Folsom looking for another state title

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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The vibe around Folsom High’s football varsity football team is probably a lot like it was at the start of the 2014 season.

The 2014 Bulldogs, with several returning starters, had one goal in mind and that was to win a state championship. The skilled and veteran Bulldogs, of course, went on to do just that and did so in convincing fashion. Folsom finished with a 16-0 record and beat all 16 teams with a running clock by the end of the game.

The only difference this season is that this group of Bulldogs has already won a state title and are looking for a second. Like the 2014 team, Folsom returns several starters, including eight on offense and six on defense (two playing different positions), and are favorites to be playing for a state title in December.

While some coaches would be worried about complacency finding its way into the locker room, Folsom coach Kris Richardson is not. Based on the work the team did in the offseason, Richardson is feeling good as the season nears the start.

“We told the guys at the end of last season, you can’t stay the same for next year; you’ll either get better or you’ll get worse,” Richardson said. “We’ve had a great offseason. We’ve done great in the weight room. Elijah Badger is one example. He put on 20 pounds of muscle and now weighs 195 pounds. It’s all part of the maturation process, but Joe (Ngata) is up to 210 pounds and is one of the strongest guys on the team. Kaiden Bennett has improved his arm strength and is stronger all around because he ran the ball quite a bit last year and we anticipate he’ll have to do it again this year. Plus, he’s got two guys in Joey Washburn and Jake Reithmeier who are competing for his job.

“All the guys have a great work ethic and worked hard in the weight room and with their speed training. Our expectations are high.”

So it sounds as if the Bulldogs didn’t rest on their laurels, so expect another dynamite season. If the Bulldogs needed any motivation for the upcoming season, all they needed to do was look at their schedule. Folsom added the best team from Northern California over the last 25 years and one of the top schools nationwide in De La Salle, who they start the season against on Aug. 17. Jesuit, a team the Bulldogs beat twice last year, including a tight 27-14 game in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs is their second opponent. Two weeks later, the Bulldogs travel to Chaminade from West Hills, an hour or so northwest of Los Angeles. Chaminade, who won a Division II state title in 2013 and is coming off a 9-2 season a year ago, figures to be a good challenge the Bulldogs.

“If there’s a way to motivate a team in the offseason this De La Salle game is it,” Richardson said. “We’re excited to go play them. They’ve been the best program in the country the past two decades. Chaminade is going to be a top-10 school, and will be one of the better teams on our schedule.”

The Sierra Foothill League has two new teams that figure to make things a bit tougher overall, as Grant and Whitney replace Woodcreek and Nevada Union on the schedule. These teams might not have anything for Folsom this season, but they will be more competitive than their predecessors.

“I’m excited to have Grant in the SFL, especially with our recent history with them,” Richardson said. “They were 4-6 last year, but that’s the best 4-6 team I’ve ever seen. Grant is still Grant. I don’t know much about Whitney, but they’ve got a new coaching staff this year. Del Oro will be improved. Oak Ridge always plays us tough. Granite Bay, Rocklin . . . there is no week in the SFL where you can afford to show up and play a bad game.”

The keys for success this season will be, first and foremost, staying healthy, which is always the case in high school football. If the Bulldogs can do that, things look promising for an outstanding season.

“I’m hoping we can play enough guys to stay healthy, as well as to get some other guys some experience,” Richardson said. “I feel we need to do a better job of not giving up the big play on defense. We played well against the run last year, but gave up some big plays over the top. Offensively, it always comes down to protecting the quarterback. We will be able to run the ball, but can we pass protect with three new starters? We’re going to find out right away because De La Salle always has a great defense.”