As Monday’s practice neared the end, the Calaveras High School football team still had one thing left to do. Defensive coordinator Gil Valtierra blew his whistle and told the team to line up on the sideline.
It was time for conditioning.
For nearly 15 minutes, Valtierra had the players run from the sideline to the first hash mark, back to the sideline, then to the second hash mark, back to the sideline and then to the far sideline and back. As if the running wasn’t enough, after a while, Valtierra instructed his players to do pushups at certain points.
Even with the San Andreas weather resting at a cool 77 degrees, sweat poured from the players, and heavy breathing echoed throughout Frank Meyer Field. Finally, after Valtierra felt the time was right, he blew his whistle twice. Practice was over.
The players made a semi-circle, removed their helmets, and took a knee. As head coach Doug Clark began to talk, a player remarked loudly to his teammates, “We need to continue to work this hard every day.”
Hearing that, Clark smiled, nodded his head and agreed with his player. Calaveras’ gauntlet of tough preseason opponents continues Friday as the undefeated Ripon Indians make their way to San Andreas.
Calaveras enters Friday night’s game with a record of 1-1, but still has two more preseason games against 2018 playoff teams. With the ultimate goal being in the playoffs, losing preseason games holds more weight than it did a decade ago. The fear of dropping another preseason game doesn’t prevent Clark and his team from accepting the challenge of taking on difficult teams, like Ripon on Friday.
“I definitely care about November, but we know that we have a difficult preseason, so when we get to November, we can be better prepared,” Clark said. “Mathematically, we hope to get a couple of wins in the preseason and have a good, strong showing in league.”
In order for Calaveras to beat Ripon, it needs to slow down the Indians’ offensive attack. In three games, Ripon has outscored its opponents 149-39, which includes a 55-14 victory over Mother Lode League member Sonora. Calaveras’ defense has played well in two games, only allowing an average of 16 points, and has recorded two turnovers.
“Players have to do their jobs and not overplay,” Clark said about the expectations for his defensive unit. “We have a good enough scheme that if our players buy in this week and they do their jobs and rally to the ball, we can stop them.”
One player who has stepped up and performed well on defense is sophomore Jake Hopper. Hopper started at linebacker against Escalon and Modesto Christian and is starting to feel comfortable with his role on the varsity level.
“I got the jitters out and I’m ready to keep on moving forward,” Hopper said. “The coaches know what I can do and that’s why they brought me up and I’m willing to do what they want me to do.”
In two games, Calaveras has committed 10 penalties for 90 yards and hasn’t turned the ball over once.
“We want to stay consistent, which we’ve been able to do the first couple of weeks,” Clark said. “If we hold onto the ball and limit the penalties, for the most part, you are always going to be in the game.”
At the end of the day, a win over Ripon would do more good for Calaveras than a loss would do harm. Even with a loss, Calaveras could still finish the preseason with a 3-2 record, should it win its final two contests before league play begins on Oct. 4. And the last time Calaveras won the Mother Lode League title was in 2013 and that team finished the preseason at 3-2. However, a win over Ripon would open the eyes of the rest of the section and prove that Calaveras is a team with section dreams.
But before Calaveras players start thinking about the playoffs, league play or finishing out the preseason, they are focusing on working as hard as they did Monday afternoon and bringing the fight to Ripon on Friday.
“We just have to worry about our next game, instead of worrying about future games,” senior linebacker/tight end Zeke Martinez said. “We need to work on the things we need to fix to be ready for Friday. I think we can beat them. They are definitely a good team, but I think we have a chance.”