WATERFORD Dylan Gonzalez had just crossed the goal line without a defender, and was turning to his sideline when his knee popped.
It was the fifth week of the season, but Gonzalez's year was at an end.
"We have it on film. I can't figure how it happened. That's the hardest part," said Gonzalez, who had run for 1,439 yards and 15 TDs in 2010.
He averaged 131 yards during his first four games last season and had 52 on six runs vs. Delhi before tearing his ACL. He had surgery in December, and was in uniform when the Wildcats opened camp Aug. 8.
"It took a few weeks before I was cleared to rehab," he said. "I would go twice a week, follow up with my doctor, then I'd start doing more."
Lifting weights, running, stretching
they all became part of Gonzalez's routine as he worked to get his body in shape for his senior season.
"Your body tells you what it can do and how far you can push it," he noted. "My mom and dad would say I pushed it too hard, but I knew my limits. I have to say, I feel stronger and faster than before the surgery."
There was additional motivation for Gonzalez to get healthy.
In his absence last season, junior Branson Angle stepped in the role to produce 625 yards in five games.
"When you see your replacement put up numbers like that, it's going to push you to work harder," assistant coach Dave Johnson said. "It's great to see them push each other."
Gonzalez lines up behind the quarterback in Waterford's base set, and Angle and Angel Sosa are lined up just outside the tackles as wings.
"We've got six running backs and all of us play defense, too, so depth is going to keep us fresh," Angle said. "I'm going to be a decoy some plays, Dylan will be a decoy sometimes. The defense has to come after one of us."
Angle's has a varied career at Waterford, playing Gonzalez's position as a freshman, quarterback his second season and the wing before going behind the quarterback again.
He averaged 20 carries a game after assuming Gonzalez's role, and his 130 yards and four TDs in a win over Gustine.
Just as promising is Waterford's practice field. The Wildcats played with as few as two dozen kids in recent years, but coach Todd Sevick has 40 players working out this fall.
With 35 more kids playing JV ball, Johnson's had to order an additional dozen helmets and jerseys.
"We made the playoffs two years ago, and played well after losing Dylan, and I think the success encourages more kids to play," Angle said.
Newcomers provide depth for a team that also returns quarterback Josh Hickman (58 of 119, 784 yards, 9 TDs and 3 INTs) and offensive linemen Erik Howard, David Redding, Christian Gutierrez, Levi LaMunyon and Anthony Elizzarras. That line is averaging 6 feet, 205 pounds.
Nine starters are back on defense, but Sevick says it really should be 10 Jesus Vega, a fleet 5-foot-9 defensive back, would have started on varsity but he wasn't 15 years old.
"We'd love to leave a legacy when we graduate. That would be to win Waterford's first title," Angle said. "With our experience, why not us?"
PREDICTIONS 1. Le Grand, 2. Waterford, 3. Ripon Christian, 4. Mariposa, 5. Delhi, 6. Turlock Christian, 7. Denair, 8. Gustine.