Malakai Tuifua threw his arms in the air, signaling a touchdown for the Central Catholic Raiders.
Landon Zwahlen, donning Downeys No. 11, cocked his right arm behind his ear, striking a pose familiar to most Knights fans.
Nearby, another Landon this one Landon Winter slipped into an Oakdale jersey, his eyes following his blocks.
Isaiah Tuifua wore Escalons purple and gold, completing an ensemble of Stanislaus District power programs.
All around them the world moved at warp speed, a symphony of photo clicks, bright lights, cheers and direction pouring in from the sidelines.
Football is upon us, and The Bee looked to a set of fresh-faced youngsters to usher in sports most exciting season.
You wont find these four between the hashmarks this season. Theyre more likely to turn up in the stands or along the sidelines, toting extra balls or water bottles.
They are toddlers. Wannabe football players, swimming in oversized jerseys and playing with blocks the kind that create walls, not touchdowns.
Malakai is 5, Landon Winter and Isaiah are 3, and Zwahlen is 2.
They represent the mission for this falls football preview section, which expands upon and completes, really the theme we introduced a year ago. On the morning of the first games of the 2011 season, we debuted a football preview section not unlike the one youre holding now.
It was The Bees first such special section in a few years, so in some respects, we, as a staff, felt as if it was our recommitment to our audience. We strive to be your No. 1 source for news, especially when it comes to coverage of the king of local sports: prep football.
By all accounts, the section was a smash, from Le Grand to the Mother Lode and every spot in between. The section was honored with an award in the California Newspapers Associations Better Newspapers contest and was a regular talking point along the sidelines on Friday evenings.
Feeding off the social media boom and the unusually large number of players using Facebook, YouTube and other platforms to reach college coaches, we created a preview section that highlighted the self-made recruit.
What could you do to market yourself to coaches and schools that wouldnt otherwise scout you?
How do you grow your brand beyond the edges of the Stanislaus District map?
Ultimately, we created a guide for the football fan, a How-To manual for the up-and-coming football player, and a scouting tool for the districts coaches.
Mission accomplished, right? ... Well, not quite.
Because as we reflected on last years effort and began to dream of our next project, we realized we skipped a crucial step in the process. How can you market yourself as a bona fide talent without first developing the skills, work ethic and academic standing to warrant such attention?
For some, the game comes easy. Running, catching, tackling, hot reads and play-calling piece of cake. But for the other 99 percent of you in pads, football is a complex sport. For the other 99 percent of you, practice doesnt make perfect; practice (slowly) makes you better. You need reps. You need whistles and whiteboards. You need buckets for your sweat.
You need ... the building blocks.
Those key essentials that help form a foundation, a springboard for your talent to take flight.
So The Bees pursuit this fall is crystal-clear: Were going to give you the tools to help you become a better football player, with position-by-position tips brought to you by some of the districts top players.
In short video clips available at www.modbee.com, youll find Downey quarterback and Hawaii-commit Aaron Zwahlen dissecting his two- and three-step drop and teammate John Kreifels delivering a tutorial on his hybrid position as linebacker/safety.
Youll hear from Los Banos running back James Sams, the reigning Bee Offensive Player of the Year, and his teammate Daeton West, one of the districts most exciting return men.
There will be tips from all-world offensive lineman Aaron Cochran of Buhach Colony, a blue-chip prospect with offers from Cal, Oklahoma and Notre Dame, among others, and his contemporary at Escalon, Alan Gonzalez.
Central Catholic tight end John Mundt and Escalon wide receiver Alec Von Alvensleben will be your co-pilots in the air game.
The hope is that youll absorb these proven tips from some of our districts top talents. And then, once your abilities have bloomed and your game warrants a closer look from college scouts, you can market yourself using The Bees advice from yesteryear.
What we failed to recognize last fall was that college scholarships dont just fall out of the sky. Theyre not just a click away.
They are often built slowly and methodically one block at a time as our baby-faced gang clearly illustrated for us.
[OTHERS]James Burns is Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2324.