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Former CHS teammates reunite at MJC
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More than 100 players tried out for the Modesto Junior College football team. Eleven Ceres High graduates survived the final cut, including A.J. Ball, Brandon Crawford, Brian Borges, Cruz Flores, Cruz Leon, Derrick Goblirsch, Isiah Beard, Matt Merenda, Rafael Valencia, Raul Rivera and Zack Wiedenbeck. Ceres' Drew Brown accepted an assistant coaching position with the Pirates.

“It's kind of unusual but that's the way it worked out this year,” said Modesto JC coach Sam Young. “We're pleased to have them on the staff and team.”

Added Merenda: “It's nice seeing a lot of familiar faces. You get to joke around and reminiscence.”

Said Borges: “It feels like old times.”

Goblirsch, Ball, Merenda, Flores, Valencia, Borges, Wiedenbeck, Crawford, Beard, Leon and Rivera helped rejuvenate Ceres High's football program. Goblirsch, Ball, Flores, Valencia, Borges, Wiedenbeck, Crawford, Beard and Leon garnered all-league honors for their outstanding play.

Goblirsch, Ball, Merenda, Flores, Valencia, Borges and Wiedenbeck led the Bulldogs to their first league championship in 18 years in 2004. Ceres won a share of the Modesto Metro Conference title-just its third crown since 1968-and secured a playoff berth.

Goblirsch, Ball, Merenda, Flores, Valencia, Borges, Wiedenbeck, Crawford, Beard, Leon and Rivera led Ceres High to a third-place finish in league (7-2) and into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs for the first time in school history in 2003.

“We're going to do what we can to get this program better,” Merenda said.

Crawford will be a major contributor. He'll play receiver. He'll also return punts and kickoffs.

Crawford spent last season at Merced College, where he was granted a medical redshirt after injuring his neck. Crawford earned first-team, all-league honors in high school. He rushed for 954 yards and scored a school-record 16 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 205 yards.

“He's a great talent,” Young said. “He's the fastest guy on the team. We're going to use him at positions where he can have the most success.”

Merenda, Ball, Flores, Valencia and Rivera will provide depth on offense.

Merenda plays offensive tackle.

“The biggest surprise of all the Ceres kids has been Matt,” Young said. “He's a technician. He has good feet and he has really learned how to use his hands. We really like him. We think his best football is ahead of him.”

“I'm going to be a backup for the starters until I learn everything,” Merenda said. “I need to get stronger. My pass blocking isn't the best. I need to work on that. My goal is to start one game before the end of the season.”

Flores and Valencia are receivers.

“They're going to be understudies this year,” Young said.

Flores and Valencia both had standout careers at Ceres High.

Flores earned first-team, all-league honors twice. He ranked second in the Stanislaus District and MMC in receiving during his senior year. He had 60 catches for 659 yards and three touchdowns. He was the third-best receiver in the District during his junior year. He caught 51 passes for 616 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Valencia ranked 11th in the District and fifth in the MMC in receiving during his senior year. The second-team, all-league selection had 33 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

Ball is an offensive lineman. He started at left guard for two years at Ceres High School. Ball earned first-team, all-league honors as a senior.

“He's versatile,” Young said. “He can play guard or center.”

The Pirates have two kickers. Rivera alternates with Oakdale's Shea McKee.

“He's really improved,” Young said.

“He's accurate. He's limited in terms of distance.”

Leon, Borges, Beard and Wiedenbeck will provide depth on defense.

Leon shared the Central California Conference's Outstanding Linebacker Award during his senior year at Ceres High. The middle linebacker earned first-team, all-CCC honors on defense. He made 97 tackles, had one sack and recovered a fumble.

“He's getting a lot of positive feedback from his position coach,” Young said.

Borges starred at safety at CHS. The two-time all-league selection registered 175 tackles, intercepted 10 passes and recovered two fumbles in two years.

Borges will play behind 2004 Downey High graduate Deshon Benton at Modesto JC.

“It's different,” he said. “I'm not used to sitting on the sidelines.”

Beard will play the rover position on the defensive line. He was a member of the Merced College football team last year.

“He gets to rush the passer quite a bit and drop into coverage,” Young said.

Wiedenbeck is a backup defensive end. He earned second-team, all-league honors during his senior year at Ceres High. Wiedenbeck had 51 tackles, six sacks, two safeties, one interception and one forced fumble. He also recovered a fumble for a touchdown.

With Goblirsch under center, Ceres High won 11 of 14 league games and went 13-9 overall in the span of two years. He accumulated 3,738 yards passing and 33 touchdowns.

Goblirsch won't suit up for the Pirates this season. He's gray-shirting.

“Derrick is a great prospect,” Young said. “We're going to groom him for the next two years.”

Brown coached at Modesto JC from 1997-2002. He spent last season at Merced College.

“We're happy to have him back,” Young said. “There's always room on my staff for a good person.” - By DALE BUTLER / Staff reporter of the Ceres (Calif.) Courier