There are two things that might be assumed about the 2018 Tehachapi Warriors football team, with neither being entirely true.
First, despite graduating a large contingent of their starters last season, the Warriors aren’t altogether “young.” The skill positions include third-year quarterback Chris Garcia and a few offensive weapons that have had plenty of time in Warrior green and white. Sure, there are young pieces that must contribute immediately to fill some holes from graduation last season, but much of the offensive production returns.
Second, despite not playing a pair of CIF state-contenders this season in Burroughs and Paraclete, the Warriors schedule isn’t “easier.” Tehachapi swapped out those games with the likes of Bakersfield High. Plus, add in the rivalry non-league game against an experienced Garces squad and the addition of Bakersfield Christian to the South Yosemite League, and “easy” hardly describes the 2018 slate.
So now you know what the Warriors aren’t, here’s what the 2018 Warriors are:
They’re Tehachapi’s second team under head coach Doug DeGeer, who, in his first season replacing Hall of Famer Steve Denman, posted a 7-6 mark a season ago. This led Tehachapi to their second-straight SYL title and a place in the CIF Central Section Division III semifinals. The team started slow last season, thanks in part to their tough schedule, but came around when league play started. That’s a lesson the second-year head coach is willing to accept — whether he’s learned it is still up in the air.
“I’m hoping I learned something, that’s for sure,” DeGeer said. “It’s one of those things where I need to remember to try to not do too much. We tried to do a little too much last year at the beginning and that kind of backfired.”
However, with the early start this season, there isn’t much time to waste as he prepares the 2018 edition of the Tehachapi Warriors.
“I don’t know if I learned my lesson in that sense; we’re still throwing a lot at them,” DeGeer said. “I’m trying to take a step back, though, and make sure we have the basics down and have all of our guys on the same page.”
DeGeer does have some help in that sense. His signal caller is senior Chris Garcia, who has spent time under center in each of the last two SYL championship seasons for Tehachapi, giving him leadership and knowledge.
“Chris, being a three-year starter, he’s going to be a guy we’re relying on. He knows the offense as well as anybody,” DeGeer said. “Coming into this season, Ralph [Curiel] and I knew we have this quarterback that can do different kinds of things, and that is definitely something we wanted to incorporate in our offense.”
Garcia threw for 351 yards last season but rushed for another 339 yards while tossing six touchdown passes and carrying in three more. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, the second-highest on the 2017 squad.
Garcia won’t be the only ball carrier for Tehachapi, although DeGeer has his own twist on the offense, running the ball like his hall of fame predecessor continues to be a priority.
Hayden Palmer, another workhorse and experienced veteran returns to the THS backfield following a junior season that included 525 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll rely on the blocking up front of a mixed group, anchored by seniors Logan Smith and Jameson Williams. The remaining line is made up of sophomores and juniors. However, DeGeer notes they are real hard-nosed players that worked hard this summer and have been very consistent leading up to the new season.
Defensively, Tehachapi returns two starters from last season, although there were plenty of reps taken by some of the returning letter winners. Seniors Payton Stower, Harrison Wadkins and Palmer are expected to set the tone on defense while bringing everyone else up to speed, something they’ll have to do quickly with week one coming earlier than ever before.
The Warriors open the season on Aug. 17 hosting Wasco at Coy Burnett Field. Because CIF moved the season forward a few weeks, Tehachapi will play football the earliest it ever has in its 88-year history.
“It’s definitely a challenge that we’re up to, but this first week there’s nothing but distractions,” DeGeer said. “It’s the first week of school, it’s Mountain Festival, it’s still hot, it’s a home game — there are so many things going on.”
The Warriors, however, know their week-one opponent, Wasco, doesn’t care about those things, so preparation remains important for the Warriors players and coaches.
“Wasco will be doing the same thing. They know their double-wing like the back of their hand, so it really puts the pressure on us that we have to perform,” said DeGeer.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night.