Oakdale High's football program prides itself on hitting hard and making sure its foes feel it the rest of the night ... if not throughout the weekend.
Anthony Cota knows about Oakdale's reputation, having been knocked from last fall's game with a broken forearm.
"Nothing dirty there, just a hard hit," said Cota, who had run for 109 yards and a TD on nine carries in the first quarter. "His helmet hit my arm, pinning it against my knee."
The hit shattered the bones beneath his tattoo that states "Dream Big," sending Cota to the sideline for five weeks. Minus its star, Sierra lost to Oakdale, Manteca and Sonora ending its playoff hopes.
It was the third time in four years Sierra had lost an elite runner against Oakdale: Jarrod Daniels was knocked out of the games in 2008 and '09.
"Oakdale's got a reputation for being physical. They want you to know it's gonna hurt," the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder said. "I spent the offseason getting ready for this game. Squats, dead lifts and speed training. It's my last shot at Oakdale."
The impact of that work is obvious: He averages 21 carries, 179 yards and four TDs a game. He set a school record with seven touchdowns in a 52-6 rout of Davis, and threw a TD in a 48-6 win over Laguna Creek.
Making it difficult to defend Cota is the defense has no indication who the ball is going to, or where it will be headed.
Taking shotgun snaps in a spread offense, with Cota beside him, QB Guillermo Nunez reads the defense before deciding where the ball's going.
Rather than running blindly to a designated hole, Cota reads blocks and determines his direction based on opportunity. Making it difficult for opponents is that Cota can run away from big linemen and run over quick safeties.
"We spread defenses to the point where just one linebacker is in the middle, and that's when I often get it," Cota said. "If there are two linebackers, we'll let them stay there waiting for me and we'll throw."
The goal is to get Cota past lumbering defensive linemen and to the secondary, where his speed and size make it difficult for one man to get him.
"I don't want one guy bringing me down, I want to make sure they need at least a couple," said Cota, who averaged 7.7 yards a run and had 1,577 yards his first two varsity seasons. "I also don't want fumbles, but I had one last week."
Cota looked like he was going to the end zone last week when he cut cut back at the 5-yard line vs. Laguna Creek, hoping the pursuing defense would go past. He left the ball exposed, though, and it ended up on the grass for a fumble.
"Coach (Jeff Harbison) has me holding it high and tight in every drill this week," said Cota, who believes he needs a strong season to answer questions about his health. "Missing my junior year, they want to see me for a whole season. Friday's a chance to show it."
Nevada and a handful of other small colleges have contacted Cota scouts from Boise State and USC have seen him play, too but everyone's interested in how he fares against the meat of Sierra's schedule.
Cota says his commitment to watching film will provide an edge as the season goes on.
"I watch a lot at home, too. I don't want someone surprising me," he said. "I'll watch their best players to see how they play in the second half ... are they getting tired? Do the tackles get tired, or are they being rotated to stay fresh?
"Do the linebackers flow to the ball, so I can cut back on them? These are things that I want to know before I play."
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALLBACK IN ACTION
Sierra High halfback Anthony Cota missed half his junior season after breaking his right forearm in the first quarter against Oakdale, though he piled up 109 yards and a TD in just 12 minutes. From his performances the first three weeks, it's clear Cota has recovered.
Opponent Score Car Yds Avg. TD
Tracy W 32-26 18 181 6.5 2
Davis W 52-6 18 197 10.9 7
Laguna Creek W 48-6 16 159 9.9 3
Totals 132-38 63 537 8.7 12