Football: Summer gridiron action

Hunter Raquet looks to pass in a 7 on 7 game with Sobrato on June 20.

Although high school football games are contested in the fall, the real work goes on in the winter and summer months. That’s when players get bigger, stronger and faster through months of conditioning, strength-training, drills and camps. San Benito High has prided itself on its work ethic over the years, and new coach Bryan Smith has plans to make sure the school’s tradition of outworking their opponents continue.
“Everything is about improving everyday,” said Smith, the former San Benito standout and longtime assistant who was named the successor to Chris Cameron in January. “We want guys to make a lasting impression from practice to practice, drill to drill and in the 7 on 7s.”
The Haybalers competed in their first 7 on 7 tournament in the West Coast Classic Passing Tournament at Westmont High on June 11. The Balers had a jam-packed day, playing six games total. Since the state of California put a bylaw into effect two years ago prohibiting the use of helmets and shoulder pads during the spring and summer months, the 7 on 7 games/tournaments have become more prominent—not just in California, but across the country.
In 7 on 7, quarterbacks, running backs and receivers essentially play touch football against linebackers and defensive backs. Linemen are not involved. Smith said he liked what he saw from his team that day as it played against Milpitas, Sobrato, Del Mar, Piedmont Hills and Capuchino.
“We came away feeling pretty good,” Smith said.
Although coaches sometimes keep track of points or have an assistant do it for them, the emphasis is on the fundamentals.
“We want to make sure guys are doing the right things and lining up where they should be lining up,” Smith said.
Several players had productive days, Smith said. Incoming junior Johnny Gonzalez had a couple of interceptions in the open field. Gonzalez is expected to battle for the team’s rover position, or strong safety. Incoming senior cornerback Antwaun Lind also displayed some solid skills.
“Antwaun was very physical, showed great technique and competed for every ball,” Smith said. “With more efforts like that, he’ll put himself in the best possible position to become a starter.”
The Balers should be particularly strong at cornerback with returning starters Isaac Regalado and Ishmael Medina. Smith also heaped positives on the inside linebacker corps, including incoming senior Colby Noble, junior Eric Fernandez, junior Ethan King and senior Candelario Hernandez.
“You’ve got four quality guys competing for two spots,” Smith said. “It’ll be real interesting to see who steps up and takes charge of the position. We won’t be starting with pads until Aug. 5, so there’s still a lot of time to go. But you have to be a man amongst boys playing the linebacker position.”
Incoming senior Hunter Raquet, who displayed flashes of brilliance as the backup quarterback last season, was on top of his game.
“Hunter probably showed the most visible improvement,” Smith said. “We had a lot of drops early, but he just stuck with it. As the day wore on, he got better and better. It was good to see the team rally around him.”
Fullback Hunter Nye has been one of the most prolific rushers in the Monterey Bay League the last two years. The success of the team will be largely predicated on a healthy Nye getting some room to run. As Nye has shown in the past, he doesn’t need much space to bust off a big gain.
Smith said incoming senior Albert Lopez would have an opportunity to play opposite Nye at fullback, and senior running back Jose Godoy will be in the mix to rush the ball as well. Tight ends Dante Tomasini and Matt Hernandez both had good days at Westmont, while free safety Donny Torres has made a successful return after breaking his femur midway through last season.
“He had two to three interceptions, which was pretty cool to see,” Smith said. “He had a great day. Coach (Rob) Macias and I talked about how unbelievable it was to see how much ground he covers and his ability to jump and make plays. He has tremendous instincts and a knack for the ball.”
The team was itching to play after not having live competition since the last game in December in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“You got to see guys compete against players from other teams,” Smith said. “It’s good to see how our guys lined up and executed. All of this is played without the big boys (linemen) up front, but it was nice to see the rest of the guys compete and get a taste of competition.”
The Balers hosted a 7 on 7 with Sobrato on Monday, and Raquet displayed a rocket for an arm, throwing tight spirals to receivers all over the field. Looking poised and focused, Raquet can pick apart defenses when given time and a running game. Last year Raquet played most of the second half against Wilcox in relief of then-starter R.J. Clark.
Athough Raquet is far from a polished QB, he’s a talented signal-caller who has the potential to give the Balers a consistent passing attack. San Benito has conditioning sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, and football-related activities and strength-training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The Balers host their own team camp on July 14 and 15, where they’ll test the players on a variety of football-related skills. Players will be timed in the 40-yard dash, shuttle run and have their broad jump measured, among other things. On July 13, Smith and a select group of his players will participate in the USA Football and MaxPreps High School Football Media Day at Levi’s Stadium.
The event highlights coaches and players from Northern California.
“We’ll do a Q & A,” Smith said. “I thought I’d give our guys a little bit of exposure at Levi’s. It’ll be a good experience for everyone.”

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