The Wilson Bruins are coming off one of their most successful seasons in school history after winning 10 games and reaching the CIF-SS Division 7 quarterfinals in 2019. However, they know this six-game season is about more than the final score.
“We want to build on what we have and hopefully some of that talent will come forth,” Wilson coach Mark Ziegenhagen said. “These games will be a showcase for the fall. It’s a matter of us getting better. With a lot of guys seeing their first Friday Night Lights, it’s going to be a learning curve at the beginning.”
Wilson only has 12 seniors on the roster after graduating the majority of its starting lineup full of three-year varsity talent. The remaining senior leaders Alama Collins, Michael Brunner and Tyrie Robinson are also three-year starters who have seen it all in their time playing for Ziegenhagen.
“They know what it’s like to lose and what it’s like to win,” Ziegenhagen said. “They know we had one slip away from us last season.”
Wilson lost a heartbreaking 57-56 game against West Ranch in the quarterfinals.
“Last season I learned we have to stay focused,” Brunner said. “Once we got that blowout win in the first round of the playoffs I just feel like we thought we were the number one team.”
Brunner, Robinson and fellow senior Nick Timko make up one of the most experienced wide receiver corps in the local area and were on the receiving end of quarterback Ryan Pettway’s 41-touchdown season. Brunner used his deceiving speed to rack up 1,078 yards and 18 touchdowns. He said he’s been working on his mechanics, and wants to attend a junior college before trying to transfer to a four-year university. He also wants to leave Wilson better than when he arrived.
“I know this (six-game season) will help Wilson next season,” Brunner said. “This program has done so much for me and I just hope the best for them, so I want to do my best for them.”
Timko has quickly emerged as a go-to slot receiver while catching 10 touchdowns for 838 yards. Robinson had four touchdowns and averaged over 15 yards per catch.
Ziegenhagen said junior Zander McLaurin and sophomore Brayden Downen have been battling for the starting quarterback position.
“It’s McLaurin’s job to lose,” Ziegenhagen said. “They’re going to go head to head and this is the year to do that. We’ll alternate them and see who our quarterback is for next year. McLaurin has been throwing the ball well since July. Being a baseball player, he’s got a pretty good arm.”
“I’ve shown him some stuff Pettway and I used to do,” Brunner said. “He knows he can look my way if he ever needs to.”
Wilson offensive coordinator Jim Houston will use a running back by committee in an effort to keep them fresh and balance the quick passing attack. Junior Leroy Crook, sophomore Johnell Gray and junior Detroit Afusia are getting the majority of carries in practice.
The entire offensive line is new with starting jobs still there for the taking. Ziegenhagen said Jeremy Kline will move to center after serving as a key backup last season, and Antelope Valley transfer Kameron Wallace has been a welcomed addition on both sides of the ball.
Wallace will be a great compliment to returning Moore League Defensive Linemen of the Year, Alama Collins. The 6’2” 285-pound senior will be the anchor on defense at nose guard, and will also play offensive line.
“I feel like I lead by example,” Collins said. “I have to do my job as a leader to show them it’s possible to do what they want to do if they put in the work. I’m getting more vocal as a leader. It’s a lot of responsibility but it feels good to help any way I can.”
After graduating all four starting linebackers, Wilson must rely on junior Keith Averil, senior Lucas Vogel and juniors Cordae Jones, Jack Gentile and Detroit Afusia to make the active Bruins scheme work. Averil, who is returning from injury, has the most experience.
Robinson could also end up playing both sides of the ball while helping the defensive secondary where junior Saadite Green Jr. is back after snatching four interceptions last season. Returning starter Leroy Crook and basketball player turned strong safety Dallas Cooper will provide help over the top.
Ziegenhagen said that lots of his players are going to rotate and get playing time.
“Not to take away from this year because the seniors deserve this year, obviously, but at the same time injuries scare me the most,” Ziegenhagen said. “With guys not being in football shape, we’re going to have to get in shape in a hurry and that might take some game time.”
Schedule (All games at 7 p.m. unless noted)
Friday, March 19
Compton at Wilson
Friday, March 26
Wilson at Poly
Thursday, April 1
Jordan at Wilson
Saturday, April 10
Wilson at Millikan at 12 p.m.
Friday, April 16
Wilson vs. Lakewood at Cabrillo