Balers look to reload, not rebuild

The Balers are coming off a season in which they finished 10-2 overall and 5-1 in the MBL Gabilan Division.

Jonny Gonzalez had a succinct response when asked about the outlook for the upcoming season.

“Everybody is doing their job—period,” said Gonzalez, a senior running back who is one of the team’s top returners and leaders. “That’s the Baler way, and how football is supposed to be played.”

One can’t argue with that line of reasoning, as the Balers have consistently been one of the top programs in the Monterey Bay League. Last season, San Benito started the season at 9-0 before losing two of its final three games, an excruciating end to what looked like a championship-caliber season.

San Benito suffered some key injuries at the most inopportune time, and yet it still had plenty of opportunities to take down Milpitas in the semifinals of the Open Division playoffs, eventually falling 35-28. The painful ending to the season served as an extra motivating factor as the Balers trained in the off-season.

“It motivates us because there are a lot of guys on last year’s team who can’t play Haybaler football anymore,” Gonzalez said. “It pushes us to work for them.”

San Benito opens the season with a home game against Sacred Heart Prep on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Even though the Balers graduated their entire starting defensive line, they consistently have a huge turnout as the only high school in Hollister. In other words, they have the luxury of reloading instead of rebuilding. Smith said the senior leadership of Ethan King, Daniel Pasillas, Eric Fernandez, Adam Mendoza, Eugene McBride, Giovanni Gionnotta and Gonzalez will be vital, as the team will be vastly different from a year ago.

“Jonny Gonzalez has been a true leader both by the way he interacts with his teammates and his actions on the field,” Smith said in an email to the Free Lance.

Pasillas, who leads a junior dominated offensive line, is capable of dominating opposing linemen. Molded like past former Baler standout linemen—physical and tough—Pasillas will pave the way for the run game, San Benito’s traditional strength offensively.

“Daniel is a mauler type offensive lineman,” said Smith, who added that juniors Aidan Pung, Blaze McShane, Joseph Saldana, Nate Sanchez, and Diego Ramirez will also play integral roles on offense this season.

King, Fernandez and McBride will be counted upon to lead the defense, which also includes linebacker Anthony Delgado and playmaking cornerback Adam Mendoza, who also plays receiver and returns punts and kickoffs.

“This defensive unit should improve week in and week out as they learn to play together and play fast,” Smith said.

Speaking of fast and athletic, junior Robert Mendoza is expected to have a solid season at free safety. Like his brother Adam, Robert possesses tremendous instincts, speed and playmaking ability. The Mendoza brothers are coming off a fantastic track season last spring, as they were half of the Balers 4×400 meter relay team that qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships.

Junior Slade Wilson takes over at quarterback after serving as the backup a year ago.

“Slade dedicated this past off-season to the weight room,” Smith said. “He has grown mentally, physically and has the explosive skills needed for our style of play.”

Senior tight end/quarterback Giovanni Giannotta was impressive in fall camp, as Smith said he competed on every play.

“Giovanni has been asked to take backup quarterbacking reps. He provides an excellent scout look, and is a very good athlete,” Smith said.

Unlike in the last couple of years when the Balers had one running back who stood out above the rest, this season the carries will probably be dispersed to three or four players. One of them is the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Gonzalez, who switched from outside linebacker to the backfield late last season.

“I would play as many spots as I can, but it’s not a me game,” Gonzalez said. “I love getting the carries, but I’ll play wherever the coaches want me to play.

A tireless worker, Gonzalez has made dramatic strides since his freshman season. Physical, tough and determined, Gonzalez grew up with a blue-collar mentality.

“Coming from my family, days off aren’t really a thing for us,” he said. “My dad (Saul) always says the guy who beats you is the guy who out-trains you. So if I’m taking a break, I’ve got to think my opponents aren’t. I’ve got to work to get one step ahead of them.”

Gonzalez was introduced to football at an early age, as Saul made him watch NFL games. Gonzalez often saw the Raiders on TV, making them his favorite team.

“Back then I was rooting for JaMarcus Russell and Lamont Jordan,” he said. “I was 2 years old and watching the Super Bowl (in 2003 when Tampa Bay beat Oakland, 48-21), and my dad said I was crying even though I had no idea of what was going on.”

Gonzalez said the coaching staff prepares the team well, both mentally and physically.

“The coaching staff has been having us sprint everyday so we’re not getting tired in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Football is a mental game, and I don’t lack confidence. I come out here and don’t fear anybody—never have, never will. If you have fear, you’re going to get laid out.”

Gonzalez said he expects other players to make an impact in the Balers’ run-oriented offense, including Joe DiMaggio, Ernie Cruz, Saul Vargas, Stevan Navarro and Kane DeAlba.

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