SEMIPRO FOOTBALL: 2011 Barnstormers season preview

Nick Marra fakes a hand-off to Amiel Silvestre during a drill at

Headed by first-year coach Chris Vasseur, the Barnstormers’ 2011
campaign is the 12th for the franchise, and it all begins Saturday
at 2 p.m. at GHS
GILROY — As the cars filter into the parking lot at Gilroy High School, the stadium lights towering over Garcia Elder Sports Complex begin to illuminate the turf.

The scene is similar every Wednesday night.

Members of the Central Coast Barnstormers’ semipro football team begin to gather. The jokes immediately start to fly, and a little bit of laughter and some light pushing and shoving ensues as the players gear up for practice on the front step of another season.

Time to hit somebody.

Headed by first-year coach Chris Vasseur, the Barnstormers’ 2011 campaign is the 12th for the franchise, and it all begins Saturday at 2 p.m. at GHS.

And it’s no laughing matter.

“I want to restore the Barnstormers to the tradition that they have had in the past where people were afraid, where we won the psychological battle before the game started,” Vasseur said. “If we are going to play, we are going to play. There is no half speed. I demand that of the coaches and myself. This is a football team and we will run it as a football team. If you’re in, you’re in.”

It’s the type of reputation the Barnstormers have earned throughout their years of development, from the humble beginnings to playing for a championship two years ago.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because of our history,” starting defensive end Korey Gray said. “Other teams expect us to have a good squad. Everything from game play to sportsmanship.”

Last season, the Barnstormers finished 6-5 overall, including an unexpected early departure from the playoffs, losing to the eventual champion Salinas Spartans 28-12 in the first round. However, Vasseur said a revamped defense with a balanced mix of newcomers and veterans — including owner Jose Rodriguez, who came out of retirement for one final go — should re-invigorate the unit.

“I think the young guys have energized a lot of the veterans and vic versa,” Vasseur said. “There’s definitely a great energy at practice with some healthy competition at almost every single position.”

Gray, a returning All-Star, along with fellow All-Stars Dwayne Eison and co-owner Joffre Longoria, expect to anchor a potentially solid defensive front, Vasseur said.

The defensive side will also get a lift in its secondary, led by 11-year veteran Lance Goularte at strong safety and three newcomers in David Bowen, Jeff Smith and Kiel McDonald.

“We have always been a good team. We have always been competitive, but this year there are a handful of good teams in this league, so it’s going to be tough,” said Goularte, who returns for his final season after missing most of last year with an ankle injury.

“It’s a passion for football,” he said.

On the offensive side of the ball, a pair of quarterbacks could see action for the Barnstormers this season. Rookie Nick Marra out of Gilroy High and Will Kilday, who took a number of snaps in 2010 before suffering an injury, are jockeying for playing time.

The Barnstormers are stacked in the backfield — four deep at running back, in fact — with leading rusher El Ray Henry back for more. Three others, Omari Carr from San Jose City College, Jerid Ferranti from Oak Grove High School and Sean Hale from Gavilan College, add a wealth of speed. Ted Mason, Glen Stone and tight end Will Lawrence will do most of the damage on the outside for coach Steven Lo’s offense.

“It’s like a family out here,” said Lawrence, who enters his sixth year with the team. “It doesn’t matter where you are from. It’s easy to get along with each other. A lot of the people out here just love playing.

“Our defense is usually good. If our offense does what it should with the receivers and running backs that we have, we should do some damage.”

With the bitter 14-12 defeat in the 2009 championship game still fresh in some of the players’ minds, a hunger has churned inside for the Barnstormers to return to the top of the Northern California Football League.

The journey begins Saturday.

“Everything we do is done with the goal of winning a championship in mind,” Vasseur said. “Some guys will be featured some games and others will be asked to play a supporting role at times. It’s not about myself, or any particular player. It is about us dominating the opposition. As long as we all have the championship as our main goal, we will be fine.”