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Ripon making preparations for Zero Week game
Ripon High running back Reed Yoshida looks for a crack in the West defense in a full-contact scrimmage in Tracy Wednesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

TRACY — Chris Johnson isn’t used to opening up the playbook this soon.

But his Ripon High football team’s 2011 season is a month and a half away from kickoff, so when the Indians engaged in full-contact scrimmages at Steve Lopez Stadium this past week he broke out the marker and went to work on a whiteboard.

 “It’s funny, because coach is going like this, ‘You do this, and you go here. This looks good, let’s try it,’” said senior Jake McCreath, scratching his palm with an index finger as if he were drawing up plays at the schoolyard for effect.

Ripon was one of four teams — Manteca, Lathrop and Pacheco of Los Banos being the others — that West High hosted for a full-contact camp last Tuesday-Thursday. Each day consisted of four hours of individual team workouts, 7-on-7 passing games and 11-on-11 scrimmages.

Johnson said he has implemented “more football stuff” than he has in his previous six summers as Ripon’s head coach.

The reason is scheduling.

Last year was the first time that the Sac-Joaquin Section opened up “Zero Week” contests as an option for its member schools. Ripon was one of those teams to start the season on Aug. 27, and the Indians ended up being on the losing end of a 22-15 thriller at Ceres.

It was the lone win of the season for Ceres, and the loss ended up keeping Ripon out of the postseason.

The SJS Dead Period takes effect Monday, starting a three-week stretch in which teams are forbidden to hold official practices with sports-specific equipment. Players can’t be in pads until Aug. 10, the first official day of football practice in the section.

“We learned last year that we have to get stuff in sooner and be prepared, because losing a week of practice to play a Zero Week game can hurt you,” Johnson said. “That’s why you come to camps like this one, so you can start introducing that stuff over the summer and polish it up as you go.”

The Indians did weightlifting and conditioning Monday-Thursday mornings and ran 7-on-7 scrimmages on Wednesday nights, mostly at Central Valley High in Ceres.

Expectations are high after Ripon’s disappointing 5-5 finish in 2010.

Several top returners, such as sophomores Cole Herrin (WR/DB) and Anthony Baciocco (RB/DB), bruising running back Mariano Villalobos, leading tackler T.J. Flores and the multi-faced McCreath — who saw time at quarterback, halfback, wing back and receiver at the West camp — will be joined by players from last year’s sophomore squad that went 8-2 and earned a share of the Trans Valley League title.

“The nice thing about our returning players is that they all got a lot of playing time last year,” Johnson said. “This is not their first rodeo and they know what to expect. There’s not that wide-eyed fear of the unknown.

“They’re more comfortable in their roles this summer, and this is their opportunity to really make it their team.”