It won’t take long for Ripon to see what it’s made of.
No team in the Manteca area has a stiffer pre-league schedule than these Indians, who are coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons with the lower-level teams going undefeated in 2013. There are some juicy matchups ahead for Ripon, which takes on larger schools in Sierra and Lathrop of the Valley Oak League as well as Patterson, a contender in the Western Athletic Conference.
Still not impressed?
Ripon closes its nonleague schedule against Sonora and Sutter, and it faces both tradition-rich programs on the road. Sutter is a like-size school with a powerhouse football program from the Northern Section.
It doesn’t get easier after that.
Following their bye week, the Indians open Trans-Valley League play against defending champion and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff finalist Hilmar on Oct. 10.
“It kind of worked out that way,” Ripon coach Chris Johnson said. “We’re kind of a victim of our own success. We can’t get any schools of our own size to play us. We’ve been fortunate to have success with our lower-level teams and some teams see that. They are looking to get those six wins to get into the playoffs and so they schedule down.”
Considering its brutal schedule, a six-win campaign would be a big accomplishment for Ripon, which has just 11 returning players. New leaders must rise up to fill big holes left by three-year standouts Kody Day (OL/DL) and Michael Morris (FB/LB).
“If we can survive our preseason that bodes well for us, because we’re really young,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about it.”
He was encouraged with what he saw out of his scrappy group at Manteca High’s five-team summer camp July 14-16. Ripon was the smallest school represented at the full-contact camp, which also consisted of Division I Atwater, Grace Davis of Modesto, Liberty Ranch of Galt and, of course, reigning SJS Division III champion Manteca.
“It just makes us a better football team,” Johnson said. “We’ve gone up against Manteca the last few years in camp, and the one thing about them is they’re a very well-coached team. Against teams like that you’re either going to get better or die. We really like doing our summer stuff with those schools.
“It forces our kids to grow up real quick. We are potentially looking at starting nine or 10 juniors on defense, so they’re going to have to grow up quick.”
Quarterback Nick Price had to mature as a sophomore behind center at the varsity level. Now a junior, Price has added 15-20 pounds of muscle while continuing to work on the nuances of the position. The Indians took on the likes of Davis, Liberty Ranch and Oakdale in head-to-head 7-on-7s. They also participated in the Patterson Passing Tournament and went 1-4, though that is not an indication of how effectively the Indians can run their hybrid spread/wing-T offense.
“When it comes to 7-on-7s, we’re going to run our offense with our sprint-outs and playaction, which doesn’t bode well for those types of things,” Johnson said. “One thing I do like about the passing tournaments is that it gets our kids in a competitive environment against schools bigger than us and athletes faster than us. But we are not going to bastardize ourselves for the sake of winning 7-on-7 tournaments in July, we’re going to run the same plays that we run in the fall.”
Johnson said that attendance was in the 80 to 90 percent range for weight training, which started at 7:30 in the morning Monday-Thursday every week over the summer. In that respect, it was one of the team’s most successful summers program-wide.
“We’ve been pretty much doing it the same way for 11 years,” Johnson said. “Our numbers are a little up this year (about 110 across the three levels) and we have a lot of first-year football players. When you win 11 games two years in a row I guess more people want to be a part of it.”