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SEBASTOPOL — Every “large-school” football team in the Redwood Empire started with a clean slate in 2015. But after four weeks of preseason action, only one team in either the North Bay League or Sonoma County League remains undefeated. And it’s probably not the one you predicted.

Analy, gutted by the graduation of its most high-profile players in June, hasn’t just maintained its footing. As we head into league play, the Tigers may be the dominant team in the area.

Schuyler Van Weele, Analy’s senior wide receiver and kick returner, admits he had some questions about this year’s squad heading into the season.

“Of course,” he said. “But honestly, this team has become a big program. And I think it’s more a mentality that our team has, that it’s grown bigger than the players here.”

With the SCL struggling to be competitive these days, Analy coach Daniel Bourdon knew he’d have to put together a challenging preseason schedule to boost the Tigers’ postseason seeding. So they played Casa Grande, Maria Carrillo and Montgomery — the solid middle of the NBL — and won the three games by a cumulative score of 117-50. Analy also won 41-19 at Acalanes last weekend.

Junior quarterback Jack Newman has emerged as a highly suitable replacement for Will Smith, who was an All-Empire pick before graduating last year. Newman has 1,096 passing yards and 14 touchdowns in four games, with just two interceptions. Another junior, Osiris Zamora, is averaging 84.3 rushing yards per game, while the speedy Van Weele already has 10 touchdowns and nearly 500 receiving yards. Senior middle linebacker Isaac Kangas anchors an underrated defense.

But as Van Weele alluded, the Analy program is bigger than individual players now. The JV program is strong, and varsity participation numbers are high. Several Tigers are playing significant roles for the Santa Rosa JC team now, which hasn’t always been the case.

And the man behind the resurgence is Bourdon, who is in his eighth season guiding the Tigers. In the four years before he took over the varsity program, Analy was 16-26. In Bourdon’s first four seasons the team improved to 23-22. In the past three-plus seasons, the Tigers have gone 38-5, including a 6-3 mark in the North Coast Section playoffs.

Bourdon, 34, gets it done with a youthful and occasionally manic vibrancy.

“The best word I could use is ‘motivational,’ ” Van Weele said.

Ja’Narrick James, last year’s All-Empire Offensive Player of the Year and now a starting halfback at SRJC, offered “energetic” and “raw.” Others prefer “intense.” Bourdon’s players are used to the transformation they see in their coach, who also teaches PE and weightlifting at Analy during football season.

“It was every week,” James said. “From Thursday night at the team dinner, he’d start getting fired up there, and he wouldn’t cool down until Saturday morning when we were watching film. You see him at school on Friday and he’s got this big grin on his face. He’s smiling, bouncing on his toes. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

The intensity only increases on game night. Van Weele’s favorite Bourdon moment was from a playoff game last year — he couldn’t recollect which one.

“It was some touchdown, and I just remember him running down the sidelines as our player was running down with the ball, and him throwing his hands up in the air and jumping up and down in circles,” Van Weele said.

Just his hands? That was understated.

“A move that all his players from the past know is the Starfish,” James said. “You see any big play on the field, and if you look over to the sidelines, you’d see Coach, he’s three feet off the ground with his hands and feet spread out wide. We started calling the move the Starfish. It exemplified him, because he put everything into the team. It was almost as if he was out there playing with us.”

Other players echoed that sentiment.

“He’s very personable. He’s great with kids. He’s funny,” said Newman, the quarterback. “He’s kind of like one of your best friends out there.”

A lot of football coaches have intense personalities. What sets Bourdon apart is that his energy is almost always positive. Yeah, there are times he’ll lecture or yell at a player. But mostly he’s encouraging, stalking the sidelines with a smile and exuding a confidence that borders on cockiness.

“He’s your friend, but he definitely holds you accountable for everything,” Newman said. “He knows his stuff. He knows what you’re doing right, and he tells you. And he knows what you’re doing wrong, and he’ll tell you.”

“Coach Bourdon, he carries himself with respect, and he respects others,” James said. “If you don’t know him, if you kind of observe him for the first time, he seems like a regular old football coach who might holler and be full of himself. … But once you get to know him, coach Bourdon is a goofy dude. It makes the staff seem younger than they are.”

Bourdon grew up in a working-class environment in Sebastopol. His father, who lived in Petaluma, was in construction. His stepfather drove a truck. Nobody in the family was really into sports, except Daniel. He played quarterback at Analy in the late 1990s, and after graduating in ’99 he played at SRJC and West Virginia Tech.

In those days, the Tigers were, by Bourdon’s admission, “mediocre” on the football field.

“When I was in school, we were real excited when we made the playoffs,” he said. “I was a three-year varsity guy, and we only made the playoffs when I was a senior.”

Bourdon returned to Analy as a varsity assistant at the age of 21, was JV head coach for a couple years, then served as varsity offensive coordinator before taking over the program in 2008.

Bourdon was excited to coach at his alma mater, but he wasn’t entirely sure he could build the Tigers into consistent winners. The school was better known for academics than sports, and for basketball more than football. The football team has never won a section title, for example.

Analy’s rebirth, Bourdon said, should largely be credited to his coaching staff. His former head coach at SRJC, Keith Simons, coordinates the offense and works closely with the quarterbacks. Simons played a big role in Smith’s development and is doing the same with Newman; Bourdon knows he’s lucky to have him. Kenny Knowlton is the Analy defensive coordinator, and Toby Carpenter is Knowlton’s top assistant.

“I think I’ve got the best staff, from top to bottom, around here,” Bourdon said. “I know our guys are gonna go into Friday nights prepared.”

Their expertise leaves Bourdon free to manage substitutions, clock and timeouts, and to put his imprint on every position group on the team. And, of course, to keep the Tigers fired up.

In his 14th year at the school, Bourdon seems as passionate as ever. He sounds surprised that anyone would wonder why.

“These kids do exciting things,” he said, breaking into a wide grin. “These kids get me excited. There’s nothing better than coaching on Friday nights.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @Skinny_Post.