LOS BANOS -- James Sams isn't going to sneak up on his opponents this fall.
His breakout junior season took care of that. The Los Banos running back rushed for 1,872 yards and 20 touchdowns, en route to being named The Bee's Offensive Player of the Year.
Expect Sams to play a starring role again this year for a Los Banos team that comes into this season with high expectations after returning nine starters on offense. The Tigers won a Western Athletic Conference championship last fall, and advanced to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Front and center is Sams.
"Everything goes through James," first-year head coach Dustin Caropreso said. "You look at the last two games he had in the playoffs last year. I think he ran for 225 yards against Vanden and 250 against Casa Roble.
"I've seen some good running backs come through Los Banos. He has a chance to be there with some of the best."
This won't be a one-man mission. Sams has plenty of help with quarterback Chris Corpuz returning after throwing for 1,455 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Also returning are play-making receivers in Daeton West, Delvonte Moore and Keith Turner.
"Daeton brings a lot to the team," Sams said. "He helps open up the running game and he helps the other receivers get catches because a lot of teams like to double Daeton.
"If teams want to put eight in the box, Chris can start passing to help open the running game."
With a drop to Division 4 a likely scenario, Los Banos has the talent to make a run at a Sac-Joaquin Section championship and a state bowl berth. Getting there won't be easy, though.
Los Banos has a tough non-conference schedule with teams such as Escalon and Manteca waiting to take their shot at Sams and company.
Central Catholic comes into the season as the WAC favorite.
"Everyone I talk to is excited about opening up against Escalon," Caropreso said. "They won a state bowl two years ago. We play a Roosevelt team we don't know much about and then come back with Manteca, Dos Palos and Central Catholic.
"After the first five games, we'll know how good we are."
Caropreso takes over the reins of the program after Dennis Stubbs returned to Golden Valley. The Tigers made the playoffs four times in the five seasons under Stubbs.
"He came in and got the program headed in the right direction," Caropreso said. "I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. This is the job I always wanted. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Caropeso is hoping his seniors will help make the coaching transition a smooth one. Sams knows more is going to be asked from him as a second-year player and the face of the team.
"For us seniors, we know this will be our last year playing together," Sams said. "This season is important to us. For some of us, it may be our last year playing football at all."
PREDICTIONS 1. Central Catholic, 2. Los Banos, 3. Central Valley, 4. Patterson, 5. Livingston, 6. Pacheco, 7. Ceres.