The 2013 fall high school sports season got underway last week with tryouts and practices.
At Central Valley High School on Wednesday, varsity, junior-varsity and freshman football players practiced in full pads.
"Work hard," said Jason McCloskey, second-year head coach of the Hawks' varsity squad. "I know you're tired. Now is the time to be focused."
Minutes later, Central Valley players were given a brief break.
Senior Milton Uti cooled off his face after taking a drink of water from a 20-gallon powered hydration station. Hawk teammates followed suit.
"It's almost empty," said McCloskey, who had to refill the unit less than one hour into practice. "They're working hard."
The Hawks nearly made history during McCloskey's first year at the helm. Central Valley, which posted a 5-5 overall record and placed fifth in the Western Athletic Conference standings at 2-4 last season, dropped out of playoff contention thanks to a 1-4 finish.
"The WAC is one of the most competitive leagues," junior all-purpose player Angelo Bermudez said. "We'll be right up there with the top teams. We got a lot of experience."
On Thursday at Ceres High School, the members of the Bulldogs' varsity, JV and frosh football squads cycled through individual and team drills.
Ceres High's varsity squad, 2-8 a season ago and last in the WAC (0-6), begins a new era with junior quarterback Brad Bussard being the centerpiece of change.
Bussard will target receivers Dylan Canatsy (Sr.) and Juan Anderson (Jr.).
Sophomore running back/linebacker Tyree Williams will also play a major role at the varsity level.
The Bulldogs' offensive line has four new starters, excluding senior center Pietro Puducay.
Bussard, Anderson and Williams teamed up at the JV level (4-6, 2-4) in 2012.
"We're going to be better than last year," Bussard said. "They (defenses) just can't focus on one player."
Kelly Heese, Central Valley's new head coach for volleyball, held tryouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Cuts were made on Friday.
The Hawks have never had a winning record or made the playoffs.
Central Valley tied for last place in the WAC standings (2-10) with crosstown-rival Ceres High this past season.
"Intensity is something I'm looking for," Heese said.
Outside the Hawks' gymnasium, sisters Ali and Claudia Martinez, and Deja and Jadah Jackson were among the 12-plus players breaking a sweat on the tennis courts.
Crosstown-rival Ceres High eliminated Central Valley from playoff contention and secured the WAC's final berth with a 6-3 victory last fall. The Bulldogs (7-5) and Hawks (6-6) placed third and fourth, respectively, in conference play.
Central Valley collected just two victories in 2011.
Across campus near the varsity baseball diamond, Central Valley boys soccer players toiled in the heat under head coach Omar Leon's watch.
The Hawks have a standard of success to uphold.
Central Valley will be vying for its sixth straight league title-fourth in the WAC-and seventh consecutive playoff berth.
The Hawks set a program record for wins in a season last year with 24.
Veterans Ozzie Ramos (Sr.), Anthony Calvo (Sr.) and Omar Orozco (Sr.) will play pivotal roles as Central Valley tries to accomplish a first in 2013. The Hawks had to settle for runner-up honors at the Sac-Joaquin Section finals in 2012, 2010 and 2009.
"We've been working hard with that in mind," Leon said. "Hopefully, it happens."
Ceres High will field football, volleyball, water polo, cross country, boys soccer, girls golf and girls tennis teams during the fall sports season.
Central Valley will compete in six sports, excluding water polo.