The buzz around Ripon Christian is centered on its new athletic stadium, which is expected to be completed in time for the football team’s Aug. 28 season opener against Mountain House.
Varsity football coach Trey Ozenbaugh is as excited as anybody about it, but his focus come Monday — the end of the Sac-Joaquin Section Dead Period and first official day of practice for fall sports — will be narrowed down to the football team itself.
“The kids are absolutely excited to have games on campus and a place to call their own,” Ozenbaugh said, “but we don’t want to get too caught up with the hype. We want to concentrate on the football part of it. We’d like the product on the field to match the facility.”
Ripon Christian is coming off a 9-3 season in which it placed third in the Southern League and advanced to the SJS Division VI semifinals. The Knights took a month-long break before getting back to work.
Ozenbaugh has noticed a difference in starting the weightlifting program in January, earlier than in previous years. He is thankful for assistant coach Oliver Pryor and strength and conditioning coach Justin Unruh for making themselves available to lead offseason workouts. Ozenbaugh singled out junior tight end/defensive end Ty Beidleman, who has gained more than 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he’ll give the Knights both size and speed in the passing game and a playmaking threat alongside defensive whiz Will Kamps.
“This is probably one of our most physically strong and conditioned teams we’ve had,” Ozenbaugh said. “We got some positive feedback from other coaches in 7-on-7s and at camp; they said our kids look really good.
“We have quality guys (Pryor and Unruh) in the weight room and it has paid huge dividends. For us, it’s not just about getting stronger and faster, but preventing injury.”
Ripon Christian did not enter in any passing tournaments this summer but faced Riverbank, Modesto Christian, Gregori and Beyer in 7-on-7 scrimmages. The Knights also returned to the Mountain Misery Camp at Central Catholic, where they rubbed shoulders with other small-school powerhouses such as Calaveras and Sonora.
Travis Zuidervaart, a converted wide receiver, replaces three-year quarterback Billy Marr behind center. Ripon Christian has senior experience at the skill positions and the offensive line, which should take the pressure off of Zuidervaart. Ozenbaugh expects the athletic Zuidervaart to put pressure on defenses this year.
“He is an extremely intelligent player who knows the game very well,” Ozenbaugh said. “He’s not the deep threat that Billy was, but he does bring his legs into the mix more.”
The Mountain Misery Camp gave Ripon Christian an opportunity to run its spread offense that includes tweaks to cater to Zuidervaart’s strengths. Above all else, Ozenbaugh’s main objective from the experience was for all facets of the team to improve.
“We represented well and competed well,” Ozenbaugh said. “We go into camp with fewer numbers competing against bigger programs with great coaches, so it’s a great opportunity for us to get better. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the work we got in down there.”