Kevin Swartwood, a freshman at Grace Davis High in 1974, thought Bruce Parker was bigger than life.
Parker was the Spartans' strapping quarterback, an eventual star at the University of the Pacific. He also was the quarterback of the South All-Stars, who soon would kick off the inaugural Lions All-Star Football Game that summer.
"He (Parker) was like a god to me," Swartwood remembered. "It dawned on me, 'I wanna go see that game.' "
Swartwood did, and he thinks he's missed only one or two over the years. Only now, he's the head coach of the South All-Stars as the game celebrates its 40th anniversary Saturday night at 7 o'clock at Modesto Junior College Stadium.
Which means that one of the greatest fans of this hot-weather classic has cycled from the bleachers to the sidelines. This time, he's no casual fan, and the veteran coach of the Buhach Colony Thunder wants to do something about the North's recent dominance.
How dominant? Try 24-14-1 with wins in nine of the last 10 games. The only interruption was the South's 19-3 victory in 2009. Swartwood has not skirted the issue during camp this week at Cal State Stanislaus.
"It's very important for the South," Swartwood said. "Nine losses out of the last 10? That's ridiculous. It's time to step up for ourselves."
The game, on paper, is a matchup of fly offenses. Both Swartwood and North coach Jason Weatherby of Calaveras deploy them. But what happens on game night remains uncertain.
That's because South quarterback Aaron Zwahlen, he of the 3,825 passing yards and 49 touchdowns last fall for Downey, is more comfortable flinging the ball from the shotgun formation. In the fly, quarterbacks take a direct snap from center and react quickly.
"It (the fly) is pretty simple to pick up, and once you pick it up, it's good," Zwahlen said. "There are a lot of passing concepts in there."
The South has been taught a condensed version of the fly, because there's not enough time for an all-star team to learn the entire playbook. It certainly works for Buhach Colony. The Thunder has rolled along at 34-4 the last three seasons.
"We're running only pieces of it. Aaron hasn't had a problem with it," Swartwood said. "We have a good quarterback and we'll let him throw a little bit. You'll probably see more shotgun than the Buhach Colony teams."
Swartwood served as offensive coordinator under coach Mark Speckman, one of the fly's first devotees, during the Merced High Bears' great run in the late 1980s and early '90s. Weatherby, who succeeded Roger Canepa at Calaveras, picked up the fly during camps run by Speckman and Swartwood.
"It's the fly versus the fly," Weatherby said. "All the things I learned about the fly offense, I learned from Mark Speckman."
Weatherby, like his counterpart, always has enjoyed the Lions game. He played in it, in fact, as a fullback-linebacker during the North's victory in 1983. Today, he coaches at Calaveras, his alma mater.
Coaches, players and fans will gather to continue a tradition begun long ago, when Swartwood was still a teenager. Back then, Lions club members such as Mike Gascon of Hughson, Will Keener of Turlock, Howard Abrams of Stockton and George Fields of Ripon among others hatched the idea of a summer all-star game.
The idea has stood the test of time.
NOTES South running back Rey Vega (Central Catholic) and quarterback Chris Corpus (Los Banos) did not attend practice this week and will not play. "We'll go with 28," Swartwood said. In the North camp, lineman Daniel Lyle (Argonaut) aggravated a knee injury. If he's not ready, he'll be replaced by Calaveras' Noah Shelgren. ...
The facilities appear to be a wash. Stagg High's synthetic turf is first-rate, but the North team sometimes has walked from the Pacific dorms to get there. The South all-stars never leave the Cal State Stanislaus campus, but they practice on unmowed grass. "It (MJC) will feel like a speedway," Swartwood said. ...
The coaches have agreed that linebackers will be allowed to blitz if they're positioned on the line or if they're inside their 10-yard line.
Bradley Adamson, WR/S, Merced; Hondo Arpoika, C/DL, Oakdale; Miko Arpoika, RB/DL, Oakdale; Jacob Bringhurst, WR/DB, Beyer; Diego Camorlinga, OG/DL, Pitman; Steve Brent, OL/DL, Merced; Victor Garcia, OL/DL, Atwater; Justin Gilbert, OG/DL, Enochs; Stefon Gold, RB/ILB, Buhach Colony; Efrem Grimes, RB/ILB, Enochs; Da'Shawn Holcombe, WR/DB, Turlock; Austin Holt, TE/DE, Downey;
Bastian Jimenez, RB/DB, Oakdale; David Keys, WR/DB, Merced; John Kreifels, WR/DB, Downey; David Lopez, OT/DL, Hughson; Richard Lopez, WR/DB, Downey; Delvonte Martin, WR/C, Los Banos; Cory Maxwell, TE/OLB, Atwater; Justin Maxwell, OT/DL, Atwater; Maury Moore, WR/S, Beyer;
Joel Openshaw, OT/DE, Hughson; Matt Parker, TE/ILB, Atwater; Brian Perez, RB/OLB, Livingston; Tanner Rutherford, WR, Enochs; James Sams, RB/DB, Los Banos; Steven Strasser, RB/OLB, Buhach Colony; David Waites, C/DL, Buhach Colony; Aaron Zwahlen, QB, Downey.
Head coach Kevin Swartwood, Buhach Colony
Josh Bongiovanni, OL/DL, Tracy; Brandon Camara, RB/LB, Sonora; Daniel Clemons, OL/DL, Manteca; Anthony Cota, RB, Sierra; Joe Elliott, RB/LB, Calaveras; LeeAndre Fisher, FS/WR, Chavez; Brian Golston, TE/LB, Calaveras; Alan Gonzalez, T/DL, Escalon;
Broc Hayes, QB/LB, Argonaut; Josh Henry, LB/HB, Franklin; Marcello Hernandez, OT/NG, Lincoln; Ricky Hodges, ILB/TE, Stagg; Zack Johnson, QB, Kimball; Zack Johnson, QB/DB, Calaveras; Phil Kimble, QB/DB, Escalon; Ryan King, RB, Argonaut; Tanner Kreig, RB/DB, Summerville; Walter Leyva, OL/LB, Sonora; Andre Lindsey, WR/P, Stagg; Daniel Lyle, OL/DL, Argonaut;
Bryce Masten-Stewart, DL/OL, Amador; Justin Nichols, LB/RB, Amador; Gary Norwood, FS/WR, Tokay; Evan Owens, RB/DE, Kimball; Bruce Russell, RB/LB, Tracy; Chris Valeros, WR/DB, Lincoln; Darren Vallelunga, OL/DE, Summerville; Nigel Vega, WR/DB, Lincoln; Osha Washington, WR/DB, Lincoln.
Head coach Jason Weatherby, Calaveras