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UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT - Bruins Ready For Resurgence On Riverbank High Gridiron
For a few moments, it appeared Division I Franklin of Stockton was going to be too much for Riverbank High's division IV varsity football team to handle during a recent scrimmage at RHS.

Riverbank's first team offense was stifled in its first possession and Franklin runners broke though the Bruin defense for long touchdown runs on back-to-back plays.

But with their backs against the wall, Riverbank players became animated as late Franklin hits and blindside blocks away from the ball suddenly sparked Bruin aggression.

That aggression was obvious when Riverbank's first team offense drove down the field and pushed into the end zone on quarterback Alex Reynaga's collision up the middle.

By the time Franklin's first team offense took the field for their final series of plays, it was clear Riverbank High's football team had something worth fighting for.

Middle linebacker Luis Solario crashed into the Franklin backfield on big plays, and watched teammates silence a previously rowdy Yellowjacket unit with only one first down allowed and no scores.

When the final whistle sounded, it was clear which program had gained the most confidence from the final big test before the start to preseason contests.

The Bruins, who were winless just a season ago, had outplayed a Division I opponent during the second of two showdowns between the two program's starting casts.

"I have been hitting my own teammates this whole time, so it felt good to get some hits on another team," Solario said afterwards.

"It turned out great," Reynaga added. "It gave us a lot of motivation to keep working to get better."

The scrimmage was Riverbank's last look at contact with opposition before Fridays' week 0 showdown with a Waterford team that beat them 35-6 a season ago and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Waterford lost several key members of its defense and a starting quarterback, but returns junior running back Dylan Gonzales (No. 20), who tallied 119 of his 1,439 yards last season and two of his 28 total touchdowns against Riverbank.

But the Bruins have no intentions of lying down for Gonzales and the Wildcats. First year head coach James Oliver has 13 other football minds on his coaching staff, and is making big strides to build a strong institution of Bruin football.

"What I would like to do is establish a foundation for a tradition of Riverbank football to give this program some identity," Oliver said on Sunday. "I would like that identity to be a team that plays hard, and of course we will always look to make the playoffs and win a (Trans-Valley League) championship, though our league is very tough."

Tough is kind of selling it short.

The TVL has produced California Bowl State Champions in back-to-back seasons (Modesto Christian-2009, Escalon-2010), and long been considered one of the toughest small school conferences in the state.

Escalon, which returns many key members of the state champion team of a year ago, is currently ranked No. 6 in the nation among all small school programs.

"Obviously it's an honor to compete in a league like the TVL," coach Oliver said. "People have suggested Riverbank drop down to a lesser league, but I see it as a great opportunity to play a team ranked sixth in the nation and face other great programs.

"The kids are really excited."

Riverbank opens the TVL season by traveling to MC on Sept. 23 and Escalon on Sept. 30, then faces Orestimba, Hilmar, Ripon, and Hughson in consecutive weeks to follow.

The Bruins face Denair on Sept. 2, Delhi on Sept. 9 and Big Valley Christian on Sept. 16 before kicking off league with the road game at Escalon.

It's the exact same schedule that forced Riverbank to succumb to a winless season and 80-473 point-differential a year ago, but things have certainly changed.

For one, Riverbank has the talent, size and depth to do some serious damage at the varsity level.

A team that finished some games with as few as 14 available players now sports 31 on the current roster.

Twelve of those 31 are at least six feet tall, and 13 linemen are 200 pounds or heavier.

The size is evident when senior captain and center Steven Arnold (6-0, 265), senior two-way lineman Javier Gaxiola (6-0, 225), junior defensive specialist Nester Montoya (5-10, 275), junior offensive lineman Anthony Navarette (6-3, 225), junior Solario (6-2, 220) and senior tight end/outside linebacker Dalton Woitysiak (6-4, 220) take the field.

It's plenty of talent and size surrounding scrambling quarterback/safety Reynaga and explosive running back/wide receiver Raymond Burney.

The Bruins will play from a shotgun fly zone offensive system that utilizes the athleticism of a quarterback, running backs and receivers in motion.

"We have a lot of movement, with sweeps and counters and we get the ball to the fullback with zone plays from Alex," Oliver said. "Our passing game will involve some short plays, but we can also throw the ball deep, and Alex worked really hard this summer to throw the ball well deep."

"We are capable of doing some really big things, as a matter of fact," Reynaga said Saturday. "We have bonded together really well, which is something we didn't have last year. We just have to keep it up with each practice."

Friday's game against Waterford begins at 7:30 p.m.