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Central Valley program making strides under second-year leaders guidance
Hawk players remain dedicated in offseason
Hawk star running back JaQuan Gardner hauls in a touchdown pass from Kendel Johnson versus the crosstown-rival Bulldogs at the Modesto JC passing tournament. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Central Valley High School's varsity football team fell one victory shy of accomplishing a first last season-qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

The Hawks, 5-5 overall and fifth in the Western Athletic Conference (2-4) a year ago, started preparing for the 2013 campaign soon after.

"They haven't had much of a summer to be kids," said Jason McCloskey, second-year head coach. "I can't recall a time where we weren't working on football. They've really stepped up."

Central Valley attended the Buhach Colony High School contact camp, July 18-20, in Atwater.

The Hawks focused on fundamentals and executing old and new plays. Each session lasted five-and-a-half hours (8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.).

"There was a lot of team time," McCloskey said. "We're still installing our offense and terminology. We got after each other."

Central Valley also scrimmaged against Buhach Colony, Atwater and Livingston.

"We kept it real basic on offense, blocking, alignment and assignments, making sure we were in the right spots before the ball is snapped," McCloskey said. "Overall, we had the most explosive plays of the camp."

The Hawks tallied TDs on their first four plays against Buhach Colony.

Gardner and Bermudez both scored twice on 40-yard runs against Buhach Colony.

The Thunder captured their third consecutive Central California Conference title last year. Buhach Colony won all five of its league games, finished 10-3 overall and lost 49-22 to eventual-champion Folsom in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoffs.

"That gave us a lot of confidence," McCloskey said while talking about his team's showing against the powerful Thunder.

"Ja'Quan was by far the best running back there," McCloskey said. "He stood out. He was impressive. He (Central Valley quarterback Kendel Johnson) got our attention as coaches. We're going to go forward with him as our starter."

Johnson targeted Gardner, Bermudez, Marcus Clark, Ben Anitelea and Raul Godinez in Atwater.

Kendel, formerly of Modesto's Beyer High School, missed the first six games of 2012 season to satisfy a CIF transfer rule.

"He solidified the position as the summer went on," McCloskey said. "He made a lot of correct reads and big plays for us. If he stays healthy, he'll have a great season."

The Hawks compiled a 3-1 record on their way to a top-four finish at the 16-team Modesto Junior College 7-on-7 passing tournament on July 13.

Central Valley won four of six games en route to a third-place showing at the Stagg tournament.

The Hawks had an additional 15 7-on-7 passing contacts this summer.

The members of Central Valley's football program are permitted to stage weight training and conditioning sessions during the Sac-Joaquin Section-imposed Dead Period, which runs July 22-August 11.

"Summer has gone really fast," McCloskey said. "We hope to make bigger strides this year. We're confident. But we're not cocky. We still understand we have to produce on the field to be a good football team."

Central Valley's first preseason opponent will be Manteca, which qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs, posted a 6-5 overall record and placed third in the Valley Oak League standings (5-2) in 2012.

The Hawks and Buffaloes both expect to contend for conference titles and postseason berths this fall.

"Now, it's time to play for real," McCloskey said. "We're not listening to all the hype. We're talking about going 1-0. We have a daunting task in front of us."