Wildcats open season Friday versus Golden Valley
The last time the Taft varsity football team left the field, it was in a stunning playoff defeat in front of the home crowd. Now ten months later and after a number of players graduated, the Wildcats will be looking to take that next step up when they open the season this Friday against the Golden Valley Bulldogs.
“We look pretty good,” said second year head coach George Falgout. “We have guys that are stepping up.”
Compared to last year the numbers are down this year with about 30 players competing on the 2016 team. Despite that small number, Falgout thinks the team will be okay.
“Other than that, we’re fine,” he said.
Out of those 30 players on the team this year, 15 are returning while 24 seniors graduated from last year’s team that went 8-3 and 4-2 in the South Sequoia League before Kerman came back to defeat the Wildcats in the final seconds of the first round of the playoffs.
Falgout feels that the players that are returning from that team learned something from that heartbreak.
“What sticks in their mind is not to settle,” he said. “I think through this summer it has been on their mind. There’s no settling.”
Gone from last year’s team was Josh Sailor who raced 1881 yards and starting quarterback Tevin Howell who was 41-for-76 for 779 yards.
Despite that loss, Falgout will be turning to senior Cody McCaleb as the quarterback.
“Cody McCaleb has stepped up and done a lot of great things,” said Falgout. “Going beyond the challenges that have been put before him.”
Falgout says that several players this year will be making moves to different positions with Maino going from center to right tackle while Bryson Ginn will be taking over the center spot.
Holden Williams will become the tackle on the left side. Robert Cozine will be at the wing position. Last year Cozine was second on the team in rushing with 732 yards.
Another thing that will be different for Falgout from last year to this year is the speed.
“The speed is going to be faster than last year,” he said.
Having that speed, gives Falgout some options.
“There’s so many combinations we can do in the backfield,” he said. “It makes me rest a lot more easier at night.”
On the defensive side, Falgout says there are a lot of spots that need to be filled.
One of the changes to the team this year is the way the football program practices.
Instead of having three separate practices for the three levels, Falgout has merged all three levels into one practice.
“Every kid is getting coached which gives us an upper hand on things,” he said.
Taft got tuned up for the upcoming season over the summer with practice and 7-on-7 football tournaments in Fresno and Hanford. Falgout feels they helped.
“It helps build our team camaraderie, keep each other accountable to take sure they get better each and every day,” he said. “I like the way they mold and shape and come together as a family,” he said. “These guys have found a way to make a connection to get tighter.”
In terms of the schedule, the Wildcats will have a sense of familiarity with five games at home.
Even though they will play only non-league team from last year’s schedule in Golden Valley they will be playing a couple of familiar opponents in Exeter and Porterville.
The last time Taft played Exeter was 2013 while the Wildcats last played Porterville in 2009.
When the league portion of the season comes around, Falgout has two words that come to mind.
“I think our league’s going to be tough and competitive,” he said. “I think these guys have got to step up to the challenge.”
Friday's game begins at 7:30 p.m.