First published in the Aug. 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It’s time to go back to the football gridiron for Burbank and Burroughs high schools, and both go in with the benefit of a full offseason program.
“This is the first year post-COVID that we’ve had a full offseason in like three years. Just having that time to really bond and build a culture, that’s been huge,” Burbank coach Adam Colman said.
That was a thought echoed across town.
“It’s been great to have an offseason going to the weight room and having spring football,” Burroughs coach Jesse Craven said.
It’s good times at Burbank High School as the Bulldogs hone their game for the beginning of the football season.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had coaching in quite some time,” Colman said. “We’ve got a group of guys that genuinely like being around each other, genuinely like playing… That translates to the field. They are always pushing each other to get better.”
The Bulldogs’ motto last season was “T.E.A.M.,” an acronym for team-first attitude, effort, accountability and mental toughness, and it will be their mantra again this year.
“Going into this year the seniors said, ‘You know, those are still our core values. That was last year, but there’s work to do still and we’re not done. So we ran it back with those four,” Colman said.
Dylan Robinson will be back at quarterback for his senior campaign. Last season he was first-team all-league and the Bulldogs’ team MVP.
“He is just a hard-nosed kid,” Colman said of his signal caller. “Talk about leading by example – he’s one of the hardest workers.”
Leading the way at running back will be Zakk Estrada, although he will be deployed in a number of ways; “he is a weapon.” The senior played slot receiver last year.
Anchoring the line will be senior returners Alex Hossepian and Rene Harris. Senior Francois Taillefer and sophomore Sebastian Mirzakanian will also be in the trenches. Junior Eduardo Martinez will be at center. Elijah Becker will be in the mix too.
“He’s our big boy,” Colman said of the senior listed at 6’5” and 340 pounds. “He’s finally growing into his body and learning how to use it.”
Recently Burbank has not used a tight end frequently, but that looks to change this season with the stable of Jarret Bose, Michael Martinez, Jake Reyes and Levon Bakmazian.
“We haven’t really had that tight-end-style body [recently]. This year we’ve got a few of those who will give us a different dimension up front.”
Burbank welcomes a couple of new receivers in seniors Joe Maslyk and Ben Forster, both playing football for the first time.
“They are two kids that have played basketball here, one played baseball. So they are really good athletes and they have been great throughout the spring and summer getting better,” Colman said.
The strength of the Bulldog defense will be in the middle. At middle linebacker will be Bose, who lost most of last season due to injury. Returning at free safety will be senior Evan Miller.
Brandon Elizalde will be taking over from his brother Christian, who graduated, as a primary player in the secondary.
“Last year is the first year in quite a while that we missed the playoffs, so we’re looking to get back and make some noise in the playoffs this year,” Colman said.
The Bulldogs will open their season by hosting Dos Pueblos High of Goleta on Friday, Aug. 19, at Memorial Field. Kickoff time is set for 7 p.m.
There will be a new cast of characters on the field for the Bears this season.
“A lot of starters that played both ways graduated, so we’re filling a lot of spaces with some new guys. We have a decent amount of returners, but we’re filling with a lot of guys that haven’t played varsity football before,” said Craven, who has 115 kids across all levels in his program. “Of course there are those question marks about who is going to step up this year and be the guys who fill those roles.”
On the agenda will be constant evolution throughout the season.
“We’re going to be working daily to improve at the sport of football,” Craven said. “Who we are at the end of the season should be much different than who we are at the beginning of the season, and that is kind of the goal.”
The Bears do have a core of returning skill players, although Burroughs will have a new face at quarterback. Currently, junior Chris Kulikov and sophomore Rocco Mellilo are competing for the starting job, with the junior holding a slight edge. Whomever starts will throw to a strong crew of receivers that include Ryan Hernandez, Noah Frenkel, Dilan Webster, Ethan Hubbell and Alex Valenzuela.
“Our goal is to have a really strong running game. That kind of opens everything up when you are able to do it,” said Craven, who has Marcus Manahan as his lead back. “[Although] it is real nice to have some weapons outside that can cause some issues for some teams.”
Returners at linebacker should make that group stand out, including senior Noah Crues, who was all-league at the position last season. Also a returning all-league selection, lineman Robert Huynh will be playing on offense and defense. Stone Slothour will be the other returning member of the defensive line. In his third year as a varsity starter, Hernandez will also be one of many going both ways, with the junior doing it at defensive back and receiver.
“Number one, the goal is to compete for the Pacific League [championship] and from there make it to the postseason,” Craven said. “You want to extend your season, and that is what we were able to do last year.”
The Bears open their season with a nonleague game against visiting Fillmore on Friday evening, Aug. 26. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Memorial Field.