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RC tested mettle against traditional powers in summer camp
FB--Ripon Christian summer 4
Ripon Christian lineman Fletcher Schmeidt looks for a someone to block as quarterback Billy Marr drops back on a passing play. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

MODESTO — The Mountain Misery Summer Football Camp took place on flatter land and in cooler weather July 17-19 at Central Catholic.

 “It was in Sonora last year and it was 106 (degrees). Our shoes were melting,” said first-year Ripon Christian head coach Trey Ozenbaugh, who previously served as the program’s frosh-soph coach. “They call it Mountain Misery for a reason.”

With Sonora High’s Dunlavy Field undergoing a facelift with new turf and an all-weather track, the three-day full-contact camp was hosted by Central Catholic. A much closer drive for Ozenbaugh’s Knights, and Mother Nature treated players to a cool breeze during the evening stages of the camp.

That didn’t make things any less grueling for Ripon Christian, which once again locked up with established small-school powers Central Catholic, Sonora and Calaveras.

“People go, ‘Why do you go to camp with Central, Calaveras and Sonora?’” Ozenbaugh said. “Well, it is a good mental and physical check for our kids. If you want to try and elevate yourself to be one of the best small-school programs you want to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. By no stretch am I saying we’re close to competing with anyone of that level but we have a different approach to it as well.”

New coach, but same lofty goals.

Ozenbaugh said that little, if anything, has changed since he took the reins. Previous head coach Randy Fasani guided Ripon Christian to a 10-3 record and its first appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game a year ago. In 2012, Jon Vander Schaaf and Fasani worked in tandem as the Knights enjoyed a 9-3 campaign and a share of its first Southern League title. Another key member of the team over the last three years was Andrew Brown, who set a career record in the SJS for touchdowns scored and is No. 4 on the state’s all-time list.

“The goals certainly remain the same,” Ozenbaugh said. “These kids go taste of it. There are programs that have been playing football for a lot longer than Ripon Christian but have never played in a section title game, so we didn’t take that opportunity for granted. They want to get back there and they want to win it.”

It’s a long road back to the section title game, and it all starts with offseason workouts. That’s where second-year strength and conditioning coach Justin Unruh comes in. While small in numbers, the Knights have bought into the importance placed on improving their bodies as well as their game. The weight room was abuzz every weekday all summer with two-a-day workouts.

“We haven’t changed as far as our offseason approach or our mentality,” Ozenbaugh said. “We’ve definitely continued being intense with our offseason workout program, which is being well-attended at both levels Monday through Friday.

“It’s a huge blessing having someone like Justin that is committed to being there every day That’s how we’re getting better is in the weight room.”

Ozenbaugh expects to have close to 40 players — 19 on the frosh-soph and 20 on the varsity — when official practices begin on Aug. 11.

“That’s always going to be our challenge at RC,” Ozenbaugh said.

Transitioning from coach to coach hasn’t been much of a challenge, however. Although Ozenbaugh is the school’s fifth varsity head football coach heading into the program’s 11th year, he previously served as offensive coordinator and co-coach for the frosh-soph Knights for seven years.

Ripon Christian faced Bret Harte once and Riverbank twice in 7-on-7 competitions but opted not to return to the Modesto Junior College Passing Tournament. Ozenbaugh said third-year quarterback Billy Marr competed in “higher-level” tournaments, travelling as far as Southern California for one.

Even with their top offensive weapon gone to graduation, the Knights will continue to employ the same multi-formation offense that Fasani put together in the last two years. 

“Our base offense works well for our kids and our skill set,” Ozenbaugh said. “I had been running it at the JV level and I’m familiar with it so I’m not going to change it. It’s personnel adjustments.