When the Sobrato High football team started the season 0-5—one loss that was later overturned due to a team using an ineligible player—things could’ve easily gone downhill from there. Instead, the opposite happened. After a four-point loss to Andrew Hill on Sept. 29, the Bulldogs have rolled off four consecutive victories entering their season-finale against James Lick on Saturday.
Several players have been difference-makers for Sobrato, including juniors Jesse Redmond and Brian Zarate. Both players are running backs, with Redmond playing safety on defense and Zarate at linebacker. Safe to say, Redmond and Zarate have made a huge impact on both sides of the ball. Redmond has been downright fantastic at running back, as he rushed for a career-high 136 yards on 14 rushes—a 9.7-yards per carry average—in a 39-0 win over San Jose High on Oct. 12.
Redmond also went off in victories over Yerba Buena and Mount Pleasant, totaling 102 yards on 17 carries against Yerba Buena and 97 yards on 13 carries against Mount Pleasant. Even though the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Redmond possesses athleticism, physicality and the ability to read the play, he credited his offensive line for paving the way for him to gain yards.
The offensive line includes Orion Woods, Jacob Zamora, Riley Hedden, Raul Perez, Justin Ray and Caleb Cueba, who is out with a season-ending injury but played well until he got hurt.
“I owe a lot to my line,” Redmond said. “They’ve given me an opportunity and I can’t say enough about them. They’ll give me a hole, and I try to go full speed in it. If I see someone coming at me, I’ll lower my shoulder. If I see someone coming at me at a certain angle, I’ll make a cut or do a shifty move.”
Redmond and Zarate have a unique synergy. When Redmond needs a breather, Bulldogs coach Tony Holmes puts Zarate in at running back. Interestingly enough, it was Zarate and another player who received the bulk of the carries on last year’s junior varsity team. However, Redmond has come on strong this season, blossoming into a game-changer.
Zarate has been terrific as well, developing into a tackling machine from his linebacker position. The 5-8, 175-pound Zarate has a strong ability to fend off opposing linemen, a trait he built over the years.
“I think I’m really good at shedding blocks because I used to play defensive end on the junior varsity, and that’s all you do,” he said. “As a linebacker, you need to be fast and react quickly to the ball, whether it’s a run or pass play. I try to be good at covering and reacting to the ball.”
Zarate has also gained increased reps at running back recently, much to his enjoyment. Even though Zarate loves nothing more than to make a textbook tackle and deliver a big hit, he gets downright giddy after busting off a nice gain running the ball. In a 14-8 win over Evergreen Valley on Oct. 19, Zarate scored his first touchdown of his varsity career, a key play in a ultra-competitive affair.
Redmond is the classic late bloomer. As a freshman, Redmond didn’t see game action at cornerback until midway through the season. Perhaps that wasn’t a huge surprise, considering it was Redmond’s first year of playing football. Redmond caught on fast, as he started playing a more prominent role on the JV team as a sophomore.
Holmes can’t wait for the two juniors to develop even further and lead the team next season, noting their best days are ahead of them. Redmond and Zarate both showed leadership and grit in helping lead Sobrato back from the brink.
“I feel like we got tired of losing and just started practicing harder than we used to,” Zarate said. “Maybe we thought we were already going to win, but it takes actual thought and work to be on the winning streak we’re on now.”
Said Redmond: “We’ve overcome a lot at the start of the season. Our offensive line and a lot of our players were really inexperienced, so they needed game action to grow and they’ve been huge for us. Our coaches really helped us to overcome and stay the course.”
Zarate has suffered injuries every season, but fortunately, none of them have been long term season-ending ones. Zarate suffered a Grade 2 concussion in his freshman season, which sidelined him for two games.
“You get injured in football, but you have to face it and get stronger from them,” he said.
When it comes to playing defense, Redmond knows how to make plays. He had two interceptions through the first two games of the season, and playing safety keeps him focused. Redmond looked up to former NFL All-Pro Brian Dawkins, who was known to for his ability to hit people and make plays on the ball.
Redmond had plenty of opportunities to develop athletically at a young age, as he was the youngest of five boys. His competitiveness was developed at an early age, especially when it came to meal time at the holidays.
“When it came to Christmas or Thanksgiving, it was survival of the fittest,” he said. “When it came to eating food, it was first come, first serve.”
Zarate has two younger brothers, so his role as the oldest brother carries a lot of weight. Zarate’s two younger brothers are 10 and 4, respectively, so they look up to him—literally.
“One of the best things in life is seeing your siblings grow up from the very beginning,” he said. “To see how they change and grow over the years is something amazing.”
A win on Saturday to close out the season would stamp Sobrato as the odds-on favorite to win the West Valley Division championship next season. The Bulldogs will lose only four starters off this year’s team and return several prominent starters, along with the influx of talented newcomers off a junior varsity team that went 8-2 overall and 7-0 in league to win the title.
Redmond and Zarate, of course, should play prominent roles once again. Both are dynamic talents, and reasons why Holmes feels great about the team’s chances next season.
“Jesse showed a lot of maturity and commitment to what we did in the off-season, and that is why he ended up being our front runner and workhorse running back,” Holmes said. “Jesse and Brian are phenomenal athletes. Every time we’re in a red-zone situation, they help us score and can be relied upon. Brian is elusive, strong, powerful, and has all of those things you want in a running back. Jesse has speed, power and at the same is hard to tackle. He forces teams to gang tackle him and is always looking to get the extra 2, 3, 4 yards after first contact.”