Kris Richardson dropped the understatement of the summer on Sunday night, then chuckled at the irony.
In sizing up the 2018 high school football season that drips of sweat and great promise, the Folsom Bulldogs coach proclaimed, “This could be fun.”
Fun, he says.
If you are any way affiliated with Folsom, this defines giddy, good fun: athletes galore, including some national recruits, a fast-forward offense that buckles defenses, an underrated defense that hammers away and a coaching staff as talented as it is tricky.
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As football practices across the Sac-Joaquin Section kick off this week, Folsom is on the brink of another historically great season. The Bulldogs return 15 starters from a 16-0 club that stormed to a CIF State Division I-AA championship in December at Sacramento State.
If this seems like an unusually early start to drills, that’s because it is.
The days of games starting after Labor Day seemingly went out with the rotary phone. Member schools in the CIF voted to move the sports seasons a week earlier to avoid having state football games so close to Christmas break, or spring seasons running through graduation ceremonies, among other reasons.
“It’s definitely different,” Richardson said of the early practice time that includes three weeks of drills before school starts. “This isn’t the week we start banging into each other and getting after each other, that comes later. We have 58 varsity guys, and we’ll work on technique and install mental pieces to what we want to do. We want to make sure we’re sharp, active and crisp.
“We expect to play for a state championship again.”
Coaches this week will preach effort, accountability and laying a foundation. Football remains the greatest game, and at this level, it remains an identifying focal point for a campus, a mood setter of sorts. The area has become so strong that section, NorCal and CIF title hopes are legitimate for programs large, medium and small in terms of enrollment.
Hillmen heavies — Placer returns 17 starters from a 13-2 team that competed for the CIF IV-AA state crown. While Folsom and a host of others will hit the field turf running this week, the heat rising from the rubberized pieces like bits of lava, the Hillmen embrace their grass and dirt digs.
“We love the grass and dirt, and it plays into our identity of old-school football,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said.
Among the smaller schools talking big: Bear River, Bradshaw Christian, Colfax, East Nicolaus and Winters. As most schools in the area have gone to an artificial surface, these teams still compete on grass.
Placer has technically sound maulers in the trenches who look the part, too, starting with bookend tackles Joey Capra and Blake Baughman. Capra is committed to Arizona State, while Baughman is headed to Nevada, both on scholarship.
“Our line is our strength, and it always starts with the line,” Montoya said.
He added that he feels the region is loaded with talent.
“The area’s never been stronger,” Montoya said. “I think our section is the strongest in the state, I really do, and our state plays some of the best football in the country.
“It’s always better to have a lot of experience, and we know what we’re going against: complacency and teams that want to beat you. We have a target. It forces you to have to play really well.”
Folsom fever — The Bulldogs are in the midst of the most dominating decade in regional history.
The famed Cordova Lancers of the 1970s led the nation in victories, winning 106 games, in towering over the section. But that decade did not include near the area depth of teams and talent, the ambitious scheduling or even have playoff games beyond the sectional rounds.
Since 2010, Richardson has led Folsom to a 112-9 record, with six section championships and three CIF state crowns, including two 16-0 teams and two 14-1 teams that lost NorCal regional games to De La Salle.
The Bulldogs have shrugged at any notion that coaches recruit players from out of state to keep the machine rolling, absurd claims with no merit.
De La Salle domination — Folsom opens this season Aug. 17 in Concord against the nationally renown Spartans in what surely is the most anticipated regular-season game in area history.
De La Salle has not lost to any team north of Fresno since 1991, a stretch of 289 games, and it has plowed through this section, going 39-0 since 1980.
“All this talk already about what happens with the winner having the inside track to the CIF Open game is too premature,” Richardson said. “Slow down. It still starts with your own league and section. And all these preseason national rankings, we’re flattered, but we’ll tell the guys none of it matters if we lay an egg against De La Salle.”
Folsom returns Bee Players of the Year Joe Ngata, a receiver, quarterback Kaiden Bennett and a host of defenders.
Other key returners include center Kaiden Richardson (son of the coach), defensive tackle Tyler Hardeman, receiver Elijah Badger and running back/defensive back Daniyel Ngata.
“When your best players are your hardest workers, that’s always a great start, and that’s the case with us,” Richardson said.
As if Folsom wasn’t stacked enough, the Bulldogs have added Paul Doherty to the staff. A guru weight and conditioning coach, he previously coached Sacramento and Whitney.
Around the region — Is Jesuit looking at its greatest team, given the experience and blue-chip recruits such as cornerback/running back Isaiah Rutherford and tight end Laiatu Latu?
I would say it’s the best Marauders group that I have seen in my years at The Bee, starting in 1988. Jesuit opens its season at Folsom on Aug. 24.
▪ Will Grant bounce back? In a word, yes.
The Pacers lost a bit of their swagger last fall, stalling out in a rash of injuries and turnovers in taking on teams that no longer fear their speed and ferocity.
Grant’s section record playoff streak ended at 26 with a 4-6 record, and the Pacers dropped out of The Bee rankings for the first time since opening week of the 1991 season, a run of 269 football weeks.
Now Grant has been realigned to the Sierra Foothill League that includes Folsom, Oak Ridge, Granite Bay, Del Oro and Rocklin.
Some fans clamored again for coach Mike Alberghini to go, but he’s not going anywhere. He will right this ship.
▪ The section has a new powerhouse Division III league that figures to entertain.
The realigned Capital Athletic League features Capital Christian, Christian Brothers, Del Campo, El Camino, Rio Americano, Sacramento and Vista del Lago.
All except El Camino reached the playoffs last year.
The Bee will unveil a list of top players in the coming weeks. Coaches are encouraged to email nominations and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bee cannot guess who teams have.