In 13 years as Paso Robles High’s head football coach, Rich Schimke has seen players come and go, including former Tribune County Player of the Year Elias Stokes, who graduated last spring.
But the lack of big names on the Bearcats’ roster this season doesn’t faze him for a second.
“I don’t think we have a lot of stars, but we don’t have a lot of weaknesses either,” Schimke said. “Expectations are high around here.”As they should be.
Two years ago, Paso Robles was undefeated in the PAC 7 play and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs before losing to Junipero Serra, the eventual Western Division champions.
But the Bearcats stumbled in 2011. Paso went 3-6, missed out on the playoffs and finished sixth in the final PAC 7 standings. The Bearcats were competitive in many of those losses, including a 25-21 loss to San Luis Obispo and a 25-23 loss to Pioneer Valley, but inconsistency on both sides plagued the team.
“I think this season is going to be the sum of the parts,” Schimke said. “I think we have enough weapons here and there that we can get the job done.”
One of those weapons is senior quarterback and second-year starter Garrett Nelson, who, despite an up-and-down junior season, showed enough promise to earn the trust of not only Schimke, but also the team as a whole.
“I’ve been working on timing with receivers, going over plays with everyone, trying to get everyone to learn everything,” Nelson said. “I’m trying to bring our receivers and our running backs up to a good level to where we can maintain a consistency throughout the year, and hopefully we will do well.”
If consistency is the key to success, look no further than Colby Kearns, a three-year starter on the offensive and defensive lines for Paso Robles. Kearns’ work in the trenches has drawn the attention of multiple Division I schools, including Utah State.
“You know, Colby is a big part of the team,” senior linebacker Josh Haley said. “He’s a good blocker and a good leader.”
While Kearns may be a big presence and a big name on the field, the Bearcats are shifting the focus from the stars to a strong team built on trust and working together.
“I think this year, definitely, our team has come closer together,” Haley said. “So when we get down to that final quarter, we’re going to be able to look at the guy next to us and say, ‘He’s got my back, I got his.’ We’re going to be able to pull it out just knowing that.”
Paso Robles is hoping that, with the help of its seniors, including Haley, Kearns, Nelson and running back Colton Madrigal, it can brush off last year’s performance and play to expectations.
“This team’s been working really hard,” Madrigal said. “And we’ve really bonded this year. I know that we’ve been working for this for a long time. It’s our senior year and we want to go out big.”