By Dick Dornan
myBurbank Sports Editor
Excitement abounds from the Burbank High School campus as the Bulldogs kick-off their football season tonight at 7 p.m. at Ayala High School. Expectations are high for Burbank as they attempt to take one step farther in their quest to win the school’s first-ever CIF championship.
First on the agenda is winning a Pacific League title and then the pursuit of a CIF crown begins.
“Expectations are high. This is a group of kids who gives what it takes to win,” First-year coach Richard Broussard said. “I don’t have any lower expectations because I’ve been here. I’ve been around all these kids and have seen them come up as freshmen.
“They are excited about the season and winning a league title. They need to get through all the steps required because it won’t be easy. They’ve accepted the challenge so far. They are ready to go.”
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 in the preseason Southeast division coaches poll, return plenty of offensive talent from a squad that went 10-3 (a school-record for wins) and reached the CIF semifinals, the farthest a Bulldog team has ever gone.
Back for one last hurrah is one of the area’s best running backs in senior James Williams. The Washington State-commit has had an illustrious career having rushed for a school record 2,912 rushing yards on 297 carries- a whopping 9.81 yards per carry in his two high school seasons. He ran for 1,443 yards in 2012 and 1,469 in 2013.
Ulises Ochoa currently has the single-season school record with 1,504 yards set in 2009. Count on Williams to surpass those numbers and own the record for himself.
Williams scored a single-season school record 22 rushing touchdowns last year and has hit pay dirt 39 times overall running the ball.
When taking into account all-purpose yardage, Williams set the single-season school record in 2013 with 2,307 yards. He has lit up the scoreboard 46 times in his two seasons.
Against Crescenta Valley last year, Williams ran wild for 278 yards, the most ever in a game in Burbank history.
Along with Williams, the Bulldogs feature talented quarterback Ryan Meredith. A two-year starter, Meredith has thrown for 2,955 yards, 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Last year, Meredith tossed for 2,320 yards (second best mark ever in BHS history) while throwing 29 touchdowns and being intercepted a mere two times.
“Ryan is a totally different kid. We saw potential his sophomore year. Last year he did real well. Then he did a lot of work in the offseason,” Broussard said. “He’s ready to lead this team. His growth is going to be key offensively. We are going to put a lot more on his shoulders. He’s going to take our offense to new heights. It will be fun to see.”
After the heart-breaking semifinal loss to La Serna, the eventual CIF champion of the Southeast division, Meredith went right back to work with his personal trainer just two days later. His physical growth and mental maturity has been very evident in summer workouts.
“The game has slowed down a lot. I grew a lot from reads to coverages to little things,” said Meredith. “Coach Bru (Broussard) has really helped me.”
The senior signal-caller is prepared to lead the Bulldogs to greater heights than the school has ever seen.
“We need the preseason games to see where we are at but I feel that we are a team that could make a really good run. I like our chances,” Meredith said.
Other key offensive players include senior tailback Tony Toledo (584 yards, seven touchdowns in 2013), wide receiver Dorian Housholder (372 yards, three touchdowns) and senior left tackle Jordan Meza.
If the Bulldogs are to win a league title or even capture the ultimate prize, the defense will be the difference. They are as green as the turf they practice on but as talented as anybody else in the league. Leading the defensive charge will be senior defensive end Kyle Alvarez.
“His growth is going to be huge because of how young our defense is. We are replacing seven or eight starters,” said Broussard. “We have some experience up front but everyone else is real green. He’s going to be important. He understands our system.”
Alvarez had a team-high 63 tackles a year ago. Despite the inexperience of the team’s linebackers and secondary, Alvarez likes what he sees.
“I feel the hunger every day at practice. I can see it in our eyes. We really want it,” he said. “Hopefully we can go to big places. People shouldn’t underestimate us.”
Sophomore Andy Reyes (51 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks as a freshman) returns with tons of untapped potential at linebacker. Other contributors will be senior cornerback Nick Cantong, senior safety Chris Wong and senior defensive end Alex Gonzalez.
The Bulldogs’ junior varsity team went 10-0 last season and the freshman followed suit also going 10-0 averaging 50 points a game including posting seven shutouts. Along with Reyes, sophomores Jake Kelley, Danny Porras and Forrest Fajardo represent the future for the program.
Burbank begins the season on the road for its first four games. The Bulldogs will finally return home to Memorial Stadium on October 3 in their second Pacific League game against Crescenta Valley at 7 p.m.
“They haven’t been afraid to work. I challenged them to be hungry and stay humble and grind every day. They respond well to challenges,” Broussard said. “They want to win a championship. They had some teams beat them last year that really get under their skin. They don’t like that. They feel like they deserve to win.”
Time for the season to get started and for the Bulldogs to get out and E.A.T.T.