The order was simple in wording, if not in execution.
“Fire out and strike!” was Folsom High School football co-coach Kris Richardson’s command during a one-on-one lineman drill last week. Mostly, this is routine stuff, bodies colliding, hand placement, legs churning. Unless you’re lining up against Jonah Williams, all 6-foot-5 and 297 pounds of technique and ferocity.
There’s nothing routine about Williams or how he competes. Big, broad and bearded, Williams really does look like a man among boys.
“Don’t be afraid of him!” Richardson implored player after player who tried his best but eventually succumbed to the the Bulldogs lineman, who has verbally committed to Alabama’s scholarship offer. “Come on,” Richardson continued. “Take him on. If you cower up, he’ll really kill you.”
He’s the best player in the area, so strong, a hard worker, smart.
Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor on lineman Jonah Williams
That pretty much sums up Folsom football for the better part of six remarkable seasons. The Bulldogs have gone 80-8 since 2009 with four Sac-Joaquin Section championships, two CIF State Bowl titles and last season’s incomparable 16-0 season that shattered national passing marks.
Over the past three seasons, Folsom is 40-0 against section teams and 44-2 overall. The Bulldogs enter the 2015 campaign ranked No.1 by The Bee for the fourth consecutive season.
Williams is Folsom’s lone returning starter, but the offensive and defensive lineman just might be the best player in Northern California, a five-star recruit with equally impressive grades. Richardson calls Williams the most dominant linemen he’s seen in his 20 years of coaching.
Co-coach Troy Taylor agrees.
“Jonah’s outstanding,” Taylor said. “He changes the line of scrimmage, dominates it, on both sides of the ball, a difference maker. He’s the best player in the area, so strong, a hard worker, smart. He’s a gentle giant off the field, an animal on it. One thing I’ve learned is that if your best players are your most humble and hardest working players, there’s a great chance you’ll have a good team.”
That humble and hard-working player from 2012 to 2014 was quarterback Jake Browning, who set the national prep record with 229 career touchdown passes and is now competing for the starting job at Washington. Taylor offers something of a warning of what’s next as Folsom continues to produce standout quarterbacks.
“There’s another Jake,” Taylor said in reference to Jake Jeffrey, the new starting quarterback and team leader.
A star quarterback for Folsom’s 10-0 junior varsity team in 2013, Jeffrey caught 14 touchdown passes last season as a receiver. He thoroughly understands Folsom’s spread offense and exudes a confident, poised nature. A 4.0 student, the 6-foot Jeffrey is cut in the same pass-run mold of Dano Graves, the 2010 MaxPreps National Player of the Year who led Folsom to a 14-1 record and a CIF State title. Such comparison flatters and inspires Jeffrey.
“I loved watching Dano play and dreamed of being the quarterback here,” Jeffrey said. “We have fantastic backs, and that’s really exciting.”
We know we can’t just show up at games with ‘Folsom’ on our jerseys and expect to win.
Lineman Jonah Williams
Those running backs are Tre Green and Roger Neal, who played extensively last season. They run with power and speed and can catch the ball. Folsom may go from leading the area in passing to leading it in rushing.
“I think some wonder if we’re going to fall off, how we’re going to replace Jake Browning and all those other guys,” Richardson said. “But this group has worked really hard. They’ve answered the bell to all of our challenges. There’s been no talk of what we did last year, and that was one of the best teams in California history. These guys are fired up, ready to show how good they can be.”
Said Williams: “I’m really impressed with our effort and attitude. We know we can’t just show up at games with ‘Folsom’ on our jerseys and expect to win. We’re all buying in, and my job is to be a leader and to perform to the best of my ability.”
Attitude counts as much as ability, Taylor said in sizing up the Bulldogs.
“Complacency is the death of any program,” Taylor said. “Once you’re satisfied and think you can just maintain, then you’re in trouble. You can never be in maintain mode. For us, it’s, ‘How can we get better? How can we stay hungry, stay humble?’ We know challenges are coming.”