Bullard High’s blueprint hasn’t followed form this football season and there’s also reason to question where it’s going in the future.
That revolves around 17-year coach Donnie Arax, who makes two things clear:
No. 1: “I’m not done with coaching, I know that.”
Yet, No. 2: “In December, I’m going to figure out what I’m going to do and go from there; I don’t know quite yet.”
Arax, 52 and a Bullard graduate, wouldn’t show his hand any further in regard to a career that has seen him go 125-68-1 with six league titles, one Central Section crown (13-0, 2009) and two runners-up with the Knights, according to historian Bob Barnett.
This season, admittedly, “has been tough.”
You’ve got to have a team that wants to play in the end, and that’s where we’re in trouble.
Bullard High coach Donnie Arax on his team’s mood going into the Central Section playoffs
Bullard – No. 3 in The Bee’s preseason poll in August and with sights on a Division I championship – is 5-5 and staggering toward the finish line.
The Knights are 10th-seeded entering a Central Section Division I first-round game at No. 7 Buchanan (6-4) on Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
This comes two months after the Bears battered Bullard 28-0 in the first half of a nonleague game they would settle for a 28-17 win at McLane Stadium.
Buchanan, notably with the addition of freshman running back Kendall Milton, is better than they were then.
The Knights are not.
And worse, suspects Arax: “We’re a team going nowhere right now. You’ve got to have a team that wants to play in the end, and that’s where we’re in trouble. I’m pretty sure (Buchanan) wants to play a little more than we do; that’s what I sense.”
Arax has mastered the art of challenging his players, sometimes playing the media card; hence this one, no doubt.
Then again, the deck he’s dealing from isn’t as promising as it appeared three months ago.
Injuries have denied three-year linebackers Ben Baker (shoulder) and Cameron Lamanuzzi (groin, ankles) the ability to tag-team among the section’s finest, though they’ve played admirably.
Quarterback Jack Taylor has had trouble recapturing some of the magic he displayed as a sophomore.
And Bullard doesn’t have the go-to gun it has had so often in Arax’s career, such as running back Charles Williams, now tearing it up at UNLV as a freshman.
Not to suggest the cupboard’s bare. Running back Marcus Fulcher is one of four impact sophomores.
“But looking at our incoming classes,” Arax says, “the talent isn’t real good.”
There are endless ongoing issues he avoided this week but has often addressed in the past – mainly, questionable support for Fresno Unified compared with Clovis schools (examine Bullard’s practice field, for example) and a feeder system with crater-like holes.
Meanwhile, Thursday night, “I’ll go out and have fun coaching this game.”
Looking back, what we’ve done is pretty amazing. How long I want to fight that battle is the question.
Arax on the challegnes of keeping the Knights program at a high level
Among other section playoff notes:
Edison quarterback out – Edison coach Matt Johnson says his quarterback position now is “full throttle” Jimmy Gray following the loss of Adrian Galarza to a broken leg in last week’s 21-7 win over Bullard to close the County/Metro Athletic Conference and the regular season.
Galarza had taken the most snaps this season, but Gray – the better running threat – has progressively become more involved. It was his 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that sealed the win over Bullard and, two weeks earlier, he stung unbeaten Sanger for 158 yards on 13 carries in a 28-18 loss.
The eighth-ranked Tigers (4-6) will play No. 9 Stockdale (5-5) in a D-I opener Thursday night at Sunnyside Stadium.
Cal-Hi Sports bowl projections – Cal-Hi Sports continues to predict Central, Sanger, Bakersfield Christian, Selma, Strathmore and Mendota as Central Section entrants in the CIF State Bowl Championships, which will begin with regional finals Dec. 9-10. State finals are Dec. 16-17.
There will be 13 regionals in the South and 12 in the North. The Central Section will send teams in both directions, though they could also host. All state bowl entrants must be section champions.
Cal-Hi’s projections for the Central Section:
▪ Central vs. Valley Christian-San Jose (North Division 2-AA).
▪ Sanger vs. Palma-Salinas (North Division 3-A).
▪ Mendota vs. East Nicolaus-Trowbridge (North Division 6-AA).
▪ Bakersfield Christian vs. Leuzinger-Lawndale (South Division 4-AA).
▪ Selma vs. Santa Ana (South Division 5-A).
▪ Strathmore vs. Classical Academy-Escondido (South Division 6-A).
Apaches history – Sanger (10-0) closed its first unbeaten regular season in 64 years, according to Barnett, with a 56-21 CMAC win over Memorial last week.
The Apaches went 9-0 in the 1952 regular season before losing 14-13 to Wasco in the Sequoia Division playoffs. They also went 8-0 in 1949 and 6-0 in 1944, years in which there were no playoffs.
The Memorial win was career No. 200 for coach Chuck Shidan, whose D-II top-seeded team has a bye this week. Sanger will play at home Nov. 18 in the quarterfinals against either No. 8 Dinuba or No. 9 Independence.