DENAIR -- One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Nine, if you count the kid sprinting onto the field, his helmet bouncing atop his pads as if it were attached by a spring.
Rich Goodwin counted the number of purple and white jerseys all nine of 'em and then chirped into his whistle.
"Stop, stop, stop," the Denair High football coach bellowed from beneath his sun hat, plotting out the new line of scrimmage with 15 long strides.
Goodwin penalized his defense for not having enough players on the field.
Oh, the irony.
Denair barely had enough players to field a varsity team Friday against Riverbank, ranking it among the smallest of the Stanislaus District's 50 teams.
Denair began its season with 15 available players and 16 on the official roster. By the end of the third quarter against Riverbank a team with twice as many players and well on its way to a 45-0 victory Goodwin was left wondering how much further his Iron Man bunch could bend.
With 12 minutes to go, he had just 12 able bodies. Wide receivers were forced to play on the line, and the quarterback doubled as a defensive back.
"The first thing that goes through your head is safety concern for all the players," Goodwin said. "Now they're put in harm's way and out of position.
I was proud they stuck in there and fought to the very end."
There is hope on the horizon. Goodwin was surprised to learn this week that seven JV players had volunteered to move up a level, restoring balance to his program on the eve of its home opener against Hughson this Friday evening: 23 on varsity, 20 more on JV.
"You don't always know what to expect from younger kids," Goodwin said. "It shows character that you try to develop later in life, and they're already developing it at a young age."
This type of sharing is common among the Coyotes.
For starters, the two levels share the varsity fieldhouse, a sweat box adjacent to the visitor bleachers. No sense in staging them in two areas, Goodwin says, not when all 40 players fit comfortably under one roof.
They also share the practice field, mixing and matching their offenses and defenses. Every play is a teaching moment, and the tempo is ruled by Goodwin's whistle.
Practices are, as you can imagine, stop and go.
"It's definitely a rebuilding (phase)," Goodwin said. "We're teaching and trying to get the program on an upswing. It's all about getting the kids excited."
There's a draw to all this commingling. Although talented, Denair's JV a mixture of freshmen and sophomores can't give its varsity what it needs most.
"We don't get enough speed," quarterback Conor Sosa said. "When we do plays against each other, it's really the JV that gets the better of it. They're the ones going against bigger, stronger players."
The district's ultimate Iron Man squad is led by its ultimate journeyman coach.
This is Goodwin's third tour at Denair in a 39-year career that has spanned the district. He began as an assistant to Ron Cornell in 1972 and, as head coach from 1985-93, celebrated four Southern League titles.
When the head position recently became available, the retired math and computer teacher jumped at the chance. He wants to finish his coaching career at Denair, an opportunity the administration is willing to give him.
"I had seen him do it before in the late '80s, when I played here," athletic director Darrin Allen said. "At that time, I don't think we won a game my senior year. He took over the next year and slowly built the program up to winning championships.
"He had proven himself in the past, and I thought he was the right guy with the numbers we had coming out."
Goodwin's first objective is to change the culture on campus. There simply isn't enough interest in a program that has won just eight Southern League championships in its 99-year history.
"I want to go for another 11 years. I want to get 50 years in. This is a great place. I've run the gamut of schools," said Goodwin, who isn't kidding. He's had stops at Patterson, Corcoran, Ceres, Modesto, Modesto Christian, Downey, Enochs and Modesto Junior College. "I've been at a lot of fun places, but I always come back here."
The players appreciate Goodwin's structure and passion for the game. No one in the Coyotes' fieldhouse feels sorry for himself. The team embraces its reality: Denair may be the underdog in every game it plays this season outmanned and overmatched but it won't keep the Coyotes from competing.
"Play hard. Score points. Win games," Sosa said, defining his mission as a senior leader. "We just have to be tough."
James Burns is the regional sports content editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
16: The number of players on the Denair varsity football team's roster to start the season. However, it began Friday's loss to Riverbank with just 15 active players after one was injured.
13: The number of players Galt High was reduced to Friday after a rash of injuries during an opening-week loss and then at practice. Ultimately, out of fear for its players' safety, Galt forfeited its home opener.
12: Denair played the final quarter of Friday's loss to Riverbank with just 12 players after enduring its own injuries.
11: Teams must have at least 11 players to field a varsity football team, according to the National Federation of High Schools.
7: The number of Denair junior varsity players who volunteered this week to move up, giving the varsity much-needed depth. Players are allowed to move up and down during the nonconference portion of the schedule, according to the Sac-Joaquin Section. Once league play begins, though, players are allowed only to move up.