MODESTO — The metal door swings open, transporting you into this land of giants.
Inside these tight quarters a cinder-block building adjacent to the baseball diamonds sound sets the mood.
You're greeted by the rhythm and beat of hip-hop music and the intermittent clash of 45-pound plates.
There, among the welded, floor-to- ceiling iron apparatuses, racks and padded floors, are Central Catholic football's biggest and strongest.
These are an eclectic group of offensive linemen who have found brotherhood and unparalleled success on the front lines of the football field.
David Henriques, an undersized guard wearing a Batman T-shirt, throws a plate over his head, exhibiting strength that belies his size.
Two more players bounce a medicine ball off the room's exterior wall.
Matt Palazzo presides over the bench press the room's ultimate proving ground spotting a teammate as he grinds out reps.
Each one moves Central Catholic closer to its final stop: Carson's Home Depot Center, the site of this weekend's California Interscholastic Federation state championship games.
The Raiders take this show on the road today, pointing their caravan south for Friday's Division 4 finale against Santa Fe Christian.
Central Catholic (13-2) will represent Northern California by virtue of its 42-12 victory over McClymonds of Oakland last week.
The Raiders, the most decorated football program in Sac-Joaquin Section history, have enjoyed a historical season by even their standards.
Central has won 11 straight games, including a record 16th section title and the inaugural Division 4 regional championship.
All that's missing is the cherry its first state championship.
"This might be a once-in-a- lifetime experience," Henriques said. "For some of us, something like this may never happen again. This is our chance to leave a legacy at this school."
Oh, if he only knew.
Fans will talk for years to come about this bunch, what it accomplished and how it accomplished it, win or lose Friday.
And inevitably, the stories will trace their way back through that metal door. Inside the weight room. To the land of giants.
If you were to peel back the layers of this Central Catholic football team, you'd find that it was powered by five friends with larger-than-life personalities matched perfectly with their larger-than-life teenage frames.
"Offensively, we look like a machine because we've blocked every defense known to mankind," Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa bellowed during Tuesday's practice.
He's right, you know.
The Raiders feature two 1,000-yard running backs in Ray Lomas and Rey Vega, the 14th-best rush attack in California, a Division I college tight end in Johnny Mundt, a nationally ranked kicker in Kenny Smart and an offense that is burning up scoreboards.
In five playoff games, the Raiders have dominated the opposition, winning by an average score of 46-15.
Lost in all that glitz and glamour, though, has been the play of Central Catholic's offensive line. They don't mind.
"We do the small things that help them make the big plays," senior right tackle Spencer Stark said.
Added Palazzo, the left tackle: "We can't wait to push that defensive line back and open up some holes for our running backs. We got two of the best."
The five linemen have been just as good.
Palazzo (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) is Central's resident funny man. He is the balance to Canepa's often crude practice personality. While the rest of the blockers slipped into their pads Tuesday, Palazzo held court, rattling off his order for their Tuesday night dinner at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse with quarterback Garrett Ardis, who has picked up the weekly bill during the playoffs.
"A couple of appetizers. Three or four pizzas. Maybe wash it down with a hamburger," Palazzo said, playing to the crowd. "With all the fixings."
Sophomore center Chandler Bengston (6-2, 220) is the new kid on the block, taking the title from junior Ivan Swalve (6-2, 205). Like Bengston, Swalve cut his teeth at the varsity level as a sophomore.
Stark is the biggest of the bunch at 6-2 and 305 pounds. He is well-spoken and serious about his craft, squeezing the potential out of each moment. Each lift is with purpose. Each drill is precise.
His world was turned upside down Nov. 30 when his father, John, died suddenly after shoulder surgery. His line mates were among the first to console him, reinforcing the bonds.
"It meant a lot," said Stark, who played the next day in Central Catholic's 52-10 victory over Escalon. "I was in the hospital and I wasn't sure I was ready to see anybody. But (the hospital) told me there was a group of guys on their way."
Henriques gets lost in all this humanity. Built like a brick at 5-9 and 210 pounds, he's easily the smallest of Central's linemen. However, the littlest giant has perhaps the best handle on the big picture.
Standing out front of the weight room, he watched as Central's linemen filed through the metal door, disappearing into the thick of an iron jungle where they lift for 35 or 40 minutes before practice each day.
"We don't always get to see each other on campus or after football, but when you come in here, it's like coming back home to family," Henriques said. "We all care about each other. These are my brothers."
And this is their legacy.
James Burns is the 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.