High School Sports

Orestimba coach: Two-time Southern League champions searching for a key ingredient

Orestimba High School's Tyler Vargas, left, Andres Alvarez, center, and Octavio Perez, right, pose for a portrait at the Merced Sun-Star office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Orestimba High School's Tyler Vargas, left, Andres Alvarez, center, and Octavio Perez, right, pose for a portrait at the Merced Sun-Star office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The Orestimba High football team is attempting to do something no boys program in school history has done in nearly 80 years – three-peat.

The Warriors have owned the Southern League the last two seasons, hoisting back-to-back league banners with a 14-0 record during that stretch.

They have been spotless and sublime, but to win a third consecutive title Orestimba coach Aaron Souza says he’s going to need more from his senior class. Quarterback Josh Barron and two-way talent Toby Silva have graduated, leaving a leadership void in the huddle and locker room.

“The key thing is we need senior leaders to develop quickly,” said Souza, now in his eighth season at his alma mater. “We had a good summer with great work ethic, but we need senior leaders to develop. These seniors have to realize this is their time. You get one senior year and they need to start being leaders about it.”

The building blocks are there.

Offensive linemen Jamie Munoz (6-foot, 220 pounds), Andres Alvarez (5-9, 220) and Santiago Meza-Gonzales (6-0, 195) form the foundation. Munoz and Alvarez were named to the all-Southern League honor roll last fall.

“A lot of our leadership will come from the line. We have a lot of starters coming back from our lines, but we need our senior skill players to step up. That will be a key for us to three-peat.”

The candidates:

▪  Running back Tymon Bolden nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards last season. He finished with 930 yards on 5.8 yards per carry. He had three 100-yard games and found the end zone four times.

▪  Junior wide receiver/defensive back Tyler Vargas, a returning all-conference player. Vargas started all 12 games and scored touchdowns four different ways.

“He’s going to have to play like a senior,” Souza said of Vargas, who was second on the team in receptions and yards.

▪  Junior quarterback Jacob Bettencourt follows in the footsteps of Joe Sheldon (2015) and Barron (2016), but make no mistake: the junior is nothing like his run-and-gun predecessors. Bettencourt is a pure pocket passer.

“He has some big shoes to fill,” Souza said. “He’s another guys who is going to have to grow up.”

An Orestimba boys program hasn’t won three consecutive league titles since the basketball team from 1939-41.

Souza’s teams are no stranger to history, though.

In 2015, the Warriors ended Le Grand’s six-year reign atop the small-school conference with the first undefeated regular season in school history. It was the program’s first league title since 1981.

That year, running back Austin Martins notched the program’s first 2,000-yard season and was named to a Cal-Hi Sports all-state team. Orestimba went onto host the school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game and reached the Division V semifinal.

“Every football season is different. Every team is different,” Souza said. “Our players and staff learned that last season. As good as we were in 2015, one season doesn’t always parlay into the next. I like what I’ve seen from the offensive and defensive lines, but as a staff, we feel like we’re still inconsistent and trying to forge our own identity.”

The Southern League won’t wait for the Warriors.

Mariposa fared well at the Modesto Junior College Passing Tournament. Waterford closed the 2016 season with wins over Gustine and Denair and will look to take the next step under second-year coach Lonnie Statzer.

Gustine returns the top returning running back in the Stanislaus District in Oliver Perez. He rushed for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall.

Delhi, Denair and Le Grand will build around their quarterbacks, Alecxis Miranda (701 rushing yards), Drew Pritchard and Beto Marquez (1,285 passing yards), respectively, while Ripon Christian will follow the lead of running back Michael Kamps (745 rushing yards).

“We’re the champs until somebody beats us,” said Souza, whose team will begin the season outside the section with games against Mendota, Pacific Grove and El Molino.

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

Players to Watch

1. Oliver Perez, running back, Gustine: The area’s top returning rusher, Perez led the Southern League in yards (1,496) and total points (104). He may have pushed 2,000 yards on a playoff team, but Gustine lost its final two games to fall out of contention. One rival coach capsulized Perez’s talent with one word: “Legit.”

2. Alecxis Miranda, quarterback, Delhi: Miranda helped shape one of the greatest seasons in program history. The Hawks won eight games, contended for a Southern League title and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs. Miranda was an integral part of the running game. He was second in carries (83) and yards (701) to Central California Lions All-Star Jesse Flores, averaging 8.4 yards per carry.

3. Ryan Leonard, linebacker, Mariposa: The Southern League’s top returning tackler, Leonard had 145 stops last fall as a sophomore. The 6-foot, 185-pounder hunts the football better than anyone at the small-school level. He averaged 14.5 tackles per game, including a season-high 21 in loss to Denair. He never had fewer than 11 tackles in a game.

4. Michael Vivo, quarterback, Waterford: He was the jack-of-all-trades in the Waterford offense a season ago, totaling 1,135 yards, including 599 through the air and 209 on the ground. He also accounted for 12 touchdowns. He had 39 tackles and two interceptions as a defender. His speed makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Vivo has been clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

5. Michael Kamps, running back, linebacker, Ripon Christian: The Knights look to bounce back from a one-win campaign in 2016 and the leader of their resurgence likely will be Michael Kamps, a two-way talent. Kamps finished fourth in the league in rushing last fall with 745 yards, while playing major minutes on defense and special teams. “His health and tough-minded competitive attitude are key to our success this season,” coach Trey Ozenbaugh said.

– James Burns

2016 Final Standings

School (league, overall records)

Orestimba (7-0, 10-2)

Delhi (5-2, 8-3)

Gustine (4-3, 5-5)

Denair (4-3, 6-5)

Mariposa (3-4, 4-6)

Waterford (3-4, 5-5)

Le Grand (1-6, 1-9)

Ripon Christian (1-6, 2-8)