Not too long ago, the words “Hiram Johnson football” meant a tough urban Sacramento team used to postseason success.
The Warriors enjoyed a string of 10 consecutive playoff appearances from the early 1990s to 2001, when the team finished 11-2.
In the years since, the words “tough” and “urban” have still applied, but for entirely different reasons.
Johnson, a school troubled by gang activity and financial woes, was realigned into a ludicrously-tough Metropolitan League with powerhouses Nevada Union, Grant and Granite Bay following the 2001 season.
Since then losing, instability — Johnson coach Jack Garceau is the third head coach Johnson’s senior class has had during their high school tenure — and worse problems have all kept the Warriors from finding success.
But tonight, the Tracy High football team will find a program very much on the rise when the Warriors come to Peter B. Kyne Field. Garceau’s squad is a respectable 2-2, already matching the team’s win total from the past two seasons. The turnaround is as much a sign of the Warriors’ individual talent as it is of the stability Garceau has brought.
“They look like they have some speed,” Tracy head coach Mark Stroup said. “They like to run a lot of power and toss; (Houston) does look like a good back.”
Stroup was referring to not-so-secret weapon junior running back Houston Roots, who ripped off an incredible 443 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in Johnson’s 39-27 win over McClatchy last week.
“Yes, he’s special,” Garceau said via e-mail. “(Against McClatchy), he added 12 tackles on defense and came back Monday ready to learn more.”
The Warriors’ soul, however, is embodied by senior offensive tackle/linebacker Sisi Moala and senior fullback/linebacker Ben Vaden. 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and 6-foot-1, 200 pounds respectively, Moala also sees time out of the backfield in short-yardage situations.
“We can’t afford to have either of these guys off the field for any length of time,” Garceau said. “They are our outspoken leaders.”
Good thing Tracy isn’t without its leaders, both on the stat sheet and on the field.
Last week against Downey, junior running back Timmy Celestine gave the Bulldogs a huge boost with a 12-carry, 132-yard, three-touchdown performance, and junior Stephen Memory set the tone on defense with six sacks, numerous hurries and an incalculable impact on the Knights’ mental stability.
“I was real happy with how physical we played,” Stroup said. “I think the key to Johnson is to not let their backs into the open field and hit their stride. We need to win the line of scrimmage.”
Celestine will continue to see carries in the backfield, but Stroup said the offense won’t suddenly become a one-back scheme. Kenny Miks, Brian Ramsey and Andrew Diaz have all made plays for the resurgent Bulldogs, and, of course, Tracy has 5-foot-6 dynamo Justin Evans at quarterback.
The Warriors will have to worry about containing Tracy’s considerable speed on both sides of the ball. If they don’t, they’re in for a long Friday night.
• Last week’s players of the game were Celestine, Memory, Jimmy Evans and Conrad Deavellar. … Johnson will play without guard/defensive tackle Gage Melton, sidelined with a broken hand. “His absence will be noticeable,” Garceau said. … Johnson carries only 42 players on its varsity roster and is fielding a freshman football team for the first time since 2001.