California has veteran squad ready to challenge in Class 3

Jacob Johnson of California drags down Nick Plocinski of Owensville during last week’s Jamboree in Wardsville.

Jacob Johnson of California drags down Nick Plocinski of Owensville during last week’s Jamboree in Wardsville. Photo by News Tribune.

Marty Albertson knows there’s no guarantee.

Just because his California Pintos return a combined 16 starters from a 13-1 squad that reached the Class 3 state semifinals last season before falling to eventual champion Maryville, there’s no certainty the 2013 version will duplicate that success.

“There are a lot of great teams out there,” the third-year California head man said. “Unless we work hard and improve every day when we step on that practice field, we won’t make it back there.”

Following the 2012 dream season, the building blocks are certainly there for a repeat run.

“The kids played fantastic. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Albertson said of last season. “We lost to a very good team. There wasn’t any reason to put their heads down because Maryville was a state champion. We felt like we could have been right there at No. 2 (California was ranked No. 3 in the final state poll).

“These guys have a lot to work for. Hopefully we can get back. They said, ‘Well, Maryville’s going to be good again.’ I said, ‘Well, I hope we get another chance to see them again.’ That means we make it clear to the semifinals.”

The path back to the Final Four is littered with obstacles.

“We have good teams in our district,” Albertson said. “Look at Centralia, they’re very good. We had a great game with them last year (a 28-21 victory in the district championship game). I’m sure if it comes down to that again this year, it will be the same nail-biter as it was last year. Either one of us could come out of there.

“After you get through districts, it gets tougher every game. Whoever plays the best and has the little breaks will win.”

California starts in an enviable position with 25 returning lettermen, nine starters back on offense and seven returning on defense.

“We have a lot of experience,” Albertson said. “Hopefully that will pay off in the tough games.”

Almost everybody returns from an offense that put up more than 5,500 yards of total offense and averaged 39 points per game.

Junior quarterback Jaden Barr returns for his second season as the Pintos’ starting quarterback, and is joined by a cast in the backfield that includes seniors Dylan Albertson and Seth Fairchild and junior Walker Borghardt. Albertson will also be the go-to wide receiver when California goes to the air.

“Our offense is going to be good,” Marty Albertson said. “We’ve got a lot of kids back from last year, and they know the offense now pretty well. Up front, we’ll be solid. We have three or four backs who can run the football with a little speed. I think we can throw the football too. I think our offense will be explosive. I think we can score some points.”

The offensive line is anchored by senior Alexx Lewis, a first-team all-state selection in 2012.

The key personnel losses on the defensive side came in the secondary, where the Pintos lost three starters, including second-team all-stater Logan Rowles.

“We have to work on things in the secondary a bit,” Marty Albertson said. “We’ll be fine up front. On the defensive line, we have about five or six kids that can play and give guys a break. We’re not overly huge at linebacker. We’re small, but we’re very quick. We just have to learn to fly to the football and get three or four people there every time.”

Dylan Albertson looks to be the leader of the defense after being named a first-team all-state linebacker last season, registering 100 total tackles, four interceptions and four forced fumbles for a unit that didn’t even allow 10 points per game.

With all the returning talent, Marty Albertson has a few things in mind.

“We always have three goals,” he said. “(Tri-County) Conference championship is first. District championship and then the ultimate, state championship. Hopefully we can do that.”

The journey to complete those goals begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Boonville.

“Boonville’s always tough,” Marty Albertson said. “It will be a battle. I think we’re ready to go.”

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