Conventional thinking was that Canyons' offense would be hard for Reedley to stop, but the ferocious Tiger D rose to the occasion in three straight contests, defeating #1 ranked Fresno City College in the regular season finale, 28-21, again beating FCC in the NorCal Championship tilt, and breaking open a close game with the Cougars in the 4th quarter to wrap up the championship.
Head Coach: Michael White (14th year)
2002 Recap: Reedley's final regular season game before an overflow crowd of 10,000 in Fresno (on the exact same field where Reedley won the state small school championship 31 years earlier) gave the Tigers the confidence they needed heading into the postseason. Freshman QB Robert Johnson threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, including two Houdini acts of 50+ yards where he escaped near sacks. CB Lionell Green (North Carolina) also played big, as he blocked two field goals tries of 38 and 26 yards. Against Canyons, Johnson again played well, finishing the contest with 231 yards in the air on 15 completions in 26 attempts and helping the cause with 79 yards rushing. Making many clutch plays against COC, Johnson also threw a scoring touchdown strike and hit pay dirt twice on the ground to claim offensive MVP honors for the game.
In the championship contest, DL Donyell Booker (Fresno State) anchored a defense that held high-powered Canyons to almost 40 points under their average and for his efforts was named defensive player of the game. The Houston, Texas native recorded 14.5 sacks in 2002 and was a Reedley team captain. Booker was joined up front by DE Doug Langenfeld (Auburn) on a line that has both speed and muscle. The South Carolina native had speed in the 4.45-4.5 range and was dynamite off the edge as a pass rusher all season long. Like Booker, Green also hails from Texas and closed out his JC career with arguably the best game a defensive back played all year; tipping away a Kyle Bauer (Weber State) bomb into the hands of fellow Tiger Andre Williams for an interception, playing solidly in coverage against Cougar WR Tyrell Smith, intercepting a pass, blocking a field goal attempt and a Cougars punt while returning it for a score. Booker, Langenfeld, Green and the rest of the departing sophomores will be sorely missed, but Johnson is back with a strong supporting cast.
2003 Outlook: The Tigers have six returning starters on offense and will again employ a multiple pro-set offense. Reedley is led by Johnson, a pre-season JC Grid-Wire First-Team All-American. "Johnson is 6 foot 2, 200 pounds and has gotten much stronger in the weight room because he will be a marked man," coach White remarked. Up front, the Tigers are led by OT Erik Griffis (6-5, 305). Reedley has excellent depth at running back, as Jaymes Dixon, Jurrel Elmore, and Roger Butler return. "All three scat backs are cut out of the same mold, around 5 foot 9 and 190 pounds," White added. Elmore suffered a season-ending injury in the 8th game last year and is now 100%, while Butler is the most improved of the backs, according to White.
The ferocious Tiger D of 2002 only returns one starter in 2003. The Tigers will employ the same 3-5-3 set and have many players with game experience, as 20-25 troops saw playing time on D last year. "With our depth last season, many players who didn't start were in on 20-25 snaps a game. This year we want to be even more aggressive defensively as our first level players (1st string) are just as good as last year. Where we need improvement is with our second level players; they need to step up so we can use that aggressiveness to our advantage," White explained. The lone returning full-time starter is OLB Sylvester Brinkley (6-4, 235), who is getting lots of looks from D1 schools. Also, keep an eye on sophomore safety Dwayne Slay (6-4, 205), who is a thumper with scholarship offers from several major D1 programs.
First Game: The 2002 JC Grid-Wire national champions begin defending their title at home this Saturday against Antelope Valley College.