When a teammate reached from behind and pulled him down by his shoulders, Ricky Fuentes knew something bad was about to transpire. This was during last season’s Blue and Gold intra-squad game that the Turlock High football team puts on before the first official game.
His coach, James Peterson, hinted that life would have been different if Fuentes had decided to race out of bounds since he was nearby. But he inevitably crashed down onto the earth awkwardly, suffering a season-ending broken left ankle.
“God, I was heartbroken,” Fuentes said.
He uttered those words with so much conviction, capturing in his voice the physical and emotional pain he endured while being sidelined with crutches and a leg cast. But after what happened last Friday night, that image is probably fading thanks in part to an impressive all-around performance from Fuentes.
“I think he’s just a great athlete,” linebacker Connor Pearson said.
The Bulldogs are no longer suffering from flashbacks now that Fuentes is completely healthy — and dangerous — as arguably the team’s top dual threat at the running back and defensive back positions. This was evident after Turlock’s epic 32-20 smashing of Downey High, which not only marked the program’s first win in two seasons but also put aside the Bulldogs’ 0-10 disaster in 2009.
Fuentes’ highlights included rushing nine times for 170 yards, catching a 48-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Kramer and receiving some very flattering words from Peterson, the second-year coach who has publicly shouldered the blame for last season’s debacle.
“He can change the game on one down. He’s got that ability,” Peterson said of Fuentes, one of the team’s fastest players at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. “I think he was better than what I thought he’d be on Friday night. He got that spark, that gift.”
After that devastating injury in 2009, Fuentes said he felt depressed because he wasn’t available for his teammates. He was cleared to play in Turlock’s season finale but noted that his ankle was still rather sensitive. Plus, he needed time to rest up for his other sports.
He played key roles for the school’s basketball and baseball teams in the winter and spring seasons, highlighted by deep, memorable Sac-Joaquin Section playoff runs for both sports. The experiences helped ease the frustration of missing an entire football season.
“I think it might have humbled him a bit,” Peterson said. “It was something positive that came out of something negative.”
Without Fuentes, the Bulldogs had only their second winless season since 1920.
But it wasn’t just the absence of Fuentes. Turlock also had other injuries, including having Drew Jonson, known as a top returning wide receiver at the time, end his high school career after suffering — oh no! — the team’s second broken leg against Oakdale High in the opening kickoff of the season opener. Those unfortunate incidents still baffle Peterson.
“I never heard of anything like it before,” he said. “And it didn’t stop.”
More injuries took place throughout the season, as well as watching a few players quit. But this year’s players have said they’ve moved on from 2009 and are focused on this season, one that began with a win. They hope to continue this good fortune in Friday night’s contest at the newly renovated Joe Debely Stadium against Oakdale, considered a top-notch small-school program.
And expect Fuentes to once again have an impact, though he does put emphasis on running the ball “without being scared.”
“I feel like I do have a point to prove,” he said. “I feel like some of the players look up to me. With me being a captain, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure. But I’m taking that in a good way. I have to go out there and play my hardest, and hopefully the team will follow.”
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