Head coach: Jerald Pierucci
Third season at Shafter (13-9); 10th season overall (48-44)
Last season: 9-3, 5-1 SSL
Playoffs: Lost in D-V semifinals
History: League titles (22); Section titles (2)
Assistant coaches: Sean Lozano, defensive coordinator/defensive line; Acie George, defensive backs; Clint Kirshenmann, tailbacks/tight ends; Lucas Lucero, outside linebackers; Ed Oliver, defensive line; Roger Patterson, offensive line; Austin Tijerina, running backs; Fortino Valdivia, wide receivers; Justin Verrell, special teams; Larry Whitbey, inside linebackers; Panch Marquez, trainer

2018 schedule

Aug. 17 - vs. Mira Monte
Aug. 24 - at Highland
Aug. 31 - at North
Sept. 7 - vs. Foothill
Sept. 14 - vs. Chavez*
Sept. 21- vs. Taft*
Sept. 28 - at McFarland*
Oct. 5 - at Arvin*
Oct. 12 - BYE
Oct. 19 - vs. Kennedy*
Oct. 26 - at Wasco*
*SSL game

Top returner

Alex Aguilar, senior, QB/DB - As a junior, Aguilar put up eye-popping numbers numbers with nearly 4,500 total yards and 52 touchdowns. With another year of preparation, expect another big year for the signal caller.

Key standouts

Jackson Sanchez, junior, WR/DB - Returns as the top target for Aguilar and is a ballhawk on defense.

Issac Enriquez, senior, WR/DB - Another big two-way standout for Shafter. Had 41 catches in 2017.

Willem Waterhouse, senior, OL/DL - Along with brother, Zebulon, will anchor the offensive and defensive lines.

Defining feature

No longer will Alex Aguilar be able to fly under the radar.

A year ago as a junior quarterback for Shafter, Aguilar threw for nearly 3,000 yards, ran for another 1,500 and scored 52 total touchdowns during one of the more successful seasons for Shafter in decades.

Now, with Bakersfield Christian out of the South Sequoia League, it leaves the Generals as favorites to win a league title and for Aguilar to be the focus of plenty of sleepless nights for opposing coaches.

“He is the lynchpin to what we do on both sides of the ball,” Shafter head coach Jerald Pierucci said. “When you have an athlete back there that can do so much, it just opens things up for more people to make plays.”

On top of that, Aguilar isn’t the only standout back this season.

Four of the top five receivers return, including Jackson Sanchez (892 yards, eight touchdowns), Isaac Enriquez (781 yards, seven TDs), Marco Rodriguez (339 yards, three TDs) and Pedro Avila (303 yards, 5 TDs). Those four combined for 144 catches in 2017.

“We have a bigger bond now than last year. I can trust them,” Aguilar said. “I feel it will pay off on the field on Friday nights.”

What’s changed?

The South Sequoia League is without a team from Bakersfield for the first time in decades. And, as Bakersfield Christian moves into the South Yosemite League, it leaves Shafter as the odds-on favorite to win the SSL title.

The Generals outscored the other five league opponents 233-75 in 2017. Now without a private school like BCHS or former SSL member Garces, Shafter coach Jerald Pierucci feels this is the best fit for fellow SSL members Taft, Arvin, McFarland, Wasco, Chavez and Kennedy.

“The SSL has always been that league where people get to where they need to go and get into the bigger leagues,” Pierucci said. “Shoot, Liberty was in it for a little bit, Stockdale was in it for a little bit. I like where we are at as a program. Having teams like BCHS in it the last few years has allowed us to set our bar where we want to go. I think right now, I feel we are probably one of the preseason favorites for the SSL.”

Pierucci said being a league favorite doesn't change his team's mindset.

“The expectations side of things is kind of what we’ve set the bar as for the guys there," the head coach said. "We have a rule for going to the playoffs, you have to be above .500. Our first goal is to win a league championship and we had that last year. I think the expectations have always been there for as long as I’ve been there.”

Pierucci did add that the Generals won't sneak up on anyone in 2018.

“You’re no longer the sleeper," he said. "Now, people are going to be gameplanning us throughout the year, knowing that we’re going to be one of the better teams in our league."

Trevor Horn can be reached at (661) 395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @trevhorn.

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