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Preparation Begins
The sound of crunching hits fills the air on Thursday as Ceres High's and Central Valley's football programs participate in their first full-contact practices of the 2009 season.

Both varsity teams are gearing up for what they hope will be memorable campaigns.

"We got a lot of new kids that haven't played before," Bulldogs head coach Brett Johnson said. "We want to see what they can bring to the table. There's a lot of excitement."

At Ceres High, senior quarterback Josh Edwards leads team stretches during the opening 20-plus minutes of practice. Bulldog players cycle through seven agility stations afterwards. Half-speed and full-speed tackling drills follow.

"It was fun," junior linebacker/running back Hadon Lopez said. "I've been waiting for this for a long time."

Just after 4 p.m. at Central Valley, head coach Tim Garcia relays a play to his offense. Senior running back Vince Lopez takes the handoff from junior quarterback Jesse Hatfield, follows a block and avoids being tackled.

"We looked pretty good for the first day," Lopez said. "It's a quick reminder the season's right around the corner."

Junior Tyree Jones, Lopez's replacement, carried the ball with success too.

Fifteen minutes later, Anthony Castro works with a group of defensive backs. He provides a comprehensive overview. He talked about having short memories.

"You're going to get beat," Castro said. "Get that in your heads."

Ceres High, which hasn't had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2004, is coming off a two-win season.

Central Valley compiled a program-best 5-5 overall record and finished one game ahead of the sixth-place Bulldogs in the VOL standings.

This year, the top two schools from the eight-team conference qualify for the postseason. At-large berths will be up for grabs as well thanks to the Sac-Joaquin Section's newly-implemented playoff format.

"It changes our outlook," Johnson said. "It gives us hope. We all got a shot."

Added senior receiver/defensive back Justin Canatsy: "I think we have something to prove because people don't think we're good. Our goal is to make playoffs. I definitely think that can happen. It's not going to be like last year."

Said Hawk running back/defensive back Vince Lopez: "Anything's possible. It's going to come down to hard work, execution and who wants it more."

Ceres High and Central Valley will move from the VOL to the Western Athletic Conference in 2010-11.

The Bulldogs and Hawks have posted identical records of 5-16 in conference play the past three years.

"It would be nice to make some noise this last season," Johnson said.

Ceres High will scrimmage against Johansen and Patterson at Bulldog Stadium on Sept. 3.

Central Valley will face host Ripon on Sept. 5.

The Bulldogs and Hawks will battle during the final week of the VOL season.

Central Valley won the 2008 showdown, 40-7.

"We want to beat them because we got embarrassed last year," Canatsy said.