Yosemite High School Valley Champs
Only when the Yosemite High School football program began to dominate the local area news did the world famous park take second mention
By Bonner Cunnings
Published: Spring 2003
The dream was 23 years in the making. Oakhurst, a small mountain community located just a few miles outside of Yosemite National Park in central California, has always been a town familiar with tourism. Only when the Yosemite High School football program began to dominate the local area news did the world famous park take second mention. Something magical happened in the hearts of the people, and it is spelled VICTORY. The 2002 Badgers accomplished the feat of becoming the CIF central sequoia champions with a 12-1 season!
So what happened to Badger football that took 23 years to figure out? It was the strength and conditioning principles of BIGGER FASTER STRONGER! Any person who has had the joy of watching smash mouth football could appreciate the way that Yosemite attacked the line of scrimmage. This kind of play is only possible when your foundation is the weight room, and that is exactly where Head Coach Aaron Eames committed his entire program.
The seniors of 2002 were just freshmen when Coach Eames challenged them to not only be the “king of the mountain” but to lead the entire San Joaquin Valley. They were standing in the “Badger Den” weight room when they made the decision to be “valley champs” their senior year, and they were committed to work for it. The champs of 2002 believed in BFS, and with fervent desire made physical conditioning their top priority.
From day one they focused on the ground-based, multi-joint, Olympic lifts of BFS. They attacked sprints and plyometrics twice a week, following the BFS sprint techniques to the “T”. Always keeping to the BFS six absolutes, and focusing on perfect spotting, the weight room intensity was often a borderline frenzy! Right away the truth became obvious that to be a part of Badger football you had to be tenacious in the weight room.
To change the atmosphere of mediocrity towards football the high school and community committed to the expansion of the YHS weight room. It was a story comparable to Greg Shepard’s novel “Dream The Biggest Dream!” The passing of school bonds directed by Superintendent Bill McCabe opened up the facility to bring in tons of free weights, and opened up space for a full plyometric and dot drill area. Major donations from MASS MOVEMENT, a weight equipment distributor for Northern California, lifted the athletic facility to supreme standards. Principal Steve Raupp, a former football coach of 12 years at YHS, helped to insure that the almost two thousand square foot classroom would be available to all students, by offering numerous strength and conditioning classes within the Physical Education curriculum.
“Young people are hungry for a chance to do something special and worthwhile,” said Coach Eames who is the men’s P.E. instructor, “Our greatest desire is bring the success of BFS principles to all sports in our high school, and to the surrounding feeder schools.”
Having a clear vision of what it takes to win on the grid- iron the badgers jumped into the rigorous BFS program with both feet.
“We implemented everything that the BFS handbook directed”, commented Coach Eames, ”and we saw results immediately”.
The benefits of using the BFS Set-Rep system, working plyo’s and sprints twice a week, combined with the Badger’s commitment to INTEGRITY, RESOLVE, and FUNDAMENTALS, proved to be the winning ingredients for becoming the best team ever in school history.
“The principle of breaking 8 records every workout really fit in with our philosophy”, said coach Eames, ”they continued to expect a better performance each time we stepped into the weight room and on the field. It was exciting to see them focus on the three words that typify our team vision. The team got the taste for breaking records”.
The Badger’s weight room ethic became blatantly obvious on Friday nights. Amazingly the class of 2002 broke 74 school records under the lights of Badger Stadium!
“We took pride in our physical attack style defense,” commented Eric Peterson, the varsity defensive coordinator, “Our Bear 4-6 defense only allowed 1,062 yards rushing in 13 games, three of which we held our opponents to negative totals!”
After winning the CIF championship game, Calpreps.com ranked the badgers #8 in the central section, and #9 in the state of California for division four football. It became obvious to all that something special had happened to the mountain men of Oakhurst, but what the community did not realize was that the athletes had spent long hours preparing for those hard fought battles. The many hours of summer training had prepared them to be the best.
Six foot three 280 lb. senior Cole Popovich was an amazing leader in the weight room, having destroyed almost every lifting record in Badger history. At the age of 17, Popovich was able to parallel squat 500 lbs, bench 365, hex dead 565, and proved his explosiveness with a 320 lb. power clean!
“The most impressive record that Cole set was his vertical leap…,” said Eames, his voice teeming with emotion. “ To have a 280 lb lineman who can leap 35’’ vertically, and has a standing broad jump of 9’5” really gives the team an almost unfair advantage.”
That advantage is exactly what the coaching staff utilized. They placed the mountain-sized mammoth at the heart of their offense and defensive line. The division one prospect saw his love for the weight room translate into domination at the line of scrimmage.
“The common mistake that people made,” commented Popovich, “ was thinking that our team had the biggest line on the field. The truth is that guys like John Garcia made the difference.”
John Garcia, recipient of the Badger’s “Iron Man“ award, started at offensive guard being only 5’8” and 170 lbs, proved that the BFS program can elevate a smaller or lighter player to a competitive level! John might not have been bigger than his opponents but he was faster and stronger. Lifting well over three times his body weight, Garcia could lift an amazing 585 lbs in the box squat! His improvement record is outstanding: comparing his freshman and junior year he improved in the parallel squat from 170 to 365 lbs, his power clean jumped from 115 to 215, and his bench went from 145 to 235.
Many seniors just like Popovich and Garcia spent endless hours of training. Not only did they achieve their goal of being the best team in history at Yosemite High School, they have sparked the fires of tradition that will be burning strong for some time. Coach Eames’ love of tenacious weight room practices proved to be the winning edge that made the Badgers “VALLEY CHAMPS”.