By Joe Davidson
Scott Jenner is torn between two loves – one past, one current.
As a quarterback for Cordova in 1975, Jenner helped lead the Lancers to an 11-0 season and No. 1 national ranking. That team was part of the greatest football dynasty in Sac-Joaquin Section history.
Jenner is president and CEO of a financial services company. The former Lancer has strong ties to the Folsom football program, and said he couldn’t watch the Bulldogs without his mouth agape and both hands on his head to prevent it “from spinning.” Jenner’s son Brad, a sophomore, was called up from the junior varsity for Folsom’s impressive playoff run, capped by a 68-7 drubbing of unbeaten and state-ranked No. 5 Oceanside in the CIF Division I state championship Friday in Carson.
Folsom, 16-0, won all of its games with a running clock, implemented when a team has a lead of 35 or more points after the third quarter. The Bulldogs set national scoring records behind quarterback Jake Browning, pounded teams with defensive pursuit and pressure, and will finish as high as third in the country in national rankings.
The 1975 Cordova team, which competed before the section playoff format, is the last Northern California team other than De La Salle to finish No. 1 in the country.
So, which team was better? And which football team was this region’s best of all time?
Mr. Jenner, you’re on the hot seat.
“The best high school team I’ve ever seen play,” Jenner said, “is this Folsom team. I haven’t seen anyone as amazing, as dominant as Folsom.”
Jenner paused to reflect, or possibly to check when the next Cordova class reunion is to brace for backlash from former teammates.
“Our Cordova team was great,” Jenner said. “We had speed, we had strength, we had depth, we had stars, we had the great coaches, and it all draws a lot of parallels to Folsom now. A Cordova vs. Folsom game would be so fun, a heck of a game, a classic. We were a five-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust and speed team. Folsom does it all. We had 20 plays that we would run phenomenally well. Folsom has 100 plays that it runs phenomenally well. Without the evolution of the game for Cordova, the new science of the game, the year-round part of the game, and with all Folsom can do, I don’t know how we’d beat Folsom.
“I know my brethren, my brothers at Cordova, are rolling over hearing this, thinking, ‘How can you say this?’ but I believe it: Folsom is the best team ever around here.”
I’ve watched a lot of great teams since I started covering high school football in this region in 1984, and I agree with Jenner.
Some of the other great teams include Elk Grove in 1998, which was 14-0 and trailed for only six seconds all season, and Cordova in 1985, also 14-0 and quarterbacked by Bee Player of the Year Troy Taylor.
Now Folsom’s co-coach, Taylor’s eyes widen when asked which team is the area’s greatest. Folsom this year, he said.
It can be argued Folsom doesn’t have a dynamite back like Max Venable or Reggie Young, who helped the 1975 Lancers average an area record 42 points a game, a remarkable feat considering most games were low-scoring affairs. And Folsom doesn’t have a player such as Lance Briggs, the 1998 Thundering Herd’s top player.
But those teams didn’t have a quarterback like Browning, the most prolific high school player in national history. And Folsom is the highest scoring team in state history with 915 points, second most in national history.
The argument for Folsom is bolstered by its line play and defense. MaxPreps national columnist Mitch Stephens watched three of the country’s top teams – Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Concord’s De La Salle and Folsom – down the stretch of the season and came to an interesting conclusion.
“I’m not so sure that Folsom doesn’t have the best defense in the country this year,” Stephens said. “That’s how great that team is.”
In 1995, Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports, which has ranked teams for decades, called Cordova of 1975 “the best, the most talented, most physical, most dominant team in the long Cordova dynasty, which is the best dynasty Sacramento has ever seen.”
Tennis still leans toward Cordova of 1975.
“I stand by that comment from 1995,” Tennis said . “I’d still give the edge to Cordova. That team represents the greatest dynasty in NorCal history prior to De La Salle, and it was No. 1 in the state.”
De La Salle finished No. 1 in the state this season for the 17th time. Folsom is No. 2.
John Volek, the former Sacramento State coach, said Folsom’s preparation and line play is what stood out to him. Folsom seemed to be a step ahead of every team, including Grant, which was 14-0 entering the Northern California Regional Division I championship. Folsom blitzed the Pacers, taking a 46-0 lead after three quarters en route to a 52-21 victory. Then the Bulldogs scored 10 consecutive touchdowns to blast Oceanside 68-7 in the state title game, after trailing 7-0 for the first time this season.
“What those coaches, Troy Taylor and Kris Richardson, have done is off-the-charts amazing,” Volek said. “We’ve never seen an offense like this or a team like this.”
Volek recalled a frantic call from Max Miller, who won 258 games as a high school coach, including two stints at Cordova.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to see this offensive line of Folsom, it’s the best this section’s ever had,’” Volek said. “Oh my goodness, he’s totally right. It’s the best in the valley, ever. And the defense, and the defensive line. What a team. The technique, the skill, so prepared, the tempo. The beauty of this Folsom team is that an old coach like me can say, ‘Wow. That’s the best ever.’”
Ben Bodding, who covered high school sports for The Bee in the 1970s, including that 1975 Cordova team, recently said “Cordova is the all-time best, but just barely (over Folsom). Cordova ran the wishbone with ease, like seasoned veterans, not like a bunch of high schoolers. The execution was very similar to how De La Salle runs its offense today. Cordova was so confident, too. They knew they would win, and when they ran on the field the confidence just oozed out.”
After watching Folsom crush Grant and Oceanside, Bodding, now working for Farmers Insurance in Roseville, changed his mind.
“After what Folsom did, there is no doubt in my mind this is the best team ever from the Sacramento area,” he said. “The game looked like it has all year – men vs. boys. Cordova was great, but times have changed, and it’s time for a new king.”
By Joe Davidson
Now they can exhale. Every one of them.
The players, the coaches, the alumni, the fans, followers and parents who hitched their hopes and dreams to this football machine and didn’t want to hit the brakes until after Week 16.
And so it goes. The Folsom High School Bulldogs finished with the exclamation point they expected to in muscling their way into history.
Trailing for the first time all season and then responding with fury, Folsom belted a 14-0 Oceanside team known for its size, skill and resilience 68-7 on Friday night at the StubHub Center in the CIF State Division I Championship game to cap the most thundering of seasons.
Jake Browning, as he has been for three years, was the best player on the field, passing for 453 yards and six touchdowns to conclude the most prolific prep career in history. And typical Browning, he sized it up this way: “The trophies and records are nice, but it’s the friendships that mean the most. I don’t know how many touchdowns I have this season, but I can name everyone on our team, when I met them, and tell you a funny story about each one.”
For the record, Browning finished with 91 touchdown passes this season, tying the national prep record. His 229 career touchdown passes are a prep national standard that may stand a lifetime, and it’s a milestone he never saw coming. And more: Folsom’s 915 points are the most produced by a high school team.
The Bulldogs were not challenged this season, and only briefly here, in becoming the first large-school team in Northern California to go 16-0. Folsom’s effort was inspired and cut-throat efficient as it controlled the line of scrimmage and raced to a 41-7 halftime lead. Browning directed a late-half scoring drive, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tre Green with 11.8 seconds to go, and on the second play of the second half, he hit Jake Jeffrey for a 35-yard touchdown strike and a 48-7 lead, and just like that, the storied Pirates of the San Diego Section were buckled. Coming in, Oceanside coach John Carroll deemed Folsom the best team he’d ever seen on film, and then the Bulldogs dropped the most points ever by an opponent.
As the CIF celebrates its 100th year, few teams have plowed through a season with the ease of this one. Now history will judge the Bulldogs. Is it an all-time regional best? How does it stand in NorCal and state history?
“We didn’t want the what-if,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said this week. “What if we started 15-0 but didn’t finish. Yeah, we’d be very proud to be considered one of the greatest teams of all time, not only in Sacramento but in Northern California. The things we’ve done (are) incredible, and we’ve done it the right way. It’s a great group, very mature, and the way the program has developed and come of age is amazing.”
Folsom was bonded by a mixture of returning stars in Browning and wide receiver Josiah Deguara and linemen Sam Whitney and Cody Creason and onetime reserves who became starters, such as lineman Jake Coveau. Cole Thompson went from a seldom-used receiver to the most prolific one in state history with 34 touchdown catches that also tied him for the most in national history. And injured players returned better this season, wiser and humbled from their experiences, including linebackers Bailey Laolagi and Sam Whittingham. Laolagi had an interception and returned a fumble 65 yards for a score on the final play. Add it all up, and the Folsom coaches say it produced the “perfect storm.”
The one word you didn’t hear this season was ego. You did hear brotherhood and team, regularly.
“It really is a great team,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor said. “The character and chemistry is unique. You try to breathe them in and enjoy this, but you don’t want to get caught up in the sentimental aspect and lose focus. And it ends quickly. The season is over. These guys become a part of your life. You’re with them every day, then all of a sudden, it’s up and gone. It’s sad, but you’re also very happy.”
Browning tied it 7-7 on a 4-yard run, followed by touchdown tosses of 22 yards to Jake Morgado and 23 to Deguara. Laolagi and Green powered in for scoring runs of 1 and 9 yards, all in the first half, as Folsom displayed its dominance and balance.
Whitney set the defensive tone from the start when he blew up a reverse for a 13-yard loss. The Bulldogs had five first-half sacks as the defensive line of Whitney, Nooner, Creason, Lukas Hendricks and Jonah Williams again had their way. And onetime starters who never rocked the boat made plays, including defensive lineman Austin Rothrock. He recovered a second-quarter fumble that led to a touchdown and the 14-7 lead, and the rout was on.
By Joe Davidson
Jake Browning finished his senior course work Wednesday with a sigh of relief.
The record-setting Folsom High School quarterback has one more assignment with his buddies before he heads to Washington early next month, though technically he’s free to go now.
So it was no surprise that his was the first name checked on the roll call Thursday morning as two team buses of players and coaches departed campus for Carson, where the CIF State Bowl Game Championships will be played Friday and Saturday.
“We know one thing,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor assured, “we’re not leaving without Jake Browning.”
With Browning leading the way, Folsom (15-0) will match its point-a-minute offense against the speed, tenacity and tradition of Oceanside (14-0) in Friday tonight’s Division I game at the StubHub Center.
Folsom won the Division II state title in 2010, and Oceanside, a longtime San Diego Section power, won the Division II title in 2007 and the Division I title in 2009.
“It won’t be easy against that great Folsom team, but we’ll compete,” said Oceanside coach John Carroll, who has won 249 games in 26 seasons on a campus two blocks from the beach.
Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said of Oceanside: “That’s a very impressive team, a great challenge.”
It will be the seventh appearance for teams from this region since the CIF State Bowl concept began in 2006. Grant won the 2008 Open Division, and Granite Bay won the 2012 Division I title. In the 2009 Division II game, Rocklin lost on a late field goal. Del Oro lost in the Division II game in 2011 and in the Division I game last year.
Folsom is averaging 56 points, led by Browning (5,351 passing yards and a state-record 85 touchdown passes), who needs six touchdown passes to tie the national season mark of 91, set by Corey Robinson of since-closed small-school Lone Oak High in Kentucky in 2008. Folsom receiver Cole Thompson has caught a state-record-tying 33 touchdown passes this season, according to the Cal-Hi Sports record book, one shy of tying the national mark of 34 by Kirby Moore of Prosser (Washington) in 2008, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book.
If Folsom reaches its scoring average against the Pirates, who have allowed just 14 points a game, the Bulldogs will tie Albermarle (North Carolina) of 2001 for the most points scored in a season in national prep history with 903.
Folsom has a strong rushing game, too, averaging 155 yards per game and 7 yards per carry. And the defense has allowed just 10.6 points per game, with the starting unit allowing just one touchdown in the last seven games.
“We’re really hitting a great stride,” Folsom two-way starting lineman Sam Whitney said. “We’re excited.”
After beating Grant on Friday night, Richardson and Taylor said they had little time to celebrate.
“You go home, enjoy the moment Friday after the Grant win, sleep, open your eyes and you’re consumed with preparation,” Taylor said. “We’re saturated with schematics and ideas. We’re trying to give our guys the best chance to be prepared, to be successful.”
Said Richardson: “We’ll leave no stone unturned. We’ll be ready.”
The Folsom coaches said they will treat this game like any other, even though it isn’t like any other. It’s the final game, and the biggest one. Still, it’s the approach that counts, they said.
“We don’t talk about the magnitude of the game at all because we don’t get into the dramatics of it,” Taylor said. “Building up games, typically teams don’t always play well. It can be too much. We want the players to play the same, whether it’s the season opener, playing Grant or Oceanside. We want to prepare the same way, play the same way, have the same routine. Just play our game and do what we do.
“Do we want to finish strong? Absolutely.”
By Joe Davidson
The undersized lineman is so passionate he’s been known to pace by himself before kickoff to ease his anxiety.
He’s Will Koch, the 5-foot-7, 235-pound starting guard for Folsom High School, who sports a rat tail snaking out of the back of his helmet.
The tackle who looks like a big-time recruit has to be reminded to tone it down in practice because of his penchant for launching bodies into the air.
He’s Jonah Williams, the Bulldogs’ 6-5, 280-pound prospect with the Bunyan-esque beard.
Then there’s the lineman who teammates joke rolls out of bed in a three-point stance, hungry to hit someone.
He’s Cody Creason, another unyielding, big-bodied sort at 6-3 and 285 pounds.
Koch, Williams and Creason help the Bulldogs (15-0, ranked third in the state by Cal-Hi Sports) shed any lingering thoughts that they are a finesse football team.
The Bulldogs, who play Oceanside (14-0) in Friday’s CIF State Division I Championship at the StubHub Center in Carson, have crushed opponents by averaging 56 points behind record-setting quarterback Jake Browning, but it’s grit and muscle that has set this group apart.
Folsom opened the season with a 55-10 rout of San Diego power Cathedral Catholic, dominating the line of crimmage, throwing over the top and seemingly throwing bodies around at will. The Bulldogs will cap the season against Oceanside, which is 2-0 in CIF State Bowl games since 2007 and where NFL linebacker great Junior Seau played.
“Folsom is the best team I’ve ever played against, seen or coached against,” said Cathedral Catholic coach Sean Doyle, in his 20th season, after his team finished 10-2. “The quarterback is unbelievable. The receivers are big and tall. They’re strong. I’d put them right up there with the great Southern Section teams we’ve had. They’re not arrogant or cocky, but they do believe in what they do.”
Losses to nationally renowned De La Salle of Concord in the 2012 and 2013 CIF Open Division Northern California championships sent the Bulldogs back into the weight room. Players worked tirelessly to get stronger, to get better. Second stringers a year ago became key starters this fall, including Jerod Nooner on the defensive line.
Linebackers Bailey Laolagi and Sam Whittingham and defensive end Sam Whitney came back from knee injures to became team leaders after all three missed the 2013 loss to De La Salle.
“We have a lot of weight-room guys, strong and also explosive, and it shows,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “We’re not a finesse team that out-schemes you. We’ve gotten more and more physical, and we’re tough and we’re fast.”
Grant coach Mike Alberghini is impressed. He said the Bulldogs outplayed his then-14-0 Pacers in all facets to race to a 46-0 lead after three quarters in the Northern California Division I title game last Friday en route to a 52-21 victory. Now he’s pulling for Folsom to join Grant (2008), Folsom (2010) and Granite Bay (2012) as state champs from this region.
“Absolutely rooting for them,” Alberghini said. “They have a lot of kids, seniors, who went through those heartbreaking losses to De La Salle, and I root for them to finish their careers on top. They’ve been outstanding. I just know they came out absolutely 100 percent ready to play us, and you admire that and appreciate that.”
This has been a light practice week for Folsom, which meant Williams, the two-way lineman, didn’t punish any of his teammates.
“He’s so strong and plays so angry that we have to remind him, ‘Hey, remember, these guys are on your side,’ ” Richardson said.
Explained Williams, sheepishly, “I never have any intention of hurting any of our own guys. I’m just into this game. I do a lot of overtime work in the gym, try to get bigger, stronger, like all of my teammates do. Sometimes I have to remind myself to hold it back a little until the games.”
Whitney said he is inspired by his mother, Jennifer, who died of ovarian cancer in 2011. He carried a framed photo of her on Senior Night for Folsom’s last regular-season home game.
“It’s always there, and it’s something I live with, and it’s hard,” Whitney said. “She battled cancer for nine years. Relapsed seven times. I get my drive from her.”
Whittingham agonized watching Folsom compete without him last season, his right knee in a brace as he slowly worked back into shape. He appreciates every down, every tackle, every victory more than ever.
“It was horrible having to watch,” Whittingham said. “I worked so hard to get back because I needed to get back. To have all of these experiences, with my best friends, I’ll always remember it. Now we just need to finish.”
By Joe Davidson
Sam Whitney is so unsure of his friend that he’s tempted to call in a team of biologists for closer examination.
The Folsom High School two-way lineman studies linebacker Bailey Laolagi and wonders about his scientific makeup, his DNA. The Superman shirt Laolagi wears under his uniform and shoulder pads, so tight it appears to be painted, is fitting, Whitney said.
From the energy and effort to the bulging biceps, Laolagi is Folsom’s Superman, teammates agree. But Laolagi doesn’t flaunt the Superman logo the way Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers does. This Superman prefers to blend in with teammates and is more concerned about leading a defense that has been nearly as dominant as the record-setting offense for the Bulldogs (15-0), who play Oceanside (14-0) for the CIF State Division I title Friday in Carson.
“There’s an ongoing joke here that Bailey really is Superman, because not too long after he had ACL surgery, he was squatting 405 pounds like it was nothing,” Whitney said. “He’s literally not human. It’s honestly ridiculous what that guy can do. I don’t understand his science. At the least, he’s a different type of human.”
At the very least, Laolagi has a different sort of drive. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior recovered quickly from a left knee injury that knocked him out of the 2013 playoffs. He embraced rehabilitation after a torn ACL and broken leg, and he came back better than before, without losing lateral quickness or burst.
Laolagi credits his recovery to genetics and noted conditioning expert Al Biancani, the one-time Kings trainer known as a taskmaster. Laolagi returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown and ran for a score in Folsom’s 52-14 rout of Grant in the Northern California Division I title game.
“Biancani was great,” Laolagi said. “I honestly think my knee is stronger than the other one. I really wanted to come back strong. It was important to me.”
Laolagi’s weight-room prowess is legendary, and coaches have had to flick the lights to get him to leave. They also holler to him that he doesn’t need to pull any more tires in driving rain.
“We tell him, ‘Bailey, it’s time, man, let’s go!’ and he’s still in there hammering away on the weights,” said Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson, who showed a cellphone picture of Laolagi lifting, his muscle shirt in tatters. “He won’t stop.”
Added co-coach Troy Taylor: “The best story was when (quarterback) Jake Browning worked out with Bailey for three hours. Jake said, ‘Coach, I’m serious. I could physically see Bailey getting bigger, the muscle definition.’ Bailey’s amazing. He’s the hardest-working kid we’ve had, and as good as he is at linebacker – and he’s great – he’s also our best running back.”
And that chiseled body?
“We’d all kill to have a body like that,” Taylor said.
Laolagi has scholarship offers from Sacramento State and Cal Poly, with growing interest from other programs. And he wants to study exercise science, which seems too good to be true.
“I love to work out, to get better,” said Laolagi, who praises the efforts of fellow linebackers Sam Whittingham and Tyler Crandall. “I looked up to players who were here before me, like Jordan Richards (now a standout safety at Stanford). My dad (Val) always says to push yourself, to give it everything you have. I do. I put in the time. I push myself to the highest standard.”
Val Laolagi, a Folsom defensive coach, held his own as a defensive lineman at Sac State for coach Bob Mattos in the late 1980s, and he can still hold his own when he hits the weight room. Val said he had “great, long discussions with Mattos about coaching, about coaching my son.”
Said Val: “I couldn’t do what Bailey does. Wow.”
By Bill Paterson
With Folsom High’s outstanding football team, the only question these days is how long quarterback Jake Browning and the other Bulldog starters will play.
On Friday night, most were again sitting shortly after halftime as the top-ranked Bulldogs rolled to a 61-13 win over No. 15 Burbank on homecoming night at Folsom.
Browning, who holds the state career passing record, added seven more touchdowns, six in the first half when the Bulldogs led 47-0. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 362 yards.
The Washington-bound Browning now has 165 touchdowns for his career and 27 through four games this season.
Folsom (4-0) scored on eight of its 10 first-half opportunities, then the first of the third quarter before Browning took a seat for the night.
Homecoming King Cole Thompson had touchdown catches of 75, 43 and 26 yards, giving him 14 for the year.
Browning also threw two touchdown passes to Jake Morgado and one each to Jake Jeffrey (who later took over for Browning at quarterback) and Josiah Deguara, who also had a 4-yard touchdown run.
Folsom also forced three Burbank turnovers, including first-half fumble recoveries by Calvin Gardner and Sam Whittingham.
As a new member of the Sierra Foothill League, Folsom will open league play Friday by hosting Granite Bay.
Give Burbank and coach John Heffernan credit for playing an incredibly difficult schedule in preparing for the upcoming Metro Conference that begins on Friday against visiting Hiram Johnson. The 0-3 Titans have also lost to No. 3 Oak Ridge and No. 4 Grant.
By Matt Long
Folsom’s first-team defense pitched a shutout and Jake Browning threw six touchdown passes and ran for another as the Bulldogs clubbed Clovis North, 49-13 Friday night at Prairie City Stadium.
Browning’s second touchdown pass Friday night was his 147th of his high school career, making him the state record holder. He threw four more before his night was over.
“It’s just a record,” said a humble Browning after the game. “It is what it is. It’s a good team thing.”
Folsom’s co-head coach Troy Taylor heaped praise on his quarterback.
“Jake will be the first to tell you it’s a team record and it is,” Taylor said. “But California’s a big state and they’ve been playing football a long time and he’s got the record in a little over two years. If you give him time to throw, he’s rarely going to miss a pass or make a bad decision. He’s a special guy and could be the greatest quarterback in state history. You could make a good argument for him.”
While Browning had an outstanding game, Folsom’s defense was equally as impressive. The Bulldogs had four sacks in the first quarter, while Clovis North only had one first down over the same stretch, as the Bulldogs led 28-0 after 12 minutes of play. Lukas Hendricks had a pair of sacks, while Sam Whitney and Sam Whittingham each had one. Whitney also blocked a punt, while Parker Boone picked off a pass.
“The defense was incredible,” Folsom co-head coach Kris Richardson said. “The defensive line was in the backfield before the line could protect. They were just swarming.”
Offensively, Folsom scored every time it had the ball in the first half, except when they ran the clock out in the final minute of the second quarter. Browning threw three touchdowns to Cole Thompson, two to Josiah Deguara and another to Parker Boone. Browning also scored a rushing touchdown.
The Bulldogs didn’t score in the second half and didn’t need to with a 49-6 lead at the break. Clovis North managed one touchdown in the second half.
JV Bulldogs 35, Clovis North 20
Micah Iverson scored two touchdowns and Joe Curry threw for two scores and ran for another to lead Folsom to victory. Curry threw touchdowns to Jack Sa and Drake Stallworth.
“They were one of the better JV teams we’ve seen with a lot of good athletes,” Folsom coach Jordan Banning said. “We had some trouble in the defensive backfield, but the offense responded well. We didn’t have a summer camp this year and this was our first game and I’m happy with how we played. Anytime you get a win in week one, it’s a good thing.”
By Joe Davidson
There is no idle time, no pause in pursuit of perfection.
Football practices at Folsom High School, on a blue field so bright it makes you squint, are run with crisp efficiency, and everyone is intensely involved.
Facing one end zone, Kris Richardson, the towering co-coach who looks like a former offensive lineman, instructs his guards, centers and tackles. He puts them through a series of technical drills – hand placement, footwork, execution … repeat.
Facing the opposite end zone, co-coach Troy Taylor has skill players running plays, focusing on precision and timing. Players on the sideline hold up cards to indicate plays.
Everyone even hustles to and from water breaks.
The attention to detail is a formula that has made Folsom the Sac-Joaquin Section’s powerhouse program. Folsom, ranked No. 1 by The Bee, has become what Cordova was in the 1970s and ’80s and Grant and Elk Grove were in the 1990s, and what Del Oro and Granite Bay have been in more recent years: a dominant program, with a cult-like following on campus and around town.
Said center-defensive end Sam Whitney: “We’ve got it going on.”
It’s not the first time Folsom has been dominant in football. It was the best team in Northern California in 1962, under famed coach Dewey Guerra, and it won section titles in 1989 and 1990 with coach Tom Doherty, who still stops by practice sessions.
The latest superb Folsom teams have mastered the trendy spread offense, only at dizzying speed, producing video-game offensive totals, including 50 points per game last season. The Bulldogs also had 7,838 yards, second in state history to Centennial of Corona and just ahead of Elk Grove’s 14-0 team of 1998.
This season, Folsom could be even better – perhaps the section’s best team ever. The Bulldogs know they are really good, they just don’t talk about it – not on the field, not through social media.
“Arrogance doesn’t get you better, hunger does,” said Taylor, the former Cordova and Cal quarterback who played briefly in the NFL. “It’s got to be important to you. The best players I ran into in the NFL were hungry. That’s what we tell these guys – be humble, be hungry.
“It doesn’t mean you’re not confident. Swagger isn’t a bad thing. And our guys care about each other. Treat everyone the same, with respect, from the starters to the reserves to the guys holding the bags, because that’s how you build a champion.”
Folsom hasn’t lost to a section opponent since 2011, and it has the second-most victories in the state this decade, with a 53-6 record, three section titles and a CIF State Bowl win. Two of those losses came against De La Salle, the national power from Concord, in the NorCal Open championship, with Folsom entering both games 14-0.
Players talk about what they need to do to improve, but De La Salle isn’t too far from their minds.
“If there’s a year to win it all, it’s this year, and this team,” Whitney said. “De La Salle is a different animal. We know. And we have to be a different animal. Those losses changed us, made us better, how we prepare, a wake-up call.”
Folsom is led by its reluctant star, quarterback Jake Browning, who is hard to pick out at practice. He blends in, and he prefers it that way. The Washington-bound 6-foot-2 senior passed for a state-record 5,737 yards and 75 touchdowns last season, bringing his two-season totals to 10,985 yards and 138 touchdowns.
“Jake’s fantastic,” Richardson said. “He has such an even-keeled personality, very genuine, no ego, and the kids love him. What a leader.”
Added Whitney of his friend: “Jake’s one of a kind. A goof, but really talented.”
Browning talks about his team, not his accomplishments. “We’ve got a good, established culture here,” he said. “Everyone has to work hard.”
The foundation of the team is the offensive line. The bookend tackles are sturdy and wide. Cody Creason, 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, is a senior who has verbally committed to Arizona. Jonah Williams, a 6-5, 270-pound junior, has offers from Cal and Washington. Whitney, 6-2 and 225, mans the middle. The guards are Jerod Nooner (6-1, 215) and Will Koch (5-7, 205)
“Will’s built like a peanut, but he’s a great high school player,” Taylor said. “He’s what makes this so fun. Doesn’t matter the size, just the effort.”
Folsom had more players Koch’s size than Creason’s when it started to stall out with the power game last decade. Richardson found that smash-mouth doesn’t work if you’re the only one getting smashed.
“We try to use more space and get the ball to people quickly,” Taylor said. “It makes it exciting to watch, the kids like it, and it minimizes contact.”
Still, the Bulldogs can attack with strength, too. They expect to match or exceed last season’s 139 rushing yards per game. Creason and the linemen are known for their nasty disposition in the trenches, Richardson said, and he encourages it, within allowable means.
“We can get after people with a run game, and that makes us even better,” Richardson said.
Folsom has a number of options at running back with Bailey Laolagi, Bryan Weldy, Sam Whittingham, Roger Neal and Tre Green. The receivers include Josiah Deguara, Cole Thompson and Lukas Hendricks, who also has been known to knock down passes as a defensive end.
Other teams in the region have spent time this summer trying to figure out how to stop the Bulldogs.
“Amazing,” Franklin coach Mike Johnson said. “Folsom has that great system – great, smart, talented kids and big linemen who can move. We played them in the playoffs last year, and we’re super athletic, but we couldn’t get our defense on them because they get rid of the ball in three seconds. Hard to deal with.”