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Book-Smart Football Bruins Ready For Ripon
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Prep athletes in Riverbank High's football program use their heads for much more than a helmet-rack.

The Bruins, who had struggled to field teams at the varsity and junior varsity level after the release of grades in recent seasons, appear to have completely eliminated the problem of ineligibility.

Head coach Aaron Thurman was proud to reveal Riverbank's number of academically eligible players has actually seen an increase since the season's start.

The varsity team sports a deep cast of superb students (most of them blockers), while Riverbank's JV unit plays with one of their deepest teams in years and four students at a 4.0 grade-point average.

"I am very much proud of these kids as athletes and as students," Thurman said. "When I took over, this program had some really bad years academically, but by now it seems almost like a done issue.

"The kids understand what we are trying to accomplish from a mental standpoint."

Sergio Rocha, a varsity offensive and defensive lineman, leads all Bruins with a sharp 4.2 GPA on the year. Tight end Jamal Lehyan sports a 4.0 GPA, while varsity teammates Juan Jimenez (tight end/linebacker, 3.83 GPA), Garret Smith (receiver, 3.84), Steve Arnold (OL, 3.67) and Peter Palomino (OL, 3.2) have all been successful in the classroom.

The junior varsity program sports a cast of 4.0 students that includes Joaquin Felix, Edward Guardado, Anthony Reynaga and Luis Solario, Joseph Orsburn and Daniel Palomino have amassed 3.67 GPAs as well.

But the Bruins hard work on campus doesn't end with football practice or homework. With Riverbank enjoying a bye last week, Thurman had his team busy around school, pulling weeds, picking up trash and even painting.

Between the campus clean-up, entertaining rugby-style scrimmages and a trip to watch Modesto Junior College football and Bruin alum Donovan Wallace on Saturday, it was an active but enjoyable week for the program.

"I thought our team building went really well," Thurman said. "I'm a believer that you give back through sweat and dirt, and everyone on the team showed up and worked."

The Bruins (0-8) will work for their first win of the season on Friday when they visit the 4-4 Ripon Indians. Ripon topped Modesto Christian with a 20-0 shutout last week, and could see a postseason game if they beat both Riverbank and Orestimba in the last two weeks of the season.

It's an opportunity for Riverbank to play the spoiler as they look for some running room before the final game of the season against Hughson (0-8).

Thurman said his squad looks forward to playing both Ripon and Hughson, and hinted the two teams will likely see Bruin quarterback Alex Reynaga from a new-look shotgun formation.

"We are going to fight it out and hopefully get a little momentum going into Hughson," Thurman said. "We want to finish the season like we started - poised, passionate and trying to do things right."