Hometown Report

Sacramento-area JC football programs a haven for the overlooked and motivated

Jon Osterhout and his football team at American River College open the season No. 2 in preseason rankings.
Jon Osterhout and his football team at American River College open the season No. 2 in preseason rankings. Bee file

The only place warmer these days might be the surface of the sun.

At American River College, one cannot fully comprehend the heat index, or even see the temperature gauge through all the sweat pouring into eyes, and that’s exactly how Jon Osterhout prefers it.

The burly Beavers coach is gearing up for a home season opener Saturday against a program nowhere near used to these savage conditions. And there is glee in Osterhout’s voice as he ramps up his hospitality speak.

“It’s blazing hot, and we hope it continues for our Bay Area visitors, Diablo Valley College,” Osterhout said Monday before heading out to practice and the 109-degree heat. “High heat, baby. Just how we like it.”

High heat is an apt way to describe ARC’s football fortunes in recent seasons. The Beavers enter the campaign against the Vikings of Pleasant Hill on a searing wave of momentum. The Beavers are No. 2 in the JC Athletic Bureau Top 25 preseason rankings compiled by Fred Baer, right behind a familiar foe: Fullerton edged ARC 29 -27 to win the 2016 state championship.

This is the highest ranking for the Beavers, and it is the highest for a regional program since Sacramento City in the early 1980s, when the Panthers ruled the region under coach Jerry Sullivan.

Sierra was the area JC trend setter with rankings, bowl wins and national recruits in the 2000s under coach Jeff Tisdel. ARC has been that monster of late under Osterhout, the one-time Sacramento State All-American lineman who says his Beavers operate like “a Division I college program on a JC budget.”

Sac City and Sierra are attempting to close the gap on ARC. It makes for some lively local action, from recruiting to the games. The JC product endures because the competition is fierce. Bee All-Metro sorts stroll into a JC setting – at any sport – and are quickly sobered to reality: It’s not so easy in shoulder pads and cleats any more. So the JC rosters are a haven for the motivated.

ARC has a roster of 112, a stunning number reflective of its drawing power. It will be pared down by up to 30 this week with the designation of redshirts and grayshirts. Some JC players last three years in a program or sometimes one semester as they move on via scholarship or flush out entirely.

“Patience is a virtue at this level,” Osterhout said, mirroring the theme echoed by Sac City coach Dannie Walker and Sierra coach Ben Noonan. “Guys are ultimately at a JC for a number of reasons: Late bloomers, academics are upside down, athletically not quite evolved, socially not there mentally. Then you help develop them.”

ARC’s top talent is Caleb Tremblay. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive tackle is so dominant, Alabama has already offered a scholarship and has the Napa native on speed dial. He landed at ARC because his brother, Josh, played for the Beavers in 2012 after Solano folded its program. Caleb Tremblay had to shore up his grades. He has. Now he’s ready to be unleashed on the field.

“He’s a freak show,” Osterhout said of Tremblay. “A 420-pound bench, a 550-pound squat, incredibly gifted, fluid hips, got it all. Dynamic player, and film doesn’t lie. He’s unblockable. Big-time programs are on him like a dog on rawhide.”

ARC’s roster also includes Marcel Brooks-Brown, a Bee All-Metro running back from Rio Linda who went to Utah on scholarship. He came home after being shot twice by random bullets at a party in Salt Lake City two years ago. But the competition is fierce in the ARC backfield with Dante Davis of Cosumnes Oaks High and Evyn Holtz of Rocklin also worthy of carries.

And there’s Ryan Robards, The Bee’s 2015 Player of the Year from Elk Grove who produced one of the greatest single seasons – running, defending, kicking, punting, leading, winning – the region has seen in nearly three decdes. Robards had no scholarship offers, deemed a step slow, a tad too short. He played a year of baseball at Pacific and is now eager to scratch a football itch that never left.

“I’m ready,” he said recently as he prepares to play slot, kick and do just about anything else Osterhout and company need.

The state championship is locked into Hughes Stadium the next two seasons. The Beavers plan to make it a short road trip and a joyous ride home.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD