The Nipomo football team's modus operandi under veteran coach Tony Dodge has been a familiar one.
The Titans start slowly, gather momentum and then do just fine during the league campaign. Nipomo won the Northern League championship on 2016 and qualified for the playoffs last year as the league runner-up to Santa Maria.
Senior cornerback Wyatt Omohundro pledges things will be different this year. Not as far as how the team's league fortunes will pan out but as far as how the team will play in the run-up to when the games count the most.
"No slow start," he said. "We're going to hit the ground running."
"We've got an excellent group of players coming back," said senior Anthony Perez, who was an All-Northern League linebacker in 2017.
Santa Ynez, Nipomo's opponent in a Aug. 17 season opener, pounded the Titans in a non-league game at Santa Ynez last year. This year, at least as far as returning starters go, Dodge's group looks a lot more loaded than it was at this point last year.
"We have six returning starters on offense and seven on defense," Dodge said. He will start his fourth campaign at the helm when Nipomo hosts Santa Ynez in a 7 p.m. game.
Junior quarterback Brayden Groshart is one of the returnees. A varsity starter as a sophomore last year, Groshart often looked out of sync with his passing during the preseason.
He kept connecting on his passes as the 2017 campaign went along, though, and wound up throwing for 1,439 yards, with 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Groshart was also second on the team in rushing, behind junior Luis Diego Riquelme. Riquelme returns for his senior season after running for 714 yards and five touchdowns last year.
"A young kid is going to learn during his first year," Riquelme said of Groshart.
"No longer does he learn just by reps. Now, he's going to learn by everything we do. He's learned to trust the players and trust the system."
Senior right guard Tab Miller said, "He has confidence, and that's really important in our ability to block for him, to let him do his job."
Dodge has a lot of anchors on a team that is part of the CIF Central Section's Ocean League that also includes Santa Maria, Morro Bay, Templeton, Pioneer Valley and San Luis Obispo.
The first three were part of the old Northern League with Nipomo. Pioneer Valley used to be Nipomo's traditional opening day opponent.
Now, Dodge will get to go into the 2018 opener with a seasoned group.
"Two of our linebackers, Jesse Garza and Anthony Perez, were all-league last year," said Dodge. Dodge said Perez will be at strong safety this year but that he will, in effect, be another linebacker.
"Anthony's our team leader," Dodge said. Garza had a total of 81 tackles last year and Perez had 71.
Dodge said, "We're going to try and be as balanced on offense as we possibly can. We like to try and mix things up as the season goes along, depending on the defense we'll face.
"Cole Bajema will be our No. 1 receiver. He was the San Luis Obispo County champ in the 200 and the 400 (meters) in track," last spring.
Ricky Iniguez was a solid back for the Titans last year, and he will play free safety on defense. Dodge is also counting on durable Keyshawn Pu'a. Dodge said Pu'a will play fullback on offense and linebacker on defense. Miller figures to help anchor the offensive line.
Dodge is banking on Bajema and his other receivers to fill the void left by the graduated Gage Wynn and Jedu Reyes, the team's leading receivers last year. Those two were also leaders in the defensive backfield.
Nipomo's coach acknowledged that he wasn't thrilled at first when the school's athletic program moved to the Central Section. Now, he said, he has come to terms with the move.
"I didn't like the move at first," said Dodge. "Nipomo, as a school, didn't want to go at first. I didn't like where a lot of the schools were placed (by division) when we moved to the Central Section." Nipomo's football team is in Division 2.
Dodge said, "I liked the competitive situation down South. We didn't mind the travel to the L.A. schools. But we know what the situation is, and we'll deal with it."