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Cowboys practice
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The sun shined brightly and the breeze was gentle. Parents and siblings stood and sat on lawn chairs in the shade. Coaches barked out detailed instructions. Players obliged.

Around 145 members of the Ceres Cowboys football program started preparing for the 2005 season this past week. They practiced in shirts, shorts and cleats. They completed a series of conditioning drills.

"We have a good group of kids this year," said Reg Evans, Cowboys president and JV assistant coach. "They're working hard."

The Cowboys practice Monday through Friday, from 6-8 p.m., at Mae Hensley Jr. High School.

"The first week is all conditioning," Evans said. "Each kid has to have 20 hours of conditioning prior to their first contact. The second week, we put them in helmets, continue conditioning, and teach blocking and defensive techniques. We start hitting the third week. We ease them into it with light hitting drills. We just don't go all out."

More than 160 youth, between the ages of 7 and 14, signed up for the Cowboys. The program has four teams, including varsity, junior varsity, novice and junior novice.

"We've had full rosters the last four years," Evans said.

Jim Patterson, Moe Walker, Erik Payne and Tim May fill the varsity, JV, novice and junior-novice head coaching positions, respectively.

"Our coaching staff has been together for years," Evans said. "We're like family. We always have each other's backs."

Patterson, Walker, Payne, May and their assistant coaches are keeping their players hydrated during practices. They want to prevent heat exhaustion.

"We look at that real close," Evans said.

Water breaks are taken frequently, especially when it's hot.

"Each individual squad has two 10-gallon water jugs," Evans said. "One is to drink. The other is to water down their necks and heads."

Ceres plays an 11-game schedule. The Dawg Bowl, which pits the Cowboys against the Ceres Falcons, will be held on Oct. 16.

"We had a tough schedule last year," Evans said. "This one is even tougher."

Ceres is a member of the Delta Youth Football League. The South Division features the Cowboys, Modesto Rams, Manteca Chargers, Modesto 49ers, Empire Eagles, RiverOak Redskins, Delta Rebels and Tracy Raiders. The top four teams advance to the postseason.

"I have really high expectations," Evans said. "We have a lot of talent."

The Cowboys will kickoff the 2005-06 season against the Stockton Bears at Ceres High School on Aug. 27. Varsity, JV, novice and junior novice play at 3 p.m., 1 p.m., 11 a.m. and 9 a.m. respectively. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff reporter of the Ceres (Calif.) Courier