The Karson Klauer era is gone. Replacing the 2005 TCAL Offensive MVP is Ronnie Fhurong, an understudy last year as a sophomore. When Fhurong lines up under center at Aptos Friday, it will mark the signal-caller’s first varsity start. Despite his inexperience, the junior is confident the transition will be a smooth one. “I have big footsteps to follow and I’m going to be following them as good as he did,” Fhurong said.
Offensive coordinator Rick Dukes said his new quarterback brings physical tools to the table that should help him as he adjusts. “We’re going to let him be an athlete out there, do what he can do,” said Dukes, suggesting that Fhurong’s quickness will buy him time in the passing game and yards on rollouts.”
As always, a potent running attack will be the quarterback’s best friend. “The faster we get our running game established, the easier it’s going to be for him,” Dukes said. Wide receivers’ coach David Kaplansky said the relationship Fhurong is building with the flankers is coming along nicely, too. “Ronnie’s a good quarterback,” Kaplansky said. “I think our receivers are working well with Ronnie. They played together at the younger level, so I think that helps with continuity.”
Along with the linebacking core, this looks to be the deepest and most talented position on the team. Tim Lango, a 2005 Second Team All-TCAL player, returns for his senior campaign and will be joined in the backfield by Abel Jacquez and Jordan Klindt in the ‘Balers’ Wing-T offense. Impressive down-field running and capable blocking in the backfield are staples for the San Benito backs.
While Lango has the pedigree, Jacquez also has varsity experience and Klindt has caught his coaches’ eyes as a special talent. “Jordan’s a good athlete,” offensive coordinator Rick Dukes said. “A tough kid. He runs the ball hard, blocks well. He’s the whole package.”
Likely to shoulder much the offensive burden as QB Ronnie Fhurong gets comfortable in the varsity game, the running backs know they will be the key to advancing the chains. Plus, as Lango said, “If you get the running game going, you get some pass action.”
San Benito will rotate four receivers, giving opponents a variety of looks depending on the situation. Seniors Dru Blake and Carlos Ramos will team with juniors Zach Canez and Ricky Sanchez to give QB Ronnie Fhurong and the ‘Balers’ offense versatility down the field. “All four guys bring something to the table,” wide receivers’ coach David Kaplansky said. “Each guy’s going to contribute.”
Blake figures to make an impact with his intense play and polished blocking skills, Ramos has developed a good rapport with Fhurong already, Canez has run solid routes and shown good hands in practice, and Sanchez looks to get on the field with a combination of solid blocking and precise route-running.
“If there’s lots of traffic, those are the guys I look to,” Fhurong said. “I just throw it up and they go get it.”
OFFENSIVE LINE & TIGHT END
If the key to the ‘Balers’ offense is the running game, then the bedrock has to be the offensive line. And that group represents a significant question mark heading into the 2006 season. With C Zach Johnson sidelined with a knee injury, only LG Danny Gallant and LT Chris Reynolds have any varsity experience.
Sophomore Robbie Sanchez and senior Josh Huaracha have been competing for playing time at right guard, with Sanchez drawing praise from head coach Chris Cameron. “He’s been flat-out outstanding,” said Cameron, who also coaches the offensive and defensive lines. Huaracha, who is suffering from a broken hand, also remains in the mix at strong-side linebacker.
Juniors Ryan Wiltse and Wade Jacobson will get looks at right tackle and senior Lenny Silva will start at center in Johnson’s place.
With so many untested players manning the front, Gallant, a three-year varsity player, has found himself thrust into the position of being an on-field coach. “You’ve got a lot of young guys coming up and they look at you for guidance. It’s a job in itself,” Gallant said.
Cameron said the only way the unit will progress is by taking the field. “You only learn it by playing,” he said. “They’re going to make mistakes … the whole maturation process.”
Junior Kevin Burley and senior Danny Murphy will split time at tight end, a position largely reserved for blocking in the ‘Balers’ offense. “They’re like a lot of the linemen,” tight ends’ coach Ed Schmidt said. “They’re new. They’re still learning. … They need to develop and quickly.”
Much as is the case with the offensive line, the defensive front has precious little experience. Senior nose tackle Brett Pirtle is the only returning player, having played mostly behind Vinnie Sardam last season. The other five players that figure to receive playing time in the team’s three-man front offer a lot of potential, but also bring youthful inexperience.
Junior Kevin Burley will start at weak-side tackle in the ‘Balers’ opener at Aptos and sophomore Sam Doty will get the nod at the other tackle spot, “anchoring down the strong side of the defense,” said head coach Chris Cameron, who also coaches the defensive line.
Sophomores Robbie Sanchez and Sam Stephens and junior Heath Miller will continue to fight for playing time at the defensive tackle spots. “Of the six kids in the group, there’s only one senior,” Cameron said. “They’re improving a lot. Everything they’re doing is just getting better. I know they’re going to do some good things.”
Pirtle, the lone senior, agreed: “We’ve got the talent there. It’s just a matter of learning our game plans and executing on game day.”
With three returning starters, San Benito’s linebacking core is the most experienced and talented area on the team’s defense. 2005 First Team All-TCAL selection Johnny Sanchez and Chad Kakebeen are back to man the inside linebacker spots and weak-side linebacker Nate Mendoza returns for his third varsity season.
“Our backers, particularly our inside backers are the heart of the team,” outside linebackers’ coach Ed Schmidt said. “They’re the ones making the calls, directing traffic and all that.”
Seniors Josh Huaracha and Kevin Medeiros have waged one of the most spirited battles for playing time, with both likely to see playing time at strong-side linebacker against Aptos. “I’m hoping one of them rises up,” Schmidt said. “Neither one of them have really hit their stride yet. … Josh is really aggressive and Kevin has a lot of football smarts. He really knows the position.”
Sanchez spoke of the make-up of the team’s defense as a whole. “First of all, we’re a lot smaller,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that’s changed. But we’re also a lot faster, especially up front. … We’ve still got a solid defense. And our style hasn’t changed. We still hit hard and get after it.”
The two bookends of the ‘Balers’ defensive backfield, cornerbacks Dru Blake and Carlos Ramos, couldn’t have more different playing styles. And that’s just fine with secondary coach Shawn Tennenbaum.
“Dru brings a lot of physical tools you don’t often see out of high school kids,” Tennenbaum said of the 6-2, 185-pound Blake. “He’s got a nastiness to him that you don’t usually see out of a defensive back.”
Meanwhile, Ramos, a second-year varsity player, is “very disciplined, and that’s very good to see,” the assistant coach continued. “He’s definitely taking after some of the best secondary players we’ve had here in the past.”
Joining the senior cornerbacks in the secondary are four safeties that are all very athletic. Senior Josh Schroder and junior Jordan Klindt are battling for minutes at strong safety, while juniors Zach Canez and Ricky Sanchez look to share time at free safety as well as at wide receiver.
“The competition level has really increased with having some depth there,” Tennenbaum said of the two safety spots. “You’ve got great athletes back there and it’s really nice to have. I feel blessed.”
Blake, a three-year varsity player, looks forward to seeing the defense set the tone for the ‘Balers this season. “Defense, we’re head hunting,” he said. “Our defense has to set a higher tone. You’re wanting that big hit, that kill shot.”
Finding a kicker won’t be a problem for San Benito this season. But finding playing time for all the capable parties may. Dru Blake, Ronnie Fhurong and Frankie Orozco have all been practicing at kicking and punting in practice and special teams’ coach Shawn Tennenbaum is looking forward to utilizing all of their strengths, pointing to differences in power and placement among the trio. “It’s pretty exciting to see we have some depth there,” the assistant coach said. “It’s hard enough just to find one kicker some years. It’s a pretty nice luxury.”
As for the return game, Blake will join starting running backs Tim Lango and Abel Jacquez in trying to bring the ‘Balers a spark while the offense and defensive units are on the sideline. The two running backs will return punts, and Jacquez and Blake will handle kickoff returns. Carlos Ramos and Jordan Klindt are the primary backups.
Tennenbaum spoke of being pleased he can field players that are “elusive in the open field” on punt returns, while trotting out Blake as a completely different style of returner for kickoffs. “I think any time you have a big kid that can run like he can run, it’s a big advantage in terms of his physicality,” Tennebaum said of Blake.