By Eric Butler
MELROSE — Melrose hasn’t been in the six-man football postseason round since losing to Ramah in the 2000 semifinals.
Given the fact that two teams from each district move into the playoffs, the Buffaloes have good reason to expect they’ll be one of them this year — especially when taking into account the size of District 3.
“There’s just three — us, Corona-Vaughn and Floyd and us. We just need to beat one of them,” said Harvey Park, one of five seniors for the Buffaloes, who adds that Melrose isn’t thinking of just advancing into the playoff round. “I think we’ll do pretty good, we’ve got a good chance if we just work hard.”
The schools of Vaughn and Corona last year combined to form “The Wings,” as will be the case this year. The Wings, formed as a result of diminished player numbers at both schools, will likely struggle again in 2003.
Meanwhile, Tatum — the preseason favorite to win the 6-man championship — moves out of Melrose’s district into District 4.
And that’s not all.
The Buffaloes lost only two players — Luis Ruiz and Jorde Pettigrew — and have been supplemented with some unexpected additions.
Both quarterback Brock Graham and Carlos Ruiz started as freshmen at, respectively, quarterback and running back.
“That really helped. You could just see the difference in two-a-days — just their attitude,” Melrose coach Dickie Roybal said. “They seem a lot more relaxed and they’re making better choices. Last year, they were intimidated and made freshmen mistakes.”
“We haven’t played anybody to figure out where our weak spots are. We look pretty good though in practice and everything,” said Graham before Melrose scrimmaged Clovis Christian on Friday.
Besides the returning corps of the 2002 team, the Buffaloes also received some extra help when House transfers Tyler Tatum and Jason Runyan enrolled at Melrose. Plus, three seniors already at the school — Nick Swopes, Stefan Wagley and Tarron Whitehead — decided to go out for football their last year, which will bolster the Buffaloes’ reserves.
“I don’t know why they didn’t want to play last year, but, all three of them, we’re going to use them,” Roybal said.
While the Melrose coach has confidence in his offensive backfield’s quickness, Roybal also believes the defense will be improved.
“We’ve got good-sized kids and they’re hitting better than they have the last couple of years,” Roybal added. “Luis Ruiz played at defensive end and Jorde played some — but he was hurt most of the year. So these kids have got a lot more experience on defense than offense.”