Folsom's Ariel Ngata's expects big things of himself, Bulldogs
That’s how long returning players on the Folsom Bulldogs football team allowed themselves to rub out the welts and bruises of a championship season that was suddenly thrust into the ditch.
After falling to Bellarmine of San Jose 42-35 in the CIF State Division I Northern California title game at Folsom on a cold Friday night last December, the blue turf of Prairie City Stadium was dotted by scores of Bulldogs on Sunday. It wasn’t a mandatory meeting.
Players dragged tractor tires across the field until their legs could churn no more. Preparation for the next season was underway. Weight-room workouts that started in January have led to fall practice with gear beginning Monday. There’s no rest for the weary, or the dominant.
“The kids, their work ethic is off the chart,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said this week from his office, where the sounds of a jubilant locker room with 53 players – inspired by a new season – could be heard nearby. “When you lose, it stings, and these kids are motivated. They’re hungry. They’re ready for the next chapter.”
The previous chapters are laced with unprecedented accolades on a regional scale. Folsom has been the region’s preeminent powerhouse since 2010, going 83-7 with an area-leading two CIF state titles while sending a flood of athletes to Division I colleges via scholarships.
The Bulldogs have pieced together a 58-3 record since 2012, with two losses to nationally renowned De La Salle to go with four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championships. Folsom’s home winning streak ended at 43 to Bellarmine. It was second-best in section history to the 46 Nevada Union produced, ending in 1995. Folsom’s state-leading 30-game winning streak also stalled against Bellarmine.
But here come the Bulldogs again. Folsom’s football program still has a target on its back, much the same way Cordova did in the 1970s and ’80s, and Grant since 1991, when coach Mike Alberghini took over as head coach. Opponents crave the chance to conquer the best.
Folsom has not lost to a section opponent since 2011, going 50-0. And then there’s Folsom’s 15-game section-playoff winning streak, second-best all time to Cordova’s 17-game streak to close the 1970s.
“Teams know about us and everyone wants to beat us,” Folsom linebacker/tight end Ariel Ngata said. “It’s how we respond that counts.”
A year ago, Folsom graduated all but one starter from a 16-0 team, perhaps the finest in section history. Folsom responded by going 14-1 in 2015. Only four starters return this season, but several reserves saw time in 2015, and the freshmen and junior varsity teams are used to championship success.
“We’re going to be really good again,” Richardson said. “Our kids went right back at it after the season and they haven’t let up. A state championship is our goal, especially since we’ve been there and won it.”
With The Bee’s 2015 Offensive Player of the Year, Jake Jeffrey now at Cal Poly, Folsom will have a new quarterback. Joe Curry and Evan Michalet, a transfer from Rocklin, are vying for the job. Both will play, according to Richardson.
The offensive line, a team strength during Folsom’s title runs, no longer has Jonah Williams (now at Alabama), Cody Creason (Arizona) and Kooper Richardson (UC Davis). But good luck pushing Noah Lunday around. He’s 6-2, 250 and can pull a tire up or down Highway 50.
“We don’t have that massive guy, that 6-5, 300-pounder,” Richarson said. “We have the 6-1, 240-pound guys, your typical high school linemen, and they’re tough, ready to go.”
Running backs Brandon Rupchock and Davin Simmons will carry the ball . Eric Davis and Drake Stallworth are play-making receivers who also patrol the secondary. Brad Jenner returns at linebacker and is one of the region’s best, having led the team with 144 tackles in 2015. His father, Scott, was the quarterback for Cordova’s 11-0 team in 1975 that remains the only regional team to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
And there’s Ngata. A scholarship commit to Washington, Ngata is an athletic 6-3, 215-pound pass-rushing specialist. He also has good hands and can block, vital for the spread offense.
“He plays all over, and he can cover on defense, tackle and run by you on offense,” Richardson said. “Our skill guys and some of our defenders are outstanding.”
Missing from Folsom’s sideline will be former co-coach Troy Taylor, who’s now on the coaching staff at Eastern Washington. Richardson, who will call plays this season, has added Doug Cosbie, the one-time Dallas Cowboys All-Pro tight end, to the coaching staff. Cosbie coached Sacramento High earlier in the decade.
“Our system is in place, and it’s not like the offense will disappear with Troy,” Richardson said. “We’re not going anywhere. These kids have worked too hard.”