Bret Harte High School’s head boys’ soccer coach Joel Barnett knows that he’s got his work cut out for him. While at practice, Barnett looked at his team of varsity players as they went over drills and he could tell that while the level may be varsity, many of the players are not.
The Bullfrogs have a roster with seasoned talent, but also complete novices to the game. Four Bret Harte seniors who had never played a second of soccer came out to join the team. Barnett knows that he will have to give the less-experienced players some extra attention, but at the same time, he can’t neglect the overall progression of the team.
Finding middle ground has been difficult.
“I told them that I’m super psyched that they are here and they are very welcome here,” Barnett said. “At the same time, I don’t have the bandwidth to start at square one and teach them how to kick the ball, the names of the positions and even what the rules are. I’m struggling with that.”
One thing that Barnett isn’t hiding is the fact that playing varsity soccer will not be easy. Soccer is a different animal than other sports; any player who thinks that it will be a walk in the park will have a rude awakening.
“I have younger kids who have no idea about the level of athleticism and competition that is about to hit them on the varsity level,” Barnett said. “I also have some football players who came out incredibly out of shape. They were winded on the warmup lap, so they need a different kind of fitness.”
While Barnett may have to slow down his teachings and resort to a more simple approach, senior Ryan Crawford doesn’t view that as a bad thing.
“I’ve played on teams where you have guys who know what they are doing,” Crawford said. “But even for us experienced players, I think it’s good to slow down a little bit and go back to some basics, especially since we are going to build up this team from the bottom up.”
Senior Ryan Barnett knows that he is going to be looked at as a leader and an example for less-experienced players. He gladly accepts the role and said he feels that with practice and time, the Bullfrogs might shock some teams.
“It’s a chance to prove ourselves,” Ryan said. “I’m excited to prove myself. I want to work my hardest and hopefully everyone will do the same. I love all my teammates and we are seeing good effort. We just have to stay positive and be one big cohesive team. Maybe we can put a couple of Ws in the books.”
Two of the seniors who have never played are twin brothers John and Joseph Miramontes. Both are fresh out of football and have impressed Barnett in the early going.
“They are very raw, but they are also fit,” Barnett said. “They just have the right sports mentality and I’m excited to work with them.”
The Miramontes brothers, along with seniors Tyler Rosen, Edgar Alvarez and Crawford all recently traded their varsity football pads for soccer cleats. Crawford did the majority of the kicking on the gridiron; he punted 40 times for 1,117 yards, for an average of 27.9 yards per punt. Crawford’s longest punt of the season traveled 53 yards. Crawford also took care of the PATs and field goals. He finished the year 23 for 27 in PATs and 2 for 3 in field goals, with 32 yards his longest score.
Although Crawford showed he had the skills to be a football kicker, he is much more comfortable with a soccer ball.
“I just know soccer,” said Crawford. “I love soccer and I’ve always played soccer. I just know the game. With football, it was just kind of learn-as-I-went. Here, I feel at home.”
While there are some new faces on the Bret Harte team, there are also quite a few returners. Gilbert Alvarado, Edgar Alvarez, Barnett, Crawford, Ernesto Lopez, Tanner Stoner and Joe Young all return from the 2016-17 squad that finished 6-5-1 in the Mother Lode League. Many of those players competed in a fall league and needed a short break from the game to recharge their batteries.
“We run a club season that starts a week before the high school season starts, so they’ve had a one-week break from soccer,” Joel Barnett said. “The core of the team is coming straight out of club season, so those guys need a rest. They need a mental break from soccer and they need to repair a little bit.”
One of the positions that Barnett knew he needed to fill was goalkeeper. Josh Lane patrolled the net in 2016 and dominated. He only allowed 13 goals in 12 Mother Lode League games. Finding a suitable replacement for Lane was high on Barnett’s to-do list.
“Josh was brilliant and we were not grooming anyone behind him,” Barnett said. “I have a kid who is extremely enthusiastic in Trevor Ferguson. He stepped in during club season with no experience and we are going with him, certainly through the preseason.”
Although Barnett knows that this upcoming season may be difficult, he doesn’t expect his team to just roll over and die. He knows that he’s got some talented players and good leadership. While a section championship might be a goal for later down the road, Barnett believes his team will get its fair share of victories.
“My goal is simply to finish the year with a winning record,” Barnett said. “Basically, we want to have a positive atmosphere, regardless of the outcomes. We just want to have a positive vibe with the team.”
As for Crawford, he’s just happy to be back playing the sport he loves.
“I’m so happy soccer is back,” Crawford said. “The other day I was taking one of the other kids home. I got in the car, looked at him and said, ‘I love this.’ We had a good practice and I felt tired and I felt like I put in a good day’s work. It was fun.”