At first glance, a return trip by Ripon Christian to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship game seems like an all too impossible task when you consider the Knights lost tailback Andrew Brown (2,781 yards, 55 touchdowns) to graduation.
But that’s at first glance.
Study last year’s roster a bit more closely and you’ll find that quarterback Billy Marr and defensive lineman Will Kamps, both of whom played key roles in RC’s run to the final, return for another run at a section crown.
“Andrew was a big weapon for us last year,” Marr said, “but I’m excited to see how this team can adapt and change.”
One thing’s for sure: Other players are going to have to step up.
“It’s forcing us to be more balanced,” said first-year head coach Trey Ozenbaugh. “The goal is always to win games. We won games handily last year, winning by 21 or 28 points. We may only win games by a point this year, but that’s OK.”
After finishing second in the Southern League last season behind four-time defending section champ Le Grand, the Knights won two playoff games by a combined 76 points before falling 35-28 to Bradshaw Christian (Stockton) in the finale.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder to win the section this year,” Marr said. “I want to stay at the top of the league at my position and to help my team win … that’s main my goal.”
Marr, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, threw for 1,783 yards while completing 58.9 percent of his passes last season. His 18 touchdowns and five interceptions was one of the best TD-to-interception ratios in the district.
“Playing under Randy (Fasani) last year was huge for Billy,” said Ozenbaugh of his QB’s association with last year’s head coach who played in the NFL. “Billy worked on his mobility in the offseason and he’s still growing into that big frame of his. He’s been to a lot of camps to try to get some exposure, and he’s landed on some recruiting lists.”
Kamps, meanwhile, delivered a breakout performance as a sophomore with 20½ sacks and 90 tackles – 23½ behind the line of scrimmage. He was named all-district by The Bee and landed on MaxPreps’ Division IV all-state second team.
The 6-foot-1 Kamps played last season at 190 pounds but checked into camp this year at 225. The extra weight hasn’t slowed him – he’s actually lowered his time in the 40-yard dash from around 5.1 to 4.9.
That’s bad news for quarterbacks in the Southern League.
“We got a taste of it last year, and we want to finish it off,” Kamps said. “I’m shooting even higher this season.”
Taking one step further this season depends largely on Marr and Kamps, but it also depends on the health of the team. With a roster of just 20 players, depth is a concern for the Knights.
That won’t be a concern for Mariposa High, the favorite for this year’s conference crown. The Grizzlies have a varsity roster of 37 players with loads of talent returning, including 1,000-yard rusher Kama’re Bailey quarterback Aaron Lerma.
And then there’s Le Grand, which has reached the last five section championship contests. The Bulldogs lost the father-son combo of coach Rick Martinez and 2,000-yard rusher Ryan Martinez, but they remain dangerous with receiver/cornerback Christian Williams, an all-district performer in 2013.
“There are a lot of schools that have been around longer than Ripon Christian and not experienced playing for a section championship,” Ozenbaugh said. “Our No. 1 goal is to win league, and then, No. 2, win the section.
“It’s going to be a great challenge.”