Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Juwuane Hughes’ first name as Ju’Wuane.
Hanford High football coach Josh Young has no shortage of stellar athletes.
Take two-way standout Juwuane Hughes, who led the Bullpups in receiving yards (773) and interceptions (seven) last season.
Or workhorse Joseph McDaniel, one of the Central Section’s top returning rushers after producing 1,714 yards and 23 touchdowns.
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Then there’s quarterback Ryan Johnson, who combined for 2,461 yards and 33 touchdowns passing and rushing in 2014.
And don’t forget linebacker Kaipo Barnes, the team’s leading tackler (157).
But what Young doesn’t have he certainly doesn’t miss as the Bullpups prepare to launch the season against Kingsburg at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Neighbor Bowl.
“We’ve got some players – Juwuane has (college scholarship) offers, Joe will; Ryan is coming up,” Young said. “But they are a family. They play for one another. There’s not a lot of bickering. It makes it fun when you play for one another.”
We don’t have a big ego on our team, and we’ve got guys who could have them.
Hanford High football coach Josh Young
The Bullpups adopted a simple – and galvanizing – slogan last season while breaking every huddle, practice session or postgame talk en route to capturing the first Central Section title in the history of a school that began playing football in 1899:
The slogan isn’t lip-service to the Bullpups, who begin the season No. 8 in The Bee’s section Top 20 and No. 1 in Division III.
“We’re a family, this Bullpup team. Everyone loves one another,” said Hughes, who has drawn scholarship offers from nine schools (including Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada) after a junior season that produced a combined 1,171 yards receiving and rushing with 15 touchdowns. “You can look to your left or right and you can trust one another that they will do their job. And if everyone executes the way they should, it all turns out good in the end.”
The bond they formed on and off the football field provided the backbone to Hanford’s historic 12-1 season that culminated in a 35-14 victory over Madera for the D-III title.
“We’ve got 49 brothers on this team – you just can’t mess with us,” said Barnes, who contributed to the Bullpups’ plus-33 turnover margin with a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. “When it comes to game time, everyone has your back, all 49 players. I can look anywhere and see 11 guys, even the sidelines, and I can feel their intensity.”
The Bullpups family has grown, too, the byproduct of a championship season.
8 Hanford’s ranking in The Bee’s Central Section football Top 20
Young said the program is up 30 players overall, including 10 more at the varsity level.
The task at hand is capitalizing on the increased turnout and building off last season’s success. Young doesn’t want a repeat of the afterglow of 2011, when the Bullpups followed a 9-3 season by going 1-9 in 2012 and 4-7 in 2013.
“The Valley championship was great, but it’s back to work,” Young said. “We want to keep that train going and be a winning program, and not have the peaks and valleys. The kids have worked hard and are in the right frame of mind to do that.”
Hanford is one of eight teams across the section kicking off the season with Week 0 Thursday games. Other matchups include Cesar Chavez vs. Roosevelt at Sunnyside, El Diamante at No. 10 Tulare, and No. 9 Lemoore vs. Monache at Granite Hills.
Unlike a year ago, the Bullpups won’t be sneaking up on anyone, starting with a traditionally strong Kingsburg program undergoing a change in coaching from Dave Steele to David Wilson.
That makes Hanford’s title run last season both blessing and curse.
“It goes both ways. It hurts us in a way, because everyone knows who we are this year,” Hughes said. “We’re going to get everyone’s best game. Everyone is going to have us scheduled as their biggest game. It also helps us in a way. With us winning last year, we know what to expect. We know how we should play. We know how we should execute.”
The Bullpups return seven starters on offense and four on defense as they open pursuit of a second straight title.
Valley is our goal. We have high expectations.
Hanford quarterback Ryan Johnson
“All of a sudden we have a big target on our backs,” Johnson said. “We need to start it over and become family again.”
The Central Section football season kicks off Thursday with four Week 0 games:
- Cesar Chavez vs. Roosevelt at Sunnyside, 7 p.m.
- Kingsburg at Hanford, 7:30 p.m.
- El Diamante at Tulare, 7:30 p.m.
- Lemoore vs. Monache at Granite Hills, 7:30 p.m.