BURBANK — The first day of summer football practice, Burbank High standout senior running back James Williams had what coach Richard Broussard described as a "horrible practice."
"He had a really bad day in that practice," said Broussard, who is in his first year after taking over for Hector Valencia. "He was making mental errors, dropping passes and it really looked like he just came out lax. I told him that he can't be doing that and that he is gonna have to check himself. I told him that he had to do better than that.
"And you know what, he texted me back that very night and said that he was sorry and 'Coach, that will never happen again. You can bank on that.' And after that, he has been amazing ever since."
Williams has been a cornerstone of the Bulldogs offense the last two seasons, piling up big numbers and recognition. The 5-foot-10, 185-point speedster, who has given a commitment to Washington State, said with the bad practice behind him, he is motivated and focused heading into the season.
"This is my last year in high school and I really want to make something out of it," said Williams, who will get his first crack at the season along with his teammates Aug. 30 when they face host Ayala in a nonleague game. "Some people might think that because I have already committed to Washington State that I'm gonna take it easy this season and just ease into college. But that's not me.
"Knowing that I'm going to play in college just makes me want to play harder. I am going to give it my all and I am going to work as hard as I can; you can bet on that."
Despite his limited use during blowouts and an injury that hampered him in the playoffs in 2013, Williams, a tailback, finished 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, an All-CIF Southern Section selection and a first-team All-Area honoree.
In two years, Williams has amassed 2,546 yards and 40 touchdowns to rank No. 2 on the career rushing list behind Ochoa (3,078). Just 532 yards shy of the all-time record, Williams said he will break the record.
"Oh yes," he said with a smile. "That is one of my big goals for the season. I'm going to get that."
With Williams leading the way, Burbank finished 10-3 after a 5-2 Pacific League finish that tied it for second place. The Bulldogs advanced to the divisional semifinals — the program's first final-four appearance since 1927. In the final-four contest, Burbank lost to La Serna, 28-21.
The Bulldogs return a large contingent from last season's squad.
"We are just a little eager to get out there and play someone," said Broussard, whose squad will play its first four games on the road. "This is a super competitive squad and we have some talented guys out there. The whole coaching staff has been really pleased at how the guys have been working hard and getting after it. We are looking forward to the 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.
Another key returner on offense for the Bulldogs is senior quarterback Ryan Meredith (6-foot, 180 pounds). Last season, Meredith had an outstanding campaign orchestrating the Burbank offense. The All-Area selection 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 think as a team we made some real big improvements from the spring and through our summer leagues," Meredith said. "I have pretty high expectations and we've looked even better than I thought we were going to look. I think we come into the season with our confidence level high."
The Bulldogs also have some other key returning players on offense. One of those is senior running back Tony Toledo (5-7, 165) who had 71 carries for 584 yards and seven touchdowns last season. In addition, Burbank has a solid group of returning linemen in seniors Max Montoya (6-0, 220), Alex Gonzalez (5-11, 210) and Jordan Mesa (5-11, 245).
Adding depth in the backfield for the Bulldogs' hurry-up offense will be sophomore running back Jake Kelley (5-10, 170).
The wide receivers will be returning senior Dorrian Houshoulder (5-10, 160) and junior Nick Cantong (6-0, 180). Helping man the offensive line will be junior Gilmar Aldana and senior Ceron Hurry (5-11, 250).
Some of those linemen will also see time on the defensive front. They will be joined by senior Kyle Alvarez (5-9, 220) and sophomore Danny Porras (6-0, 220).
"We still have a lot to work to do and we have some young players who are still learning," Mesa said. "We just need our chemistry to continue to build and we need to keep building as a team.
"But I like the direction that we're going and I think we all are prepared to work hard to make this season a success.:
The Bulldogs have a solid returning linebacker in Andy Reyes (5-7, 180), who is just a sophomore. 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.
"He is just a monster, a beast," Broussard said. "He is just a freak of nature how he plays and what he's been able to do being so young. It's almost like he's the reincarnation of some great linebacker from the past; he's that good. He is just hard-nosed and he plays angry."
Joining Reyes in the linebacking corps will be juniors David Medrano (5-7, 160) and Jha'rod Horhn (6-0, 175).
Patrolling the secondary will be junior Josh Cantong, junior Brandon Alba (5-7. 155), senior CJ Hunter (5-8, 155) and senior Chris Wong (5-10, 180).
The kicker for the Bulldogs will be returning senior Matt Raytis (5-11, 170) and Porras will do the punting.
Burbank has been reaping the benefits of building success beginning at the lower levels. In eight years, the Bulldogs freshmen have captured six league titles, including going 10-0 in 2013. Also a year ago, the junior varsity squad had a 10-0 season.
"These kids are used to winning and most of them haven't lost a heck of a lot since getting here at Burbank," Broussard said. "That's a winning tradition we're proud of."
The Bulldogs finished in a three-way for second place last season and were runner-up in 2012. Muir is the two-time defending Pacific League champion. The Mustangs are coming off a season in which they went 11-2, defeated the Bulldogs, 24-17, and advanced to the Southeast Division semifinals, falling to Norwalk, 35-28.
Muir, which owns a 15-game league unbeaten streak, has a new quarterback in senior Chase Keough, who played in the Burbank Vikings Youth Tackle Football program.
"We know Muir is going to be good. … Then again, they always seem to be good," Broussard said. "Their coach has done an amazing job over there and he seems to reload every year. They always play a physical, hard-nosed brand of football and we just have to bring it when we play them.
"Along with Muir, CV is going to be strong and you know Burroughs is going to be well coached with Keith Knoop coaching. I also heard that Pasadena got some transfers, so we will have to see how they are going to be."