As a group of parents and other supporters of the Turlock Youth Football League watched nearby, a Turlock High offensive lineman was on the verge of puking. He was down on one knee, his hand to his stomach.
But he sucked it up, even under the unforgiving sun. This was toward the end of his team’s practice on the field near Debely Stadium, as aspiring youth footballers were warming up. The offensive lineman and several of his teammates were trying to turn a blocking sled in all sorts of directions, all while in full football gear. It was painful to watch.
But this group of Bulldogs knows it’s all worth it.
All but one of the offensive linemen for Turlock is a returning starter. Seniors Leo Barajas, Tony Sousa, Brandon Jurevich and Brent Souza, along with newcomer and junior Jacob Rodriguez, are expected to help the Bulldogs continue their 2010 success, in which they went 8-3 after enduring a 0-10 season. Now, they have to do it without the likes of quarterback Kevin Kramer and running back Ricky Fuentes, who have since graduated and were known to break out for 60-yard runs.
“It’s going to be a little different,” said Souza, the center. “We’re not going to have the biggest players, but we’re going to have more experience and more skills at the line. We’re going to be able to run the ball down field more. It’s going to be more steady instead of the big plays here and there.”
To start the season, they’re going to have to do it without Barajas, who hurt his ankle during training camp. The Bulldogs have a couple of guys in mind as his replacement.
Even so, offensive line coach Greg Smith is confident in his boys, who never complained while pushing the blocking sled on a recent hot afternoon practice. They’re well versed in the Turlock offense, recognizing when to make the right blocks.
“They know the system that we’re running,” Smith said. “They have the experience. We don’t have to teach to a new group. We can spend the time teaching the kids who are coming up from JV, whereas the kids who were already here from last year, they’ve seen it already.”
That experience will also help in grooming a young quarterback. Sean Downs is only a sophomore, and he’s replacing last season’s league MVP in Kramer. Downs, who is still adjusting to his new role, appreciates that he has veteran support.
“I’m getting to know them a little better,” Downs said about his offensive linemen. “I’m comfortable back there. I know they’ll protect me.”
Having a sophomore quarterback isn’t ideal for any program, but the Bulldogs can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they have a group of proven offensive linemen who can suck it up in any situation.
“It all boils down to how well our offensive line plays,” Smith said. “Kevin and Ricky got us out of a lot of jams. If we missed a block on the offensive line, Kevin and Ricky got us out of those jams. This year, we need to be able to count on those guys (the offensive line).”
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