New coaches, new players in key places and a schedule shakeup with new section rivals taking form. The 2018 season will be like none that Kern County has ever seen. Here’s why:
The coaching carousel
There were eight coaching changes this offseason. Here’s the rundown:
Chad Grider, East: Formerly of West High and Bakersfield College, Grider takes over for Dave Thorpe, who took over for David Fanucchi at the tail end of last season. In other words, Grider is the third coach for the Blades over the last calendar year.
Tyler Schilhabel, Independence: The former Falcon was the feel-good story of the offseason. Takes over for Lucas Lucero, who stepped down after a seven-win season. Lucero is now an assistant coach at Shafter.
Christian Johnson, Mira Monte: Came to the Lions after serving as an assistant coach at Ridgeview. Takes over for David Coldiron after the Lions went 0-9 last year.
Brandon Deckard, Foothill: Coached at Kern Valley the past three years. Best season was an 8-3 campaign that saw the Broncs go to Central Section Division V playoffs. Takes over a Foothill program that went 1-8 last year and is 6-42 over the past five seasons.
Josh Bocker, Golden Valley: He’s young (24) and takes over for a coach (Erich Smith) who was with the Bulldogs for 11 years. Smith is now an assistant at Stockdale.
Mario Millan, Kennedy: A former assistant for the Thunderbirds, Millan was promoted from within to take over the head coaching reins in 2018. Kennedy is not far removed from D-VI section titles in 2014 and 2015.
Chad Martinez, Wasco: In fairness, he was the interim coach after Rick Stewart stepped down last season. After finishing the year 3-2, Martinez is now the full-time guy for the Tigers.
Ben Goffinet, Kern Valley: Deckard left Kern Valley and Goffinent steps back into the role he filled for 11 years. He went 48-19 over his final six seasons in charge of the Broncs, including a 10-1 record in 2014.
New faces in new places
There were some marquee players that changed teams. Here’s some that caught our eye:
Tahj Wright, Bakersfield High to Ridgeview: This guy is a stellar athlete who should make a difference for Ridgeview. The Wolf Pack have a lot of talent this season and could make considerable noise.
Carl Jones, Golden Valley to Bakersfield High: The rich get richer. Jones is one of the area’s top players and will join an already-sensational defensive secondary for the Drillers. He'll also help the team as a straight athlete on offense.
Hector Gonzalez, Visalia-Redwood to Liberty: Admittedly, this is still yet-to-be-determined. But the Patriots need an answer at quarterback after playmaker Isaiah Hill elected to focus on just basketball. Gonzalez could fill that void.
Jacob Maran, Bakersfield High to Bakersfield Christian: The Eagles have been a quarterback factory over the years — from current Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, to former Bakersfield College signal caller Brandon Jones, to last year’s record-setting slinger Braden Wingle. Maran could take the controls this season for a program that’s been one of the more successful locally in recent years.
Anthony Ramirez, West to Ridgeview: A late addition to the fray at Ridgeview, Ramirez brings another big-bodied receiver to the offense and is a large presence on defense at linebacker. Will play both ways right away for Wolf Pack.
An elite recruiting class?
It appears so. Here are some athletes entering the 2018 season that have their sights set on the college game when it’s all said and done:
Cameron Williams, Bakersfield High quarterback: He recently gave a verbal commitment to the University of Washington, where he will likely take the field as a defensive back. Look for him to shine this season for the Drillers not just on defense, but also at quarterback.
Carl Jones, Bakersfield High defensive back: Like Williams, he gave a recent verbal to a Pac-12 program, that being the University of Colorado. Williams transferred to BHS from Golden Valley this offseason. He will team with Williams in the Drillers secondary, and also get the ball on offense when the time is right.
Keonte Glinton, Bakersfield Christian defensive back: Another college prospect at defensive back, Glinton has offers from Oregon State, BYU and Wyoming. He’s a threat for BCHS as a receiver, DB and in the return game.
Isaiah Jernagin, Bakersfield High wide receiver/defensive back: He’s getting looks from Arizona and Nevada as a — you guessed it out of BHS — a defensive back. Brother Isaac, a junior, is also a college prospect with an offer in the bag from USC.
Colby Warkentin, Centennial defensive end: He’s got the size — listed at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds — to make it work on the next level, and he’s a great athlete. A prospect at defensive end, he also lines up at tight end for the Golden Hawks. Has verbally committed to Fresno State.
More changes at BCHS, and beyond
Aside from needing a new quarterback, the Eagles are also changing leagues.
After years of flat-out dominating the South Sequoia League — a 59-19 overall record and 28-2 league mark over the past six seasons — BCHS moves into the South Yosemite League. There, they’ll run into the likes of Ridgeview, Independence, West, Tehachapi and Golden Valley. Certainly a step up in competition for a program that has four section championships on its resume and played for a CIF State Division 4-AA state championship in 2016. But also, quite possibly, a needed and appropriate one.
Speaking of changing leagues, McFarland moves from the East Sierra League to take BCHS’s spot in the SSL. The move brings the Cougars into a league with the other Valley-region programs outside of Bakerfield like Taft, Arvin, Shafter, Wasco, and Kennedy and Chavez from Delano.
And East, one of the more storied programs in Bakersfield, heads to the Southeast Yosemite League where they’ll face off against some East-side foes from yesteryear — North, South, Foothill, Mira Monte and Highland.
Who will make a section title game?
After not having a team from Kern County play in any of the Division I-V Central Section championship games a year ago, something has to give.
An obvious candidate is Bakersfield High, which looks absolutely loaded this season. The Drillers should have a standout quarterback in Cameron Williams, and transfer Carl Jones will bring some pop to the offensive backfield as well.
Ceyontay Bell is a running back with considerable talent. He also led BHS with 85 tackles in 2017 as a linebacker/defensive back.
The team’s defensive backfield is absolutely dynamite, with Williams, Jones and the Jernagin brothers — Isaiah and Isaac — roaming the field. Good luck throwing on this crew.
And Paul Golla is a great coach, a positive motivator who has to make sure his team avoids early-season complacency. Last year BHS got off to a 2-4 start, before winning three of its last four regular season games and advancing to the Central Section Division I semifinals.
Last year, BHS, Liberty and Ridgeview went a combined 18-16 after the three programs combined for one state title, five state playoff appearances, and six section titles in the the previous five seasons.
All three of those teams reside in Division I and, along with Bakersfield Christian in D-III, have enough talent coming back to make a strong case for section title runs.
There is a lot of football to be played before this question is answered, but last season seems to be the anomaly rather than the trend. Seeing how the last time that happened was in 1992, there is a pretty darn good chance it won’t come around again anytime soon. With that said, someone needs to step up.
New schools and opponents: What you need to know
The time has come. The Central Section has now grown by 13 schools with the additions of the likes of Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Santa Maria-St. Joseph and Paso Robles from the central coast region around San Luis Obispo down to Santa Maria. Those three programs are the marquee names coming into the section and will fill up the Division I playoff bracket in the Central Section.
Also moving over into D-II are Nipomo, Santa Maria-Pioneer Valley and Santa Maria-Righetti. Meanwhile, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Templeton will all play in D-III this season.
But what do these new additions mean? Well, for starters there are now 104 schools in the section that play 11-man football and the D-I field has 17 schools, which translates to (finally) some competition in actually qualifying for the playoffs.
Last season, the D-II playoff bracket had just eight teams. There was no first round and section champion Tulare Union had a bye heading into the state playoffs because that bracket started in the quarterfinals the same week as other divisions were playing first round contests.
D-II is not large enough to fill a full 16-team playoff bracket (it’s currently comprised of 14 teams), but this is a huge start.
With the 17 in D-I, 18 in D-III and 19 in D-IV, eventually with the competitive equity balance in the section, the divisions will even out in the next few years to make it even more difficult to get into the postseason. That’s not a bad thing.
And everyone benefits, really. The coastal schools get the added travel relief of not having to go down to Southern California and battle through rush hour traffic before hitting the playing field. The Central Section benefits because adding those schools brings more competition to playoffs and bolsters the strength of schedule in terms of state playoff seedings.
The agreement moving forward for the addition of those programs was on the consent that those schools would take less of the cut from playoff home games over the next three years. It’s a compromise those programs were willing to take knowing a chance for Bakersfield- and Fresno-area fans to take a drive to Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo or Santa Maria usually comes with little pushback.