High School Football

The return of a Modesto quarterback makes this CCAL school a formidable opponent.

In the seven games he started in 2018, Downey quarterback Bryce Gouker threw multiple touchdowns in all of them.

In the final four, he threw at least three, including five in the Knights’ 57-27 win against Grant in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. The win was the first on the road in a postseason game by a Modesto City Schools football team since 1999.

Now, after battling with Beau Green (transferred to Modesto Christian and then Turlock) for the first month of the 2018 season, the senior has full-control of the team. Green started the season, but was sidelined midway by an injury.

Gouker leads the team in every huddle after practice periods and has shown increased arm strength throughout the summer.

“He continues to get better,” Knights coach Jeremy Plaa said. “His arm strength is good but his mental understanding of the game is better. He knows where to go with the ball ahead of time.”

Gouker, who threw for 25 touchdowns while completing 69% of his passes last year, said he spent “a lot” of time working with Knights’ offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Chris Cloward in the offseason as well as time in the weight room.

“This team is something special,” Gouker said.

In the spread, pass-heavy offense, Gouker will rely on senior wide receivers Ethan Difuntorum, Bronson England, and Lawrence Harris.

Difuntorum had three receiving touchdowns in 2018 while Harris played primarily defense.

England is primed for a breakout season and he has looked great during summer passing league competitions and practices and was named the wide receiver’s group MVP after a recent practice.

Plaa, who is entering his 13th year at Downey, said England is quick and can run all the routes and make all the catches.

“This group is awesome,” Gouker said. “Every single one of them works hard including the second-string, and are trying to get better every day.”

Senior running back Robert Rivera (1,511 total yards, 12 touchdowns) also returns and senior offensive lineman Kole Gilbert has looked phenomenal in practice, Plaa said.

“Half of these guys on this team are four-year guys (been on team all four years),” Plaa said. “Usually it’s around 10-15 and this year we have 22. It’s pretty exciting in terms of experience.”

While using the playoff win over Grant for confidence, Plaa said the team will have to overcome both Turlock teams (lost to Pitman and Turlock) in order to succeed in the Central California Athletic League.


School: Downey

Record: 7-5, 3-2 in Central California Athletic League

Players to Watch: Senior quarterback Bryce Gouker, senior wide receiver Bronson England, senior running back Robert Rivera

Biggest Game: Oct. 4 vs Turlock

Something special about school: One of the best snack bars around. Possibility of a BBQ restaurant coming to games.

Playoff appearances last five years: 2018: Lost to Inderkum in CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Quarterfinals 2017: Lost to Rockin in Div. II First Round 2016: Lost to Central Catholic in Div. II First Round 2015: Lost to Granite Bay in Div. II First Round 2014: Lost to Grant in Div. II Quarterfinals

Season Schedule:






at East Union

7 p.m.



7 p.m.



at Merced

7 p.m.



7 p.m.


at McClymonds

7 p.m.


Bye Week




7 p.m.


at Enochs

7 p.m.



7 p.m.


at Pitman

7 p.m.




7 p.m.

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Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.