The new era of Garces football begins Friday night as the Rams open up the regular season on the road at Bakersfield Christian at 7:30 p.m.
Paul Golla is the ninth head coach in program history after 14 successful seasons at Bakersfield High.
The Rams, who went 4-8 overall in 2018 and 2-3 in the Southwest Yosemite League, reached the second round of the Central Section Division II playoffs.
With a bevy of talent returning this fall, plus some former JV standouts looking to make their mark, there is plenty of excitement leading into this week’s game.
Here are the positional breakdowns for the Rams
Quarterback: After senior Joseph Campbell, a three-year starter, was diagnosed with Valley Fever just days into fall camp, there was worry about his health first, and whether he would be able to compete this season. While he will not suit up this week, Campbell is listed as day-to-day.
In his place, senior Isaiah Bell and junior Jalen Smith will assume the role as signal caller against the Eagles.
“Bell is really football saavy,” Golla said. “He sees the whole field. He’s extremely fast and throws a nice ball. Both of them were youth-level quarterbacks and bring a different skill-set to the team.”
Running backs: When Smith isn’t taking snaps at quarterback, he will assume the role as lead running back in the offense.
“He’s so strong and physical,” Golla said. “He has great vision.”
Also in the backfield this season is sophomore Logan Bowers. “You’d never know he was just a sophomore,” Golla said.
Wide receiver: Senior Jack Hatten had just one catch last season, but made two incredible grabs in the scrimmage last week that put everyone on notice.
“He’s so tall and has great hands,” Golla said.
Along with Hatten on the outside are senior Xavier Marshall and junior Dom D’Amato.
“All three are totally different in what they bring to the table,” Golla said.
Tight end/H-Back: This will be a three-man rotation with senior Brenen Sevier and juniors Zach Buckey and J.J. Uphold.
Buckey (6-4, 235) and Uphold (6-5, 230) bring size to the positions while Sevier (6-0, 185) bring speed and physicality.
“Buckey is the X-Factor while J.J. has continued to improve daily,” Golla said. “Sevier is new to the position, but has vastly improved.
Offensive line: There might not be bigger offensive line in the Central Section. The front-five resembles that of a junior college program with junior Ethan Shipp (6-5, 285), junior DeAndre Beldo (5-8, 240), senior JonPaul LaFever (6-2, 260), junior Thomas Lett (6-4, 275) and junior Aidan Meek (6-6, 285).
“All of them are great kids,” Golla said. “It’s a really solid group. We expect them to continue to get better. When they get going, our whole offense will roll.”
Interior defensive line: There will be a rotation of five players here for the likelihood of three positions. Buckey, Uphold, Lett and Marcus Martinez will compete for playing time. Buckey showed a knack for getting to the quarterback with a sack and pass deflected in the scrimmage.
“All are very physical and athletic,” Golla said. “All are big, but move really well.”
RAM: In what Golla calls a “hybrid” position, seniors Phillip Bradford, Nick Lopez and sophomore Aaron Martinez will hold down the fort here. Lopez moves closer to the line of scrimmage after leading the team with six interceptions in 2018.
“All of these guys can play the run really well and drop back into coverage,” Golla said.
MIKE: The two guys at the inside linebacker position are Smith and Bowers. Both are downhill tacklers with keen eyes for the ball. Smith had 18 tackles and two sacks last season.
“Man, both of these guys can really fly around,” Golla said.
Secondary: Seniors Nick Bugge and Justin Eccleston will assume the roles at cornerback while Bell and D’Amato are the starters at safety. All have great speed. Bell had four interceptions last season for the Rams.
“All are able to really play well in zone and are really physical,” Golla said. “There is a lot of great vision to find the ball here.”