Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

First-year Bret Harte football coach Jon Brynes is trying to build a program.

Brynes, 43, committed a lot of his time this spring and summer to establish a team for all three levels: freshmen, junior varsity and varsity.

"I did a lot of work behind the scenes," Brynes said. "Letters home and recruiting - the legal stuff that I can to recruit. I was committed to three teams. We've got four coaches that are dedicated to the freshmen program. Three on the JV program. The numbers are low just because we need to gain more interest."

For Brynes, a 1988 Bret Harte graduate, fielding three high school teams is imperative to a program's long-term success. Brynes said the experience players gain from games played at the lower levels will pay dividends once they reach varsity.

"If you can field three teams, I think it's a huge benefit," he said. "Those freshmen players are going to gain 10 games of experience. If you don't have a freshmen program, all those freshmen that are playing up at the JV level, they probably won't have any playing experience by the time they're sophomores. So it's a recurring cycle of inexperience coming through your system. If you have a freshmen team with a 10-game schedule, like we do, it really, really helps."

But Brynes isn't only investing his time at his alma mater. He has reached out to the pop warner programs as well. He knows it will take a combined effort from everyone in the community to return Bret Harte to the level of athletic success that he experienced when he was suiting up as a Bullfrog.

As a quarterback, receiver and defensive back for the Bullfrogs, Brynes played in two section championship games in 1986 and 1987. The team lost both games to Himar, 35-17 and 28-14.

"It takes community commitment," Byrnes said. "We have always had excellent coaching and committed players. We need community commitment and this is not a negative word, but indoctrination. It has to start when they're little and get people interested in football and see the positive aspects that football can do for a human being, and do it in a healthy way. So, by the time they're seniors, they're three or four year players."

The Bullfrogs only have a few four-year players this year: receiver Jake Bailey, running back Peter Conrado, linemen Mack McManus and Jared Taylor. With that kind of experience, it's not surprising that all four were named team captains by Brynes.

"Those guys are providing great leadership for this group," Brynes said. "These guys are a bunch of really good guys. They take care of each other. And they're fun to work with."

Brynes is simplifying Bret Harte's playbook this season. The offensive and defensive concepts and schemes will resemble previous years, but will include some minor tweaks geared towards a player's strengths.

"The scheme is similar, but it's watered down" Brynes said. "I believe in not confusing players; a confused player is a useless player. The kids like it more because it's less confusing. To coaches, this stuff is not confusing at all, but when you're trying to relay that back to a 15, 16 or 17-year old kid, things get confusing for them. Football's football. It doesn't have to be hard."

For new quarterback and signal caller Tyler Hagaman, 16, the new playbook suits him just fine. He likes the approach that Brynes is taking on offense as a first-year head football coach.

"He keeps everything easy and simple for us," said Hagaman, a junior. "It makes it easier on most of the players here. Last year, our offense was more of a college and complex kind of offense. It's nicer having this simpler offense."