try and put some wins under our belt. The number of wins we’re going to have, I can’t call that, but I believe that we are more prepared and ready to play than at any moment since I’ve been here.

“As long as we’re able to compete and see some progress and get some stops on defense we’ll be alright.”

The Oakdale Mustangs have grabbed a piece of at least four consecutive league titles, advancing to the postseason alongside Manteca, Sonora, East Union and Sierra highs over the past three seasons. The Mustangs return their Sac-Joaquin Section championship game starting quarterback, assuring Oakdale will definitely have some stability.

The Cougars know what lies in front of them after they close out a non-league schedule that includes games with Tokay, Bear Creek and a season-opener against Calaveras. Those three contests will be enough for the Cougars to worry about, minimizing the importance of how the other seven VOL programs are fairing.

 “Right now we are just trying to piece together our thing,” Hale said. “We are starting to come into our own. This is my fourth year running the program and this is by far the best start, and far as numbers and athleticism, I have seen us get off to since I’ve been here.

“We’re not going to worry about anybody else, we’re just going to come out and try and be efficient ourselves.”