How will the lines hold up without stalwarts Tim Tupuola, Andrew Tupuola, Kurtis Hance and Pio Vatuvei? Who can emerge as dependable receivers to replace Rodney Lawson and Kendrick Trotter? Who will step into the cleats of 1,000-yard rusher George Garcia? How will quarterback Joey Lopes hold up?
But the most pressing question might not be answered until season’s end — how will the Tigers handle high expectations?
“Right now, competition within the team is the big thing,” said second-year coach Nick Marchy. “Leadership roles are starting to take shape; guys are fighting for spots on the starting roster; and the players are battling to get the most out of each other. All those things can only help.”
With the season opener against Modesto’s Johansen High a little more than a week away, Marchy noted that recent workouts and a mock-game approach have benefited a young team that hopes to reach the top of the Western Athletic Conference.
“This team understands that the goal is to win league and get back to the playoffs,” Marchy said. “These guys know that they are going to have to work hard all season to keep things going in the right direction for the program.”
Shoes to fill
In 2011, Patterson finished 7-4 and recorded its seventh consecutive winning season, its first under Marchy.
The Tigers traveled to Auburn on Nov. 11, requiring a 121-mile bus ride north through the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, to face Pioneer Valley League runner-up Placer in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
The game was tied 21-21 at the half. But Placer picked up the pace on offense, and Patterson could not keep up. The Hillmen used a second-half surge to defeat the Tigers, 48-28.
What followed was uncertainty over whether the Tigers could remain successful.
After all, they were losing four all-WAC honorees from the Class of 2012: wide receiver Lawson, lineman Tim Tupuola, lineman Pio Vatuvei and wide receiver and defensive back Trotter.
Also graduating were four All-WAC second-teamers: running back Garcia, lineman Hance, lineman Andrew Tupuola and defensive back Glody Mapanda.
But a new campaign brings fresh faces, as the next batch of Patterson contributors replace the ones from a season ago.
“No school brings back 50 kids — there’s always going to be turnover,” Marchy said. “The most important thing we are stressing is the fact that the past is the past, and this is a new team — their team. I think the faster we can forget the teams of the past, the better this team will progress.”
On the offensive side of the ball, senior Lopes will take the snaps at quarterback. A versatile athlete, Lopes possesses the mobility to elude pass-rushers and a strong throwing arm.
“This is the hardest-working team that I’ve ever played on,” Lopes said. “We all know the expectations that the community has for us, and we’re ready to let everything play out this season.
“We want to let people know that Patterson will be back in the (playoff) talk.”
Look for receivers Avion Warmsley (junior) and Dominic Dawkins (senior) to become two of Lopes’ favored targets, according to Marchy. The quarterback will also look to a pair of tight ends — junior Jordan Levu and senior Chase Guenther — to run routes over the middle.
Senior Drake Vatuvei could get the bulk of the carries from the tailback spot, with versatile newcomers Brandon Williams, Ruben Rosas and Michael Campbell also helping with the ground game.
Protecting Lopes will be a core of mostly unseasoned linemen. Senior center Robert McDonnell is the lone returner, while Blake Mahan (senior), Nick Russell (junior), Curtis Ruiz (sophomore), Jesse Nuia (junior) and Oscar Calderon (junior) will help guard the quarterback.
At linebacker, Marchy hopes competitors Miles Jacks (senior), Drake Vatuvei, Rosas, Campbell and Guenther will be fierce tacklers whose quickness may frustrate opponents.
Warmsley, Williams, Dawkins and Tony Pimentel (junior), meanwhile, will see action on both sides of the ball, helping bolster the team’s secondary and receiving corps.
For the Tigers’ season to be successful, Marchy knows both new and returning athletes must form a union in which each supports the other through both thick and thin.
“The players on this team are very coachable and understand the philosophy of a team, not individuality,” Marchy said.
But for now, the focus remains on the season-opener against Johansen.
“This is our year — our chance to leave our mark on Patterson football,” Lopes said. “This school has been to the playoffs for seven straight seasons, and we are determined to keep that going and live up to those high expectations.”
The Tigers will play at home at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Patterson Community Stadium against Johansen High of Modesto.
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or email@example.com At a glance
•COACH: Nick Marchy, second season
•LAST YEAR: 7-4 overall, 4-2 Western Athletic Conference (third place)
•KEY LOSSES: Rodney Lawson (wide receiver), George Garcia (running back), Pio Vatuvei (lineman), Tim Tupuola (lineman), Andrew Tupuola (lineman), Kendrick Trotter (wide receiver, defensive back), Kurtis Hance (lineman) and Glody Mapanda (defensive back)
•KEY RETURNERS: Joey Lopes (quarterback), Drake Vatuvei (running back, linebacker), Robert McDonnell (lineman), Avion Warmsley (wide receiver, safety), Dominic Dawkins (running back, cornerback), Miles Jacks (wide receiver, linebacker), Tywayne Adams (running back, cornerback), Chase Guenther (tight end) and Inoke Vainuku (fullback)
•TOP NEWCOMERS: Jordan Levu (tight end, defensive end), Brandon Williams (running back, defensive back), Michael Campbell (linebacker, fullback), Jesse Nuia (lineman) and John Perez (reserve quarterback)