What a difference a year can make.
A year ago, the Wildfires matched their 2016 output of three wins and seven losses along with a 1-3 mark in the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League, missing the postseason for the third straight year.
But last year was not about wins and losses, says second-year head coach Steve Collier. In his first season at the helm for the Wildfires, Collier said that after a few down years for the Foresthill football program, it was time for a culture shift.
“Last year, we were focused on work ethic, discipline and our expectations,” said Collier. “In the past, kids would miss practice because they wanted to go fishing. Now football is priority No. 1. (The coaching staff) is here to show them the new way.”
The new Foresthill way is not limited to just the football field, and the players are buying in.
“(It’s about having) better attitude, more intensity, both out of school and in school,” says junior wideout Caleb Medrano. “Just be a better person in general.”
Former head coach and Foresthill athletic director Jim Herlehy agrees.
“Collier’s brought a lot of excitement to the program,” he said.
Other reasons to be excited as a Wildfire fan include returning experience. The 2017 was loaded with sophomores who are stepping into 2018 as varsity-tested juniors eager to bring that experience to the table.
Junior quarterback Kaiden Pennington will make the calls under center for the Wildfires with weapons like Medrano, Cole Moore and Caleb Westphalen to target. Pennington will rely on Paul Clifford, Robert Schredl, RJ Napoles, Carter Kelley and Casey Baldwin, among others for protection up front.
Most of the offensive players will pull double-duty defensively as well – sort of an occupational hazard of a small-school football program. Expect contributions from Ezra Aldrich, Ben Esparza, Brody Johnson-Siefker, Elias Estrada, Stephano Baulwin, Justin Leyba, Landon Pratt and many more.
“Last year, we competed with everyone,” said Pennington. “We didn’t win that many games, but we were really young as a sophomore team. This year, I think we have more experience so it will be better. There’s better intensity.”
Collier recognizes the intensity too. He can see that this year’s group has matured and is unafraid of the Friday night stage.
“Every now and then, as a coach, you’ll get lucky to get that once-in-a-generation group that makes things a lot easier,” he said.
The Wildfires begin the season Aug. 17 on the road at Turlock Christian. Their home-opener will be in Week 2 against Esparto. Trips to Portola and Vacaville Christian and another home game against Johnson precede the bye week Sept. 21. Then SMAL play begins with a home conference-opener against Western Sierra Collegiate Academy
Sept. 28. Contests with Encina Prep, Woodland Christian, Delta and Valley Christian follow in succession to round out the season.
“Last year was about the culture change; about getting talent on the field and spreading the ball. Our skill guys are starting to hit their stride. This year, we’re focusing on winning football games and making the playoffs.”