In his fifth year as Tracy High’s head football coach, Matt Shrout has met his goal of a smooth transition from year to year.
The result is that the 2013 season — when the Bulldogs went 5-0 in the San Joaquin Athletic Association, 10-2 overall, including an appearance in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs — was just a warm-up for this year.
The Bulldogs enter the season with a core of experienced players.
“Last year, our juniors were some of our best players,” Shrout said. “They’re seniors now. They’re a year older, a year stronger, a year faster.”
Leading the way is running back Nate Jones, winner of the 2013 Peter B. Kyne Award and the San Joaquin Athletic Association’s most valuable player.
“He’s in better shape, he knows what his role is,” Shrout said. “Last year, going in, he was a backup. That changed pretty fast.”
Jones averaged nearly 100 yards a game rushing and scored 23 touchdowns. A few months later, in the spring 2014 track and field season, Jones emerged as the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top sprinter in the 100-meter dash. Shrout said Jones continued to develop during the summer as an athlete and as a leader.
“He’s embraced that in the off-season. He knows he’s a leader and knows he’s the guy, so we expect good things.”
Jones said his role as a team leader reminds him how much he depends on contributions from everyone around him.
“I’ve just got to stay on my grind and do what I have to do to keep the team ready,” he said. “We want to make our Tracy High legacy as one team.”
The biggest positions to fill are on the offensive line. Senior guard Nate Brown , another third-year varsity player, has made a verbal commitment to play at NCAA Division I University of Nevada, Reno, and will be the Bulldogs’ most experienced lineman on defense and offense.
“We have young guys on the offensive line, but they’re catching up fast,” he said. “They’re learning our playbook very well.”
Other third-year returning players include Jason Nelson, a wingback. With Jones, he will return kickoffs and punts.
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Josh Clarke missed much of the 2013 season because of an injury, but he was the team’s leading receiver in 2012 as a sophomore.
“He’s back and healthy, and we’re ready for him to take over as a leader on both sides of the ball,” Shrout said.
Senior Michael Brown is the starting quarterback. It’s a role he took in 2012 as a sophomore after the team’s starter, Luke Hanna, and backup, Damon Stroup, were both injured.
“It was a big difference in speed,” Michael Brown said, recalling his move from the junior varsity team to the core of the varsity team. “Guys are coming at you faster and you have to make your reads faster. Coming into junior year, I had a taste for it, so it prepared me more.”
Now that he’s a senior, he said he’s in tune with the pace he expects he expects to see this year.
“We’re not as big as we were last year, but our speed is my favorite thing about our team,” Michael Brown said.
Shrout also expects senior Brandon Russell to be a standout of both sides of the ball as a wingback and defensive back.
“He’s going to be our anchor,” Shrout said. “He’s going to make almost every play on defense, and he’s going to run the ball a lot. He’s going to be one of those guys where you’re going to hear his name 20 times during the game.”
Shrout said the Bulldogs will have mostly seniors as starters, but he’s happy with the depth that the upcoming junior class provides. He cited junior lineman Haiden Hall and junior linebackers Conner Johnson, Courtney Hawkins and Trent Griffith as players who will see plenty of game time. Shrout has also brought up sophomore Dominic Splan as the team’s center, along with sophomore lineman Daniel Obinna and sophomore kicker Nathan Shankel.
The Tracy High Bulldogs open the season tonight at Wayne Schneider Stadium against Freedom High of Oakley. Freedom was the third-place team in the Bay Valley League and made the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs. Like the Bulldogs, the Falcons have a senior class that saw plenty of action as juniors in 2013. Sophomores play at 5 p.m. and the varsity game starts at 7:15 p.m.
Tracy High football schedule
Aug. 29 - Home vs. Freedom 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 5 - Away at Clayton Valley 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 12 - Home vs. Beyer 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 19 - Home vs. Kimball 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 25 - Away at Turlock (F/S/V) 3/5/7 p.m.
Oct. 10* - Away at Tokay (Grape Bowl, Lodi) 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 17* - Away at Lodi (Grape Bowl, Lodi) 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 24* - Home vs. St. Mary’s (homecoming) 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 31* - Home vs. Lincoln 5/7:15 p.m.
Nov. 7* - Away at West 5/7:15 p.m.
*Tri-City Athletic League games
Home games played at Wayne Schneider Stadium at Tracy High School, 315 E. 11th St.
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.