Benefield: Expectations mount in Middletown
Coaches are known for not dwelling on things — positive or negative. Victories are sweet but not to be savored. Losses are, in most cases, best put in the rearview mirror.
Sure, Middletown High’s first North Coast Section football title in nearly two decades last season was great, but that was last season. This is this season.
“We rode that and we were all high about it,” longtime Mustangs coach Bill Foltmer said. “But I’m not getting any extra points for having a section title.”
In fact, Foltmer would be fine not talking about last season at all except that that pesky section title did put its mark on the season before us. Namely, in the Mustangs’ current schedule.
It seems that for the first time in a long time, Foltmer struggled to fill his preseason schedule. Were teams intimidated by the Division 5 title? Hard to say, but Foltmer said he was on the phone an awful last spring and the schedule he ended up with doesn’t look much like ones he’s had in years past.
Napa High? Concord? Moreau Catholic?
“It was tough getting preseason games this year,” he said. “This year it seemed to be a struggle.”
So Foltmer took what he could get and what he could get were some comparatively big schools.
Case in point: The Mustangs open the season Aug. 23 against Napa High, which listed a 2018-19 enrollment of 1,892. After that? Concord High, enrollment of 1,385. Then the Mustangs face Moreau Catholic, a team that went 12-1 overall last season and 6-0 in the Mission Valley League in which schools boast an average enrollment of 2,200 students.
Reminder: Middletown High is listed at 499 students.
But one gets the sense the Mustangs aren’t cowed. They are simply preparing.
“It’s probably going to be one of the biggest schools we’ve ever played,” senior James Hernandez said of their season opener against Napa High. “To think that this small little school might have a chance to beat a big old football team like that, that’s amazing.”
“That’s a big gut check for us,” senior quarterback Isaac Perez said.
And it’s especially big for Perez, who this season takes over at quarterback after playing behind starter R.H. Hess last year.
When I asked Perez who on the team needed to make an impact early this season to set the tone, his answer was quick.
“I think I really need to step up this year,” he said.
Foltmer said Perez doesn’t have the arm of his predecessor, but is more accurate.
At his disposal, Perez gets a lot of the same names that made their mark last year for Middletown, namely running back Nico Barrio.
In the NCS championship game, Barrio caught eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a performance that Foltmer hopes was a foreshadowing of what he can do this year as a senior and as the Mustangs’ No. 1 option on the run.
“He’s more of a scat back,” he said of Barrio, who is listed at 5 feet, 10 inches and 150 pounds. “He’s our breakaway threat.”
Barrio played plenty last season, but he was the two of the one-two punch with Drake Harbison, who the Mustangs lost to graduation. Harbison was a big north-south runner, while Barrio was slippery.