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Ceres High kicks off new year
Martino Bertolotti understands why many forecasters picked the Ceres High varsity football team to finish toward the bottom of the Valley Oak League standings in 2007.

"People have low expectations for us because a lot of our seniors graduated," said Bertolotti, a junior receiver/defensive back. "I think we're going to do well."

The Bulldogs have many key spots to fill as they graduated 33 seniors from last season's fifth-place squad (3-4), including nine all-league selections.

Ceres High returns 10 players: QB/LB Zack Atchison (Sr. 5-9, 185), OL/DL Thomas Vanderlaan (Sr. 6-6, 235), RB/DB Devin Eudy (Sr. 5-9, 140), RB/DB Mayiank Kumar (Sr. 5-11, 170), RB/LB Matt Smith (Sr. 6-0, 187), WR/DB Anthony Melo (Sr. 5-7, 142), WR/DB Grant Tompkins (Sr. 5-11, 160), WR/DB Aaron Salazar (Sr. 5-7, 130), TE/LB Michael Staggs (Sr. 6-0, 185) and OL/DL Miles Valor (Sr. 6-0, 215).

Among the newcomers expected to contribute immediately are Bertolotti (Jr. 5-8, 141), WR/DB Brandon Avila (Jr. 6-2, 170), RB/DB Marcus Hilgen (Jr. 5-7, 152), RB/DB Rajdeep Singh (Jr. 5-8, 145), LB/FB Hadon Lopez (Fr. 5-8, 165), OL/DL Albert Melendez (Jr. 6-0, 260), OL/DL Justin Hidahl (Jr. 6-2, 200) and OL/DL Danny Martinez (Jr. 5-7, 230).

"We're young but that really doesn't mean anything," Atchison said. "We're just going to work hard and see what happens. I think we got a lot of talent."

The most important replacement for the Bulldogs' wing-T offense this year will be at quarterback where Zack takes over for two-year starter Ross Tate.

Atchison took just 20 snaps as a backup last season. He totaled three touchdowns and 324 yards of offense, including 209 passing and 115 rushing.

Zack made his varsity debut in a 21-12 home loss to Calaveras. He completed 4 of 13 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in relief of Tate, who sustained a mild concussion when he banged the back of his head on the ground while being tackled in the first quarter.

Atchison tallied 32 tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery last year in place of injured teammate Brent Avila.

Eudy earned honorable-mention honors as a junior. He had 31 tackles and one interception.

Line coach A.J. Ball implemented a new strength and conditioning program during the offseason. The Bulldogs averaged 30 participants each day. Every player completed required lifting and exercises. That, combined with a full summer of 7-on-7 passing league contests and a recent overnight retreat to Livingston, has brought this year's group closer together.

"I can already see improvement in our team," Atchison said. "We're bigger. We're stronger. It's going to help us a lot."

Ceres High's football program begins a new era Thursday night at Johansen High School. The Bulldogs open the year against Grace Davis Spartans with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.

"I'm excited," Atchison said. "It's going to be fun. We'll be prepared. We'll be able to hang with them."

"If people want to call us underdogs that's going to drive us to do more," added two-way starter Matt Smith. "We just got to get that fire into us every play."