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Football: Running game, defense could carry Balers in 2012

San Benito coach Chris Cameron uses football to teach his players valuable life lessons.

Nine months removed from a shutout loss to Archbishop Mitty in the first round of the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, the San Benito Balers’ 2012 football team is ready to wash away that bad taste from their collective mouths.

Once again, San Benito’s offense will go through a slew of running backs supported by a young offensive line. And at quarterback, Josh George is expected to improve off his sophomore year to key the offensive push. On defense, the Balers will rely on a backfield of returnees Cody Cameron and Lionel Munguia to overcome the losses at middle linebacker.

After a stunning Tri-County Athletic League championship season last year, the Balers enter the 2012 season in the newly formed Monterey Bay League, younger and a little bit more inexperienced. So far, that’s okay for Chris Cameron, who is waiting for his key returnees to take the leadership role.

“I would like to say this team is going to be relying on guys that are coming back,” Cameron said. “And as time goes on, hopefully, we get some leadership out of those guys. We need some of those folks to emerge. At this time, we are going through the grind. This is when I would like to see one of them come up.”

Despite the team’s youth – San Benito will enter the season without last year’s starters at quarterback, tight end, three-fifths of the offensive line, and middle linebacker position – Cameron sees the team slowly growing together into a championship-caliber squad.

“It’s been a little slow,” he said. “We are kind of getting off – we are at the tip of the iceberg right now as you would say. We are getting to the end of the practices and there is no opponent right now. It’s long practices. We are putting in a lot of stuff against different looks. It’s a slow learning process right now.”

Returning running back Zak Hicks, who rushed for a team-high 624 yards on 101 carries last year, expects nothing short of a winning season during his junior year. Last year, Hicks took the starting running back role after a slow start. This year, Hicks enters the season in a leading role.

“I believe, honestly, we can have a good season this year, just like last year,” he said. “Sure we lost some good guys from last year, but we still have some good players and great coaching. We are just going to play like who we are. As long as we work as a team, we will be phenomenal this year.”

To be successful, Hicks knows he needs to play a big role on offense.

“I hope I can do better than I did last year,” he said. “I look to help the team and to have the best season as possible.”

He’ll be joined in the backfield with a stable of young running backs looking to take the next step. Returning fullback Damien Botelho, who missed a few games to injury last year, will open up holes for Hicks, Paris Edwards and other young running backs. Even with a young offensive line, the team will continue the tough, hard-nosed San Benito tradition.

“That’s something that we kind of have to rest our hats on,” Cameron said. “It’s a big learning process right now and we are in contact everyday. We are a long ways away from coming together.”

He continued: “We are adding stuff to everything. We are getting ready to play on the first game on the schedule. Right now there is no real carrot out there. We are just banging against ourselves. We are spending a lot of time on fundamentals and basic schemes right now.”

Cameron, though, is looking for last year’s players to take on more of a leadership role this year.

“They’ve been there, done that,” Cameron said. “It doesn’t mean it’s easy. They are veterans. A lot of them are juniors and they are just pushing the go button. They are still learning too. Those are the guys that need to rise to the top.”

Eventually, that hard work will pay off, defensive lineman Jorge Perez said. The senior, who earned an all-league selection last year, wants to build a more cohesive team unity in the new year.

“My goal for this team is that we come together as a single unit and that there are no individuals,” he said. “My hope is that we go all the way to sections and that we never play a bad game. I hope every game is a great game. If we lose, it won’t be a bad game because we played our (butts) off.”

Perez is one of the many players with high expectations.

“We have good expectations for them and they should have even higher expectations for themselves,” Cameron said. “Ultimately, it’s a test of character. That’s what it comes down to. It’s gut-check time.”

Key Players:

Zak Hicks – RB – Last year’s leading rusher is expected to take a big step during his junior campaign behind a revamped offensive line and new quarterback.

Josh George – QB – George went 3-1 in games he played quarterback last year, including the TCAL clinching 13-12 victory over Palma. He is expected to take the QB reigns.

Damien Botelho – FB – A key to the Balers hard-nosed running attack. He should help open up holes in the Balers’ triple-option attack.

Noah Brann – OL – A returning starter on the offensive line will be looked to lead the line’s play after the loss of captain Zach Szyndrowski.

Cody Freitas – OLB – Will try to supplant Ryan Di Salvo on the outside.

Lionel Mungia – CB – A second-year starter in the secondary will be looked at to help solidify the backfield

Schedule:

Date        Opponent         Time

Aug. 31    Pioneer            7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7     Palo Alto          7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21   @Willow Glen  7:30 p.m.

Sept. 29   @Los Altos      1:30 p.m.

Oct. 5*     Salinas            7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12*   @Monterey      7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19*   @Gilroy            7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26*   Christopher     7:30 p.m.

Nov. 2*    @Alvarez         7:30 p.m.

Nov. 9*    Palma              7:30 p.m.

*League game