High school football practice in the Sac-Joaquin Section started Monday amid high hopes and light drills.
Shoulder pads, helmets and full-contact drills begin today in preparation for season openers Aug. 29-30.
Folsom, the pre-eminent section power in recent seasons, again begins the season as The Sacramento Bee’s No. 1-ranked team. The Bulldogs were the No. 1 team at the end of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, when they combined for a 28-2 record, losing only to national powerhouse De La Sallein the CIF NorCal Open Division championship. Folsom also finished the 2010 season No. 1 and was ranked nationally, winning a CIF State Bowl game.
The foundation of Folsom’s prolific offense is its line, anchored by four returning starters: Cody Creason, Sam Whitney, Jerod Nooner and Will Koch. Along with H-back Lukas Hendricks, the unit is bolstered by the transfer of Division I college recruit Jonah Williams. They’ll block for record-setting quarterback Jake Browning, The Bee’s 2013 Player of the Year. Browning verbally committed to Washington after passing for a state-record 5,737 yards and 75 touchdowns last fall.
Also back for Folsom are receivers Josiah Deguara, Cole Thompson and Parker Boone and running backs Bryan Weldy, Bailey Laolagi and Tre Green. Folsom’s summer workouts included conditioning drills, weight room sessions and yoga exercises.
The Bulldogs have gone 53-6 the past four seasons, second in the state to De La Salle (56-2).
The target, of course, is to reach – and win – the last game.
“That’s our goal,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “That’s the ultimate, a state championship. If you win this section, you’re in the running, and that’s exciting, and we’re excited about our chances.”
Second-ranked Elk Grove is coming off three successive 12-win seasons with coach Chris Nixon, who will start sophomore Tyler Vander Waal, a drop-back passer, along with returning stars Spencer Sheff at running back and Shaunard Harts at defensive back.
No. 3 Del Oro, unbeaten in section play last season and the area’s lone representative in a bowl game, returns receiver Trey Udoffia and defensive back Justin Burrage, and coach Casey Taylor welcomes talent from unbeaten junior varsity and freshman teams.
Fourth-ranked Oak Ridge returns quarterback Ian Book, running back Stephen Douglas and defensive back Drew Lackowski for coach Eric Cavaliere, whose team joins Folsom in realigning to the Sierra Foothill League. The SFL already includes traditional playoff teams in Del Oro, No. 8 Granite Bay and No. 9 Rocklin with emerging Woodcreek.
No. 5 Grant has 18 starters back for Mike Alberghini, the longest-tenured coach in the region, including quarterback Donovan Brown, running back-linebacker Deandre Whittington-Grays, linebacker Chris Atteberry and 6-foot-6 offensive tackle Darrin Paulo, a national recruit.
No. 6 Jesuit returns running back Beau Bisharat, receiver Isaiah Bailey and tight end-lineman Kori Collons and opens against De La Salle at Levi’s Stadium on Aug. 29 in something of a homecoming for coach Marlon Blanton, a De La Salle alum who got his coaching start at the Concord school.
Seventh-ranked Franklin returns 16 starters for coach Mike Johnson, who raves about emerging quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Wildcats’ overall speed.
No. 8 Granite Bay welcomes back coach Ernie Cooper after a one-year break following a CIF State Bowl win in 2012. His best player is USC-commit Cameron Smith, a three-year starter at linebacker.
Ninth-ranked Rocklin is again strong on the lines, and coach Greg Benzel has one of the area’s top running backs returning in Evyn Holtz.
Coach Paul Doherty led No. 10 Sacramento to its finest season last fall and expects another run at a Division III championship with quarterback Caden Voges, Cal-bound linebacker-running back Lonny Powell and receiver-defensive back Kyron Basped.
Realignment merged the Delta River League and the Delta Valley Conference into the Delta League and includes Elk Grove, Grant, Jesuit, Franklin, No. 12 Pleasant Grove, No. 19 Monterey Trail, Sheldon and Davis.
The Metropolitan Conference includes Sacramento and No. 13 Burbank. The new Capital Athletic League includes No. 17 Christian Brothers and No. 20 Vista del Lago, and the new Capital Valley Conference features No. 15 Whitney and No. 18 Roseville.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.