Returning starters are scarce for the Paso Robles High football team this year.
The select few who do have plenty of in-game experience, though, don’t seem to be daunted by the amount of turnover.
“Every team goes through it,” said senior Elias Stokes, a third-year varsity star. “Every team graduates different classes every single year, and it’s always been like that. The team before us did the same thing. They had new faces who they welcomed under their wing.
“We’re going to do the same thing,” Stokes said, “and hopefully we can be successful.”
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The Bearcats graduated five all-CIF Southern Section Western Division honorees from last year’s PAC 7 championship squad that went 10-3 overall (6-0 in league) during a run to the semifinals of the divisional playoffs. In addition, five more all-league selections from last year were also Bearcats seniors.
“There’s a lot of learning going on,” coach Rich Schimke said. “It just comes down to, are they going to develop the habits that it’s going to take for it to be a norm?
“They’re learning every day what it takes to practice hard, to practice like champions. It can’t just be hit-and-miss. It’s got to be daily.”
The loss of so many key contributors left numerous openings atop the depth chart.
“We lost a lot of people, but I used them as role models for me to be a role model for the younger kids,” junior left tackle Colby Kerns said. “I used them as an example like I’ll be to the newcomers.
“This team really has come together and come a long way these past few months,” Kerns added, “and I think if we continue our hard work, we’ll be good this season.”
One of those who’s certainly not lacking in experience is Stokes.
A second-team Cal-Hi Sports all-state multi-purpose selection last year among juniors, Stokes is being recruited by Cal Poly and UC Davis.
Stokes caught 61 passes for 1,001 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010, and returned 22 kickoffs for a 32.2-yard average and four TDs. He also took direct snaps as a junior, rushing for 246 yards and seven more scores on 35 carries and was named The Tribune’s County Player of the Year.
“It’s hard to do what he does, and he needs help,” Schimke said. “That’s what we’re striving for.”
This season, Stokes is expected to see playing time at free safety and punter, as well.
“I like the challenge,” Stokes said. “I feel like most successful teams do have players starting both ways, so it’s not anything new.”
Max Blanton, a track standout who had a 36-yard TD catch against nationally ranked Serra of Gardena in last year’s playoffs, and Mac Stuart, who had 13 receptions for 224 yards and two scores before suffering a season-ending injury late in 2010, are both senior playmakers at receiver, too.
Garrett Nelson, the younger brother of former Bearcats all-county tight end Curtis Nelson, is a potential starter at quarterback, while junior running back Josh Jeter produced impressive numbers at the JV level a year ago.
Paso Robles’ offensive line features a pair of veterans in Kerns and senior right guard Deonte Willis, who’s also an accomplished wrestler.
Defensively, senior outside linebacker David Katz and junior safety Kevan Garcia figure to be leaders.
Each three-year varsity players, they’ll be looking to build upon last season, when the program limited opponents to 7.8 points per contest during a five-game stretch.
Paso Robles opens at home against Central of Fresno at 7 p.m. Friday.