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.”
Delta River League MVP
Jake Browning - QB
Delta River League Offensive MVP
Will McClure - WR
Delta River League Defensive MVP
Rodney Ellison - LB
Co-DRL Lineman of the Year
Cody Creason & Sam Whitney
1st Team All League
Troy Knox – WR
Josiah Deguara - WR
Eddie Flores – LB
2nd Team All League
Ben Trumm – K
Calvin Gardner – DB
Bailey Laolagi – LB
Mike McCuaig – DB
Cole Thompson – DB
Lukas Hendricks – DE
Bryan Weldy - RB
Tommy Farrell – OL
Nick Bolling – OL
Will Koch – OL
Parker Boone -WR
Jerod Nooner – DL
Jake Morgado – DB
Austin Badger – DL
Justin Badger - DL
Browning passes for five touchdowns, runs for two more to lead Folsom over Oak Ridge
By Joe Davidson
Jake Browning whisks away football accolades like so many snowflakes off his coat. Sort of like the elements that pelted residents up Highway 50 on a blustery, frigid Friday.
The Folsom High School junior quarterback points to his linemen, the sturdy guys in the trenches, and his dizzying array of skill players for what he deems “team awards.”
Time to log one more achievement and clear some space in a fast-filling trophy case for one of the powerhouse programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
In bitingly cold but dry conditions at Sacramento State, Browning continued his sizzling season on Saturday night, passing for 323 yards and five touchdowns, four to Troy Knox. Browning also ran for two scores to steer a 49-17 triumph of Oak Ridge for the Division I championship that carries a great deal more than regional bragging rights.
Already the state record holder for touchdown passes in a season, Browning hiked that total to 75. He also set a record with 5,416 passing yards. All this coming two days after he was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.
“It’s my line and players,” Browning said. “Troy Knox runs routes in his sleep.”
Ranked No. 3 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in Northern California by MaxPreps, Folsom will draw a familiar foe next week. The Bulldogs are expected to face state No. 1 De La Salle of Concord in next Saturday’s NorCal Open game at a venue to be determined today.
De La Salle is the one team that NorCal opponents can’t seem to solve as it has gone unbeaten against such competition since 1991, a stretch of 250 games. De La Salle has won the last 22 North Coast Section Division I titles, including Saturday with a 49-17 rout of California-San Ramon.
Folsom is 28-1 in the past two seasons, the best regional showing since Elk Grove went 27-1 with back-to-back D-I section titles in 1997 and ’98. That was in the pre-Bowl era. The lone loss for Folsom was to De La Salle in last season’s NorCal Open.
“They’re a great program,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “I know we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
The Bulldogs have won three section titles since 2010 and five overall. This marks the program’s second section title repeat, matching the 1989 and ’90 teams under coach Tom Doherty, who sat proudly in the press box in a decades-old Folsom coaching jacket, hugging and high-fiving old players from his teams throughout. He hired Richardson while serving as the Folsom athletic director, and Richardson last year elevated Troy Taylor to co-coach, making for a potent 1-2 coaching punch.
Taylor works with Browning and the offense, and Richardson supervises the offensive line, the unsung group headed by Cody Creason, Will Koch, Nick Bolling, Tommy Farrell and Jerod Nooner. Lou Baiz is the defensive coordinator whose unit stood tall against an Oak Ridge team that features balance and skill.
Two second-half sacks and swarming run defense kept Oak Ridge at arm’s length.
Oak Ridge (12-2) players said this week that the only way to stall Folsom is to “disrupt the system.” The Trojans rattled that system just slightly early when Drew Lackowski intercepted Browning in the corner of the end zone to end Folsom’s first drive. Lackowski had two interceptions of Browning in a 35-0 loss to Folsom in a Delta River League opener.
Browning did not turn it over again as he dazzled with precision throws, throws on the run and superb game management. He hit Knox, the all-time career receiver in Northern California, nine times for 150 yards.
Knox has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his three varsity seasons. And in a show of depth, Folsom overcame the loss of its only two-way starters – running back-linebacker Bailey Laolagi and lineman Sam Whitney. Both juniors were on crutches on the sideline after suffering knee injuries against Jesuit in the semifinals. Both hope to play against De La Salle.