Tom Tyler isn’t picky.
His philosophy is simple: If you’re willing to work or have something to prove, there’s a place for you on the Pitman High football team.
Like every other coach, Tyler wants as many talented and gifted players on his roster, but more than anything, he craves those with a chip on their shoulder.
The bigger, the better, too.
“We try to hang our hat on how hard we work and how we prepare,” Tyler said. “That gives us confidence.”
On face value, the Pride ascended to the top of The Bee’s large-school rankings for eight weeks last season on the strength of its senior class. Pitman leaned on do-everything speedster Devan Bass and all-everything lineman Chris Martinez, and then filled in the gaps with safety Brendan Patterson and quarterback Jacob Perez.
Pitman won 10 of its 12 games, many in thrilling, come-from-behind fashion, and finished second in the Central California Conference after a loss to rival Turlock in the Harvest Bowl.
A two-way talent, Bass finished with 1,597 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns, including four on returns, and Martinez is headed to San Diego State on scholarship. They possessed more than just skill, Tyler said. They felt slighted, passed over and unappreciated, all of which created a relentless drive.
“You hope last year’s success carries over, especially how we played late in games,” Tyler said. “Guys are going to be filling those roles and they’ll need to play with that same type of confidence.
“Those kids felt like they had something to prove. Jacob Perez was a real competitor and he felt like he had something to prove, and he did a heck of a job for us. We need kids to take that on. The juniors that come in and want to break into the lineup; kids that didn’t start last year need to start proving themselves every week.”
Two weeks into the summer season, Tyler is pleased with the progress. The energy and enthusiasm is where it needs to be, and soon the “nuances,” like positions and depth chart, will be addressed.
For now, though, Tyler wants the team to establish its identity. In his mind, the Pride are a blue-collar bunch with an iron will, but that is out of his control.
“We still have a lot of roles to fill,” he said. “We’ve had guys do a good job of setting the bar, but when it comes to the character of the team, those are things we’re still developing right now. We’re still learning about this team.”
Amid the unknowns are a few certainties.
The Pride return guard Brendan Tallent and tight end/defensive end Lance Bickle, both of whom earned all-conference honors.
Junior Treyton Fair likely will succeed Perez. Fair was a two-year starter on the junior varsity team. He made his varsity debut in a passing scrimmage against Beyer on Thursday. Pitman won’t take part in any major passing tournaments or challenges. Instead, they’ll keep a schedule spiced with a handful of local 7-on-7 scrimmages.
Tyler will also build around middle linebackers Dan Padilla and Trenton Brock, and juniors Payton Bass and Isaias Aguilar. Bass and Aguilar are coming off major knee injuries. Bass is the younger brother of Devan Bass.
“We’re not sure how they’ll respond,” Tyler said. “Right now, they look strong, but those are some of our question marks.”
Pitman will open the season at Napa on Aug. 25, or so it hopes.
Napa made national headlines after five junior varsity football players were expelled, and several others suspended, following an alleged hazing incident on Halloween. The fallout has been tremendous: the police have reportedly identified 16 victims and referred 15 for criminal prosecution, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat; and Troy Mott resigned as football coach, along with the athletic director and other members of the football staff.
Tyler learned of the incident while watching CNN in his hotel room during a birthday getaway in May.
“We were concerned,” he said. “Last we heard, they might not have a season.”
The Pride will host Lincoln of Stockton (Sept. 1) and Pleasant Grove (Sept. 8), and then wrap up its non-league schedule at Downey (Sept. 15).
It won’t get any easier in conference play. Pitman opens with perennial title contender Merced on Sept. 22 at Joe Debely Stadium, followed by road games at Atwater (Oct. 6) and Buhach Colony (Oct. 13).
The last three regular-season games will be played at Joe Debely: against El Capitan on Oct. 20, Golden Valley on Oct. 27 and the Harvest Bowl, Nov. 3, as the “guest” of the rival Bulldogs.