Turmoil became a constant companion for Judge Memorial last season, though much of that was not the Bulldogs' fault.
When the structural integrity of the school's newly installed artificial turf football field became compromised, Judge quickly became nomads without a permanent home. The Bulldogs were forced to relocate to Juan Diego and play their home games at the stadium of their biggest rival.
Needless to say, the turf-related drama made things tough on Friday nights. Judge slumped to a .500 record and made a quick exit from the 3A playoffs just a year removed from making a run to the championship game.
The issue that plagued the Bulldogs last season has been resolved — for now. Judge's artificial turf field remains in a state of disrepair. But the Bulldogs brokered an 11th hour deal with Granite school district over the summer to play all of its home games at the now closed Granite High School.
Getting use of that football field is a big relief for the team and equals one less distraction.
"We know that field," Judge coach James Cordova said. "We've experienced that field. We love that field. We appreciate the opportunity to use that field. Most of all, it gives us a place to call home."
Now that they have a new home, the Bulldogs hope their mostly new team can break in their new digs in style.
Judge returns just three starters from last season. It created a situation where several positions were thrown open during the summer. Doing so stepped up the level of practices, Cordova said. Given a chance to earn a starting job versus gunning for second string has motivated several younger players to push themselves harder.
It has the Bulldogs feeling confident about where their youth movement will take them.
"We started out thinking it was a rebuilding year, but now we've seen what we have in camp," junior lineman Ben Cook said. "We've seen what we can do. We're started to get excited. We really think we're going to be able to accomplish something this year."
One place where Judge hopes to really accomplish something is in its backfield. The Bulldogs will get a boost from the return of senior halfback Christian Barbiero. A torn left shoulder labrum took Barbiero out of action most of his junior season. He suffered the injury in a car accident on his way home from practice during the third week of the season.
Barbiero opted to forego surgery and undertook a lengthy rehabilitation process instead. He helped get himself back up to speed by competing with the track team in the spring. The highlight of Barbiero's sprinting activities came when he posted a time of 11.08 seconds in the 100 meters at the Region 10 meet.
The senior has noticed a big difference in how he is running now with all that track experience to draw on.
"It gets your stamina more built up definitely," Barbiero said. "It gets your running technique down — with your arms and picking up your legs and keeping your head still when you are running. Then it also just makes you quicker and faster, because you learn how to go out of blocks."
Barbiero won't carry the full load in the offense though. Cordova expects to utilize several backs, including new junior quarterback Daniel Shiramizu, to take their turn at advancing Judge on the ground. The more weapons he can develop in the team's rushing attack, the better he figures they will be as the season unfolds.
"That's kind of the way we do it," Cordova said. "If we share the ride, everybody gets a turn. It's an unselfish way to play football and it makes for good football."
Judge Memorial Bulldogs at a glance:
Coach: James Cordova enters his 7th season coaching at his alma mater and has posted an overall record of 36-33 during that time.
Key Players: Judge should benefit from having Christian Barbiero fully healthy and ready to share the load in the backfield. The senior looked impressive as a sprinter for the track team in the spring. Ben Cook and Blake Fery should anchor both lines well. The Bulldogs are breaking in a new quarterback in Daniel Shiramizu. The junior put together an impressive showing at the Ute Shoot camp this summer.
Strengths: Judge has some nice depth in the backfield, a development that is always good for a team that is as run-oriented as the Bulldogs are. With a lot of open spots at nearly every position, the Bulldogs have experienced increased competition over the summer for those spots. Coaches are hopeful that will improve both the team's depth and level of play for the starters.
Weaknesses: The Bulldogs are breaking in a bunch of new starters on defense. They lost all three starting linebackers from a year ago and return only Paul Clark and Barbiero in the secondary. Fielding such a green defensive unit could make life tough on Judge if it's offense can't control the ball well enough to keep the defense off the field for long stretches.
Predicted Region 11 finish: Third
Postseason Possibilities: Even with so many green players stepping into bigger roles, Judge has the potential to make some strides from last season. The schedule is tough, but the Bulldogs have only one tough road game in region play. If they can take care of business at home, an upper half region finish and a playoff victory or two seems within reach.
Aug. 21 – at Tooele, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 – OGDEN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 – HIGHLAND, (ID), 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 – WASATCH, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 – JUAN DIEGO, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 – at Ben Lomond, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 – at Logan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 – GRANTSVILLE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 – at Morgan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 – BEAR RIVER, 7 p.m.