“We’ll be a playoff team,” Shrout said. “How successful we’ll be in the playoffs will depend on injuries and how well we develop during the season.”
Shrout expects the 2013 Bulldogs to improve on last year’s 7-4 overall record, including a 4-1 second-place finish in the San Joaquin Athletic Association, behind traditional rival Lincoln.
Tracy was the No. 10 seed in the SJS Division II playoffs and lost 34-6 to No. 7 St. Mary’s in the first round.
It was a good run for Shrout’s third year as coach, and in his fourth year he sees a large core of returning starters bringing the momentum to carry the Bulldogs further into playoffs.
“We need to get to that next level so we’re not stuck playing a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoffs,” Shrout said.
The Bulldogs have three seniors who are in their third year of varsity football, including lineman Alex Warner, center Clayton Fegett and wide receiver-defensive back Anthony Nunez.
“You don’t have to start at square one the first day of practice,” Shrout said. “You can start where you left off and let the younger guys catch up.”
The team also brings back five seniors who made the all-SJAA first team in 2012. Shrout expects cornerback Luke Pulliam will shut down opponents’ passing game. Linebackers Chaz Briggs and Chris Mahar will anchor the defense. Linemen include Warner and George Obinna, with Obinna, a defensive end, expected to be a major threat on defense.
“He might be the best defensive lineman around,” Shrout said. “You can’t block him, you can’t double-team him.”
The Bulldogs also have strong returning juniors, including running back and kick returner Jason Nelson, safety/wide receiver Josh Clark, lineman Nate Brown and linebacker and kick returner Nate Jones.
Jones said that team’s confidence during summer conditioning and camps is a good sign for the upcoming season.
“I have a really good feeling that we’re going to be just as good (as last year) or even better,” Jones said. “You want to be ahead of the game. That’s what we’re trying to do, work hard and keep improving.”
Tracy opens the season at home on Friday, Aug. 30, against Sierra High of Manteca, and will host Franklin of Elk Grove on Sept. 6.
Tracy hosts West in the 18th annual Crosstown Classic on Sept. 27 and then take a week off before starting SJAA play.
Defensive signal caller
At the center of Tracy High’s defense this year is middle linebacker Chaz Briggs.
Briggs has the experience to serve the Bulldogs well as the defensive leader.
The 6-foot, 215-pounder was a lineman in his youth football years with the Tracy Buccaneers, and has improved on his ability to chase down ball carriers as a linebacker.
“Through the years, I’ve tried to get bigger and faster at the same time,” he said.
He added that the core of defense is made up mostly of players like himself, who were all starters at their positions last year. Only a few seniors have since graduated.
“The people we have to fill those positions are just as good if not better than last year,” he said.
“We’ve had more practices this year than last year to get ready. Hopefully it will pay off.”
Experience translates into leadership
Tracy High senior Damon Stroup has been a student of the Bulldog offense since his freshman year.
He had a chance to prove what he learned in four games last year before he was sidelined after a helmet-to-helmet collision in Tracy’s game against Lincoln.
This year, Stroup, the Bulldogs’ 5-foot-11, 175-pound quarterback, eagerly awaits the challenge of leading Tracy’s offense.
“I started in my freshman year learning the offense and how to make reads,” he said. “When I got to varsity last year, it was all the same. I still knew how to make all of the reads and knew all of the plays, but it got faster and harder. It definitely gets faster when you get to the higher levels.”
Stroup said the Bulldogs have at least six players who will run the ball, and he expects to carry the ball himself. He’s improving his passing game, as well.
“We’re going to be fast, smart, strong,” he said. “Real fast and hard to stop.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.