Having inherited the remnants an 0-10 team two years ago, Bay Area Christian head football coach Les Rainey knew that growing pains would be in store for the Broncos.
An almost all-freshman class managed to weather the storm and fashion a 2-8 record in 2016 before last year’s meteoric rise produced a playoff berth and a 6-5 record.
Now, much of that same seasoned group, now bigger and stronger, looks to produce another winning season and lengthier playoff trek.
“If we stay injury-free, it could be a fun year,” said third-year coach Rainey. “The most important thing is that all these kids are older, and they understand their roles and the team concept.
“We just need to keep everything team-centered. With 18 guys returning with a lot of playing experience, I think we can have that team mindset and stay focused on the big picture.”
Three starters return in what should be a productive offensive line. That trio includes senior tackle Gabriel Phillips, junior center Tanner Pool and tackle Matthew Hopper. Kyle Sink and Jonathan Jermstad move from defense to round out the offensive line.
“We won’t be very big in the line - three kids over 200 pounds and two that are under 200 pounds - but hopefully we can make up for that by being sound and having good technique,” Rainey said. “Peyton Grigsby, a junior tight end, is another guy we’re counting on up front.”
Matthew Merritt returns at running back to fuel the Bronco ground game.
“Right now, it looks like he might share a lot of carries with Andrew Brown, a junior,” Rainey said. “Payton Deagan and Parker Bridges can run the ball for us, too.
“We’re a run-heavy offense, and it’ll be key for us to rotate those guys and keep them healthy. When we went into the playoffs last year, we were kind of beat up, and we want to do our best to avoid that this season, if we’re fortunate to reach the playoffs.”
Also lending help to the running game is DeCapprio Selexman, a senior transfer from Clear Lake.
The quarterback job is up for grabs after Bay Area Christian lost two-year starter Jacob Stiehl to graduation.
“Our two candidates are Jackson Collins, a junior, and Kaden Hunt, a senior,” Rainey said. “We’ll see how that works out in August and pre-district.
“Jackson can play in the secondary and Kaden has played tight end and defensive end. We’ll just see what works out best.”
Michael Dunn, a senior, returns at wide receiver.
“Michael is one of our fastest kids and does a good job of blocking on the perimeter,” Rainey said. “He does a good job of securing the edge for us.
“Grigsby could also wind up out there as a wide receiver. Christian McDonough was a first-team all-district safety last year, but he’ll play on both sides of the ball this season. He’s a guy we can move around everywhere.”
Defensively, the Broncos should be a stingy unit.
“Sink and Jermstad could be our defensive ends, and Hopper, Phillips and Pool can play tackles,” Rainey said of the Broncos’ 4-3 alignment. “Daniel Jaris can play a tackle, and Merritt and Brown could rotate in there if we need them.”
Grigsby and Dean are returning starters at linebacker, and transfer Noah Melancon could fill the third spot. Dalton Chavis should also see playing time in that group.
McDonough is the lone returning starter in the secondary.
“We have to build around him,” Rainey said. “I’d rather be younger in the back end of the defense than up front.
“Hopefully, we’ll do a better job of stopping the run this year, and take the pressure off the guys in the secondary.”
Cole Holloman returns at punter, and McDonough will handle duties on the kickoffs, but may not serve as the field goal and extra-point specialist.
“The big question for us, and most schools our size, is keeping everyone healthy,” Rainey said. “We’ll have 40 guys on the roster.
“We pride ourselves on running the football. We won’t ‘wow’ you. We just want to put pressure on teams, move the chains and not self-destruct. We got a lot better from year one to year two, and hopefully we can make another big jump this season.”