ESCALON – Triple-digit temperatures blazed outside while, safe in the cocoon of their weight room, the 2019 Escalon High Cougars bonded and strengthened.
They yelled support as senior David Camacho, a two-way lineman, squatted 495 pounds. Luke Anderson, a junior and two-way starter last season as a sophomore, matched Camacho’s 495.
The energy in the weight room is born of confidence as official practice looms in only two weeks. Escalon feels there is unfinished business from 2018, and the Cougars feel they have the team to complete those tasks.
“We like what we have,” said second-year Escalon coach Andrew Beam as he referred to his 17 returning starters (nine on offense, eight on defense). “That experience, with all those young guys coming back, pays off when those close games come about.”
Escalon was 9-3 last fall, 4-2 in the cauldron of another white-hot Trans-Valley League race. The Cougars fell to Hilmar 20-17 in overtime and 7-6 to Modesto Christian in the TVL, then again was beaten by Hilmar 28-18 in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The post-season loss to Hilmar left a bruise. The Cougars led at halftime and, deep in the fourth quarter, suffered a turnover that denied a possible winning touchdown. Hilmar went on to section and state titles while Escalon regrouped.
“Last year we were kicking butt at halftime and we couldn’t finish,” said senior Damien Tom, the TVL’s returning Offensive Lineman of the Year. “This year we’re going to put it in our heads that it’s 0-0. That’s how we’re going to play it.”
Escalon counts on converting those memories into motivation. Toward that end, the roster is stocked with returning two-way starters, some who were promoted to the varsity as sophomores.
Among the returners are Kaden Cristensen, who rushed for 810 yards and accounted for 11 touchdowns. He’ll switch to safety on defense. Another threat is Colton Panero who scored 14 touchdowns (10 rushing, four receiving).
Quarterback Ty Harris, a 6-foot-1 junior, survived a baptism of fire last year. He spent the season on the junior varsity, then was moved up to the varsity for the playoffs following a player suspension. The Cougars defeated Calaveras and extended Hilmar with Harris taking the snaps.
Up front, Escalon will be led by Tom, Jacob Walden and Camacho. Walden registered 13 sacks to justify his 2018 TVL Defensive Player of the Year award.
“Our goal is the TVL title,” said Kaidence Trejo, a returning wide-receiver and corner. “We can’t take anyone lightly this year. I think we have more motivation than ever.”
Beam thinks the 210-pound Anderson is one of the strongest players Escalon has produced in recent seasons. He’s expected to form the hub of Escalon’s Wing-T offense while he doubles down as middle linebacker.
“He was born to play fullback,” Beam said. “He’s an old-school Escalon guy.”
Beam, the successor to the decorated Mark Loureiro, is surrounded by Escalon graduates on his staff. They understood how close the Cougars were in 2018. One year later, they’ll be challenged by arguably the most demanding schedule ever undertaken by an Escalon team.
The Cougars’ non-league opponents include Union Mine, Calaveras, Sonora and Downey. Simply, Beam wants Escalon to be physically and emotionally prepared for those close TVL fights.
“We have to stay healthy,” he said. “It takes a little luck, along with the skill and with everyone returning, to make it like Hilmar did.”