A group of Calistoga high school students started to gather around the Wildcats weight room after class last Friday afternoon. Like so many other teenagers in the state of California, the group was preparing for spring football practices. Unlike last year, the Wildcats are all on the same game plan from the first whistle blow, which is exactly how second-year head coach Jim Klaczak wants it.
“I told the kids last year, and it’s a cliche, but last year was the first step,” Klaczak said. “Everybody was new and they needed to learn how I did things and why I did things. Once they learned why we were doing things, that’s when the progress really came along. Finishing 6-4 was a really positive step and this year we got all these kids coming back.
“The returners really bought into the program last year and this year they are helping the young kids coming in buy into it right away. We have half the offense already installed in the spring and that is always the hardest thing to teach.”
About 20 players walked out to the school football field to begin practice. The group went through conditioning drills on the long length grass field. Many of the returning players for the Wildcats have been playing sports year round to stay in shape.
Klaczak and his staff are also hopeful about a decently-sized incoming freshmen class can help with depth. Calistoga struggled with fielding a full team at points during last season, because of injuries and grades.
“The grind this season starts in the classroom to make sure everyone is eligible for next season. We want to make sure that everyone is in shape and be better than last year,” said freshman quarterback Christian Caldera. “We want to make sure we stay together as a family and whatever may happen that we are focused when it comes to game time.
“Last year we were just trying to compete with the good teams, but this year I feel like we can beat most of the teams. I am confident this season will go better than last year.”
The Wildcats are a football program heading in the right direction, and its 6-4 record last fall is an indicator of that. A few key returners will also look to drive Calistoga to the postseason. The Wildcats likely would have qualified for the North Coast Section 8-man Playoffs last season, but miscommunication on some paperwork ended that hope.
“I feel happy that we get to workout again and happy a lot of guys are coming out this year,” Jesus Rojas-Mendoza said. “We just need to keep grinding this year and keeping everyone spirits high.”
Caldera was a breakout star for the Wildcats last season and the young athlete is hoping to take Calistoga farther this upcoming fall. The quarterback and safety played like a senior in his debut season and will be the main weapon for the Wildcats. He was a perfect fit for the Calistoga run-heavy offense, but the soon-to-be sophomore is looking to add a passing game to his arsenal.
A potential target for that passing game will be fellow sophomore Yulani Caballero, as the speedy wide receiver started to flourish late in last season.
“He is one of those generational athletes at the high school level,” Klaczak said of Caldera. “He is a luxury that any coach would like.”
A few seniors will be leaving large holes to fill for the Wildcats. Offensive linemen Ignacio Blancas and linebacker Jasiel Flores both were key contributors. In total Calistoga lost five seniors from last seasons team.
“Last year we had a little late start and this year is already here everyone has been at their best,” junior Fernando Rios said. “We have a saying, ‘We all we got, we all we need.’ We are from a small town and have a lot of competitive people. This year we should have some depth, with last season only having, like, two players on the bench.”
Calistoga is still finalizing its schedule, but eight games are currently being looked at. A rematch between Woodside Priory of Portola Valley is in the works and the team is looking into heading down to Southern California to square off with a team from Santa Barbara. The Wildcats will also potentially be looking for a new rivalry, as Rincon Valley Christian of Santa Rosa will no longer exist as of next school year.
“Honestly there is a lot of new guys this year and a lot of skilled players,” Rios said. “Everyone here has played before and we all started young. We played peewee together, so it’s cool to have everyone back. We have a great coach and him coaching us we will be at our best.”