By Ray Hamill — This year’s H-DNL football season may have a different feel to it because of COVID, but at least one thing won’t change much.
The Ferndale Wildcats are still going to play Ferndale Wildcat football.
They may be small in numbers this season with just 15 players on the varsity roster, but that’s nothing new in the Cream City and it’s never stopped them from becoming one of the most successful programs in the North Coast Section, while playing hard-nosed, physical, old-fashioned football.
“We’re going to play traditional Ferndale football,” head coach Clint McClurg said. “The good thing about this group, I know it’s small but they are cohesive, they are hungry, and just like the other young men (playing the game), they love their football and they want to get their hands down in the mud and get a little nasty.”
For the Cats, that attitude begins with senior lineman Caden Rocha, who is expected to lead the way in the trenches this season and has impressed his coach through the first week-and-a-half of practice.
Alongside him, big things are also expected out of fellow senior lineman Bryce Bell, who started all of last season on the offensive line and broke into the defensive line late in the year.
“We’re pretty fast and pretty physical up front,” McClurg said.
Two other seniors — Lane Branstetter and DJ Albee — will carry much of the workload in the offensive backfield.
“Lane Branstetter is kind of a throwback player,” the head coach said. “He gets tough yardage, he can run, he can block, he can catch. We expect him to make some big plays.”
Likewise with Albee.
“We definitely plan on establishing our run game with the guys we have up front and Lane and DJ,” the head coach added.
Two other seniors expected to play a big role are quarterback Jenner Christiansen and receiver Javier Lopez, who will be hoping to take advantage of a potentially strong ground attack with some play action passing.
“Jenner and Javier established a rapport at young age and it’s gotten better,” McClurg said.
Lopez developed into a very reliable receiver and big playmaker at the varsity level during his junior season, while Christiansen will also be a threat with his legs and his familiarity with the Cats’ offense.
“He can make plays with his arm and his legs, and he really has a good understanding of our offense,” the coach said of the standout senior QB.
The Cats open the season at Arcata a week from Friday, and will defend the Milk Can in week two, when Fortuna comes to town looking for some payback.
The Cats have also opted to field a JV Team this year, with 15 additional players on that roster.
“What we really want is the an opportunity for all of our young men to compete,” McClurg said. “That’s the goal.”
And as for the small numbers on the varsity roster, the head coach is more than happy with the players he does have.
“We’ll take quality over quantity,” he said. “I know it’s a small number but every single one of them has the ability to contribute at a high level.”
The squad includes 11 seniors, three juniors and one sophomore.
The Cats will scrimmage at South Fork this weekend.
Ferndale High is planning on streaming all home games live.
Ferndale at Arcata, 7:30 p.m.
Fortuna at Ferndale, 2 p.m.
Ferndale at McKinleyville, 7:30 p.m.
Del Norte at Ferndale, 2 p.m.
Hoopa at Ferndale, 2 p.m.