BURBANK — There is an air of excitement, expectations are at an all-time high and confidence is soaring with the Burbank High football team.
The Bulldogs, who opened summer workouts Monday, have reason to be optimistic. The team is coming off an appearance in the CIF Southeast Division semifinals last season, has two of its top players returning and has a fresh outlook under new coach Richard Broussard.
"This is just an exciting time for me and for our program," Broussard said. "I just couldn't wait to start spring practices and start playing some passing league games during the summer. I am expecting some very good things from this team."
Broussard took over for Hector Valencia, who stepped down following the 2013 season. Broussard had been a coach in the Burbank program for six seasons, beginning in 2008. Along with being the assistant head coach, he also served as the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs.
Last season, Burbank finished 10-3 after a 5-2 Pacific League finish that tied it for second place. The Bulldogs then advanced to the divisional semifinals — the program's first final-four appearance since 1927.
"We definitely want to keep that winning tradition going," Broussard said. "We have a good group of players who are back from last season.
"Having a lot of guys back is really nice for us, because hopefully those guys will be able to pick up where they left off last season and just add to that this year. We like how things look for us right now."
Perhaps the Bulldogs' most talented returning player is senior-to-be James Williams, who verbally committed to Washington State University.
Despite his limited use during the regular season and an injury that hampered him in the playoffs, Williams, a tailback, finished the season with a school-record 22 rushing touchdowns in 164 carries. His 1,469 yards (nine yards a carry) were good enough for second on the all-time list, just 35 yards shy of Ulises Ochoa's 1,504-yard record set in 2009. Williams also had 22 catches for 482 yards (21.9 yards a catch) and five touchdowns.
For his accomplishments, Williams was named the Pacific League Offensive Player of the Year, was an All-CIF Southern Section selection and a first-team All-Area honoree.
Coming off a productive junior campaign, Williams said he has some things to prove during his final season at Burbank.
"I am really coming in motivated for my senior season," said Williams, who has amassed 2,546 yards and 40 touchdowns in two seasons to rank No. 2 on the career rushing list behind Ochoa (3,078). "There are some people who might think that just because I've already committed, that I'm gonna take it easy. They say maybe I'll take it easy because I don't want to get injured. But I can't think about that.
"I have been working really hard for this upcoming season and I'm going to give it all I have. I want to prove to [Washington State] that I can play at the Pac-12 level and that I will be able to be a good player in college."
Another player who has been working hard during the off-season is senior quarterback Ryan Meredith, who recently attended events at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
"After we lost in the semifinals of the playoff last year on a Friday, Ryan was working out the next day on Saturday," Broussard said. "Since the end of our season, that kid has not taken a week off and has been working out to get better. That tells me a lot about him and just how motivated he will be for his senior season."
Last season, Meredith had an outstanding campaign orchestrating the Burbank offense. He set a school record for touchdown passes in a season with 29 and had just two interceptions. He completed 128 of 226 passes for 2,320 yards to break another season school record.
"I just look at it that I have to put in the extra work to be better and to be ready for next season," Meredith said. "It's all about improving and being able to help the team in whatever way that I can."
Also returning for the Bulldogs will be senior running back Tony Toledo (71 carries for 584 yards and seven touchdowns). In addition, Burbank has a solid group of returning linemen in seniors Max Montoya, Alex Gonzalez and Jordan Mesa.
Broussard said another key returning starter is linebacker Andy Reyes, who made an impact as a freshman last season. In a playoff game against Santa Fe, Reyes had seven tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. He ended the season with 51 tackles in eight games.
The Bulldogs will open the 2014 season on Aug. 29 with a nonleague contest at Ayala.
"The guys are working real hard and they know what it's going to take to get better so that we can be successful once the season rolls around," Broussard said. "It's a good group, and I know we'll get there."