TURLOCK -- Before Brent Nelle was taught how to run the ball for Pitman High, he was taught how to block so others could run instead.
Same goes for Kody Brackett and Andy Mendez, prolific runners who could be offensive darlings for a program in need of a big-play runner.
"You don't get on the field unless you show you're willing to block," said Nelle, a 5-foot-8, 165-pounder. "If you can't hook a defender, you are not going to get much time."
The "hook" seals off defensive ends and inside linebackers, preventing them from pursuing a play to the sideline. Nelle and Mendez often use the hook, whether they're blocking or running, to break big plays.
"We need to be durable, so (coach) Chris Wolfley has us lifting weights and taking ice baths after our practices for muscle regeneration," said Mendez, who ran for 754 yards and eight TDs last fall. "We're all three out there, so we have to be durable."
Running has been the foundation of Pitman's success since coach Brandon Harris took over in 2006. The Pride is 44-17 in his six seasons and 64-32-1 (.665 percentage) since sending out its first team in 2003.
In Pitman's Wing-T carries are split between three backs, and its multiple fakes can cause defenses to pause.
"That demands a lot of patience in the backfield," said Kody Brackett, who lines up a few yards behind the quarterback and primarily runs between the tackles. "I've got Andy and Brent running in front of me, sometimes getting the ball, sometimes not. I can't step up too early."
Once Brackett gets the ball, however, it's all about moving forward.
"There are some games we get an idea of who is going to be running, based on the defense," said Brackett, who had 18 carries for 187 yards and a TD in last year's 35-14 playoff win over West. "That's why everyone has to block."
Nelle ran for 171 yards on just 12 carries, and his 36-yard TD in the final minute sealed a 19-7 win over Merced last year, while Mendez had 10 carries for 104 yards and two TDs in a 42-6 rout of Oakland Tech.
The three have similar builds, though Brackett's more buffed so he can endure those rugged runs that send him careening off linebackers.
Nelle comes in with the big reputation, though, after running for 1,001 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 10.1 yards a carry and the coaches voted him the CCC Offensive MVP.
But Brackett (1,207 yards, 17 TDs) that will make or break the Wing-T: It uses the threat of the dive play to keep defenses from overplaying the edges.
The trio was within a play of leading Pitman to the CCC title in 2011, falling 27-24 to Buhach Colony in a meeting between 6-0 teams. BC and Pitman are expected to be the top two this fall but in which order?
"When you lose a game like that, you always look forward to the next season so you can avenge it," said Mendez, whose club opens tonight vs. Enochs at Johansen High.
Pitman has 70 players practicing, and more than half are linemen.
"Can we each run for 1,000 yards? The linemen are going to help decide that," Nelle said. "We've still got a chip on our shoulder from the Buhach loss. Everyone I saw at our offseason workouts, they were motivated to get stronger because of it."
PREDICTIONS 1. Buhach Colony; 2. Pitman; 3. Merced; 4. Atwater; 5. Turlock; 6. Golden Valley.