By Ray Hamill — After a breakout campaign in 2018, the Hoopa Valley Warriors are hoping to take it a step further this season and win a conference title.
And it’s a goal that would appear to be well within their grasp.
The Warriors certainly have the experience to mount a serious challenge, especially in the trenches, and possess enough talent at the skill positions to take advantage of that.
The problem could be numbers, and with a squad of around 16 legitimate varsity players health will be crucial for this team, as it is with many smaller programs.
“We’re a senior-heavy varsity team,” first-year head coach Sonny Ryles said. “And pretty much all of those guys have been leading by example.”
Ryles, who has been with the program for several years and served as offensive coordinator for head coach William Simms in 2018, inherits a team that was 6-4 in the regular season a year ago, finishing second in the Little 4 to Arcata and making it back to the North Coast Section playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Warriors return several players from that team, especially along both lines, and big things are expected out of a group that includes David Ruiz, Trayce Crutchfield, Milton Mabry, Colton Hayes, Ben Colegrove and Tommy Kelley.
A leader at receiver
The Warriors also have plenty of talent behind that line, most notably senior receiver Carlos Aguilar, one of the best at his position on the North Coast.
And Ryles intends to take advantage of that talent in other ways this season.
“He’s looking good. He’s leading by example,” the head coach said of Aguilar. “He’s learning more positions so we can get him the ball in different ways and move him around.”
Another senior, John Smith returns under center after winning the job in 2018 and improving substantially as the season progressed.
Ryles expects that to continue in 2019.
“He’s got a really great arm, and that kind of opens the box for us a little,” Ryles said.
The versatile Tristin Campbell provides depth at quarterback, and will see plenty of the ball in the backfield and elsewhere.
“He’s really smart,” Ryles said of the senior. “He knows all the positions and he’s able to fill in wherever.”
Junior Sam Jones also returns to the backfield and gives the Warriors an explosive option after stepping up his game late last season.
Likewise with Jasper Hostler, who will see plenty of of the ball at both running back and receiver.
“I really believe in our offensive line, but we also have a good quarterback with a good arm, so I’m hoping we can be balanced,” said Ryles, who played for the very successful 2010 and 2011 Hoopa teams.
Junior receiver Larry Tracy and junior lineman Sly Logan-Miguelena are also expected to play pivotal roles and each has impressed through the early part of training camp.
The Warriors open the season at Fort Bragg next week and will kick things off with lofty goals.
“We have high expectations,” Ryles said. “I expect them to compete and play hard for a full four quarters every week.
“They have a great work ethic and a love for football, and they’ve also been coming together as a team.”
The Warriors will scrimmage the other Little 4 teams at Ferndale on Saturday, with the action getting under way at 1 p.m.