The football season has ended for 24 of the 50 Stanislaus District football teams, which means they're already starting to plan for next season. At least I hope they're already doing work.
The teams still playing are obviously putting in extra time, as well, and one of the hidden benefits of earning a playoff berth is that it gives coaches additional weeks to work with young players.
We've focused a lot of our energy on league champions and playoff teams these past few weeks, but now we jump ahead to the 2013 season. So long as these teams continue to work this offseason, here are some prospects to watch:
Gregori, given its Salida enrollment base and athletic facilities, will soon become a sports mecca. It already has a handful of Modesto Metro Conference titles, and next year it should win one in football.
It will be led by two of the city's top skill players, QB Nate Phillips and RB Alex Labanon, and has plenty of talent coming from the JV program. The Jags pulled up Phillips out of necessity, but the rest of that class stayed together and formed one of the district's top JV teams.
The Jags had the talent to make the playoffs this year, but lost fourth-quarter leads the first three weeks. It's an indication that Gregori has to spend its offseason lifting weights. The priority on the field is improving a passing game that was more often than not a liability. Gregori has to upgrade a schedule that lacks a true challenge.
Hughson scored a major victory when it upset rival Hilmar last week, clinching a playoff berth for a school that has been struggling. It's going to be a fun offseason, because the Huskies return many of their stars and the majority of their linemen.
Tanner Duron is fourth in the Sac-Joaquin Section with 1,694 yards rushing, and he ran for 260 and 271 yards in consecutive weeks. QB Kyle Kerlee is expected to change positions, as most folks in town are enamored by the upcoming QB from a very talented JV squad.
Two-way star David Lopez graduates, but the rest of the top linemen are back and line play was a strength this fall. Hughson has to nurture a passing game, though, if it is to win the TVL in 2013.
Oakdale ... Oakdale? The Mustangs are going to suffer huge graduation hits, with virtually every front-line skill player leaving in June. The defensive playmakers Bastian Jimenez, Nikk Ryan among them also depart.
The Mustangs have won six straight VOL titles, so is this the end of a tremendous run of talent ... or will coach Trent Merzon reach into his JV program and just reload?
Folks who see continued success point to this: There are three sophomores and a freshman on varsity, and all have had key roles this fall.
Pacheco has a chance to overtake rival Los Banos in 2013, becoming the city's top program. The Panthers have sophomore Kalama Kamoku to run the ball for two more years, after he averaged 102 yards a game this fall, and plenty of key juniors return.
The challenge for Pacheco will be intimidation: Central Catholic still holds an aura of invincibility over the WAC schools, except for LB, and Pacheco has to conquer that mental obstacle to succeed.
Orestimba was within a game of a third consecutive playoff berth under coach Aaron Souza, and it brings back one of the district's top runners: Steve Machado has a section-high 1,929 yards.
Next season likely will be Orestimba's last in the TVL section realignment takes effect in 2014 and most of the models have Orestimba joining the Southern League but QB Tanner Pruitt is also returning after passing for 1,065 yards and 14 TDs.
Souza's mandate will be to diversify his offense, taking some heat off Machado by presenting a second option that foes will have to defend.
Turlock should be led by the CCC's top player in 2013, QB Sean Downs. He will determine their fate. Sounds like a lot of pressure on one kid, but that comes with the job when Kevin Kramer was your legendary predecessor.
Downs hit just 34 percent of his throws last year, but bumped it to 52 percent this fall. He pushed his rushing total to 824 yards, up 300 from a year ago, and 14 TDs.
Also in Turlock's favor is that most of the CCC will be rebuilding next fall, giving the Bulldogs a chance to win their first title since 2003.
Player of Year Candidates
With the regular season of football coming to a close, it's time to take a look at the 10 candidates to be named The Modesto Bee's Mr. Football. Playoff performances play a role in the selection process:
RB Anthony Brown, Ripon Christian
RB Nathan Chunn, Escalon
RB Anthony Cota, Sierra
QB Eli Gutierrez, Merced
RB Steven Machado, Orestimba
TE John Mundt, Central Catholic
DE Nikk Ryan, Oakdale
DB Jayce Webster, Buhach Colony
QB Kyle Wengel, Ripon
QB Aaron Zwahlen, Downey