While Summerville High School may or may not be in the running for its first Mother Lode League football title since 2009, one thing is certain:
The Bears will eat well.
Most high school football teams across the country have some kind of group meal, whether a Thursday night gathering or a quiet pre-game spread, but Summerville has taken the approach that the way to build football success is a journey taken one stomach at a time.
"Yeah, we're well-fed," said coach Ben Watson. "Sometimes, I think, maybe too well-fed."
On Thursday nights, the football parents feed the team. On Friday at lunchtime, there's a spread for football players in the room of teacher Deena Koral-Soto, the wife of linebackers coach Matt Soto, with the food prepared by Deena's parents.
And just in case the players get hungry after that lunch, the parents put together a pre-game meal highlighted by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Yes, the Bears run on Skippy and Smuckers.
But that's not all.
During the week, as individual groups of players meet with their position coaches, those after-practice gatherings are likely to be catered, with fare ranging from chili to burgers to tri-tip.
"I think the parents save money during football season with how often the players are fed," Koral-Soto said.
The Mother Lode League has the distinction of being the lone league in the Stanislaus District in which every member represents a single-school town. As such, the connection between the residents and the football team tends to be very strong, with these loyalties showing up in each program's traditions.
It can be as simple as the postgame ritual at Bret Harte, where the players and cheerleaders face the Bullfrog faithful and point to the sky as they sing the alma mater. Or, it could be involving the city in a very real way, as Amador High does with the folks in Sutter Creek.
"Every year we have a downtown rally for the big game (against Argonaut) and our entire school marches downtown to City Hall," said Amador coach Bill Baker. "We really pack the student body in there.
"This last year was our 100th year at Amador and we played up the whole centennial thing, so I'm thinking that's a tradition that's gone on a long time."
About four miles away in Jackson, where Argonaut is coming off back-to-back perfect 5-0 runs to MLL titles, the Mustangs have earned the kind of swagger that allows for grand entrances, both home and away.
"For the games at Calaveras and Amador we'll drive over in full gear, get off the bus and run right onto the field," said Argonaut coach Rick Davis. "We won the section title in '04 and we did that when we played at Calaveras. I'll have somebody at the stadium keeping in touch because we want to pull up to the stadium with exactly 25 minutes left on the clock."
And once at the field, whether home or away, Argonaut's fans know what to do.
"We run though a 100-yard tunnel to get on the field at all our games," Davis said. "We get fans, cheerleaders, the junior varsity team and parents out there to form the tunnel and we've been doing that since I've been there."
A major tradition at Linden brings the majority of the students in direct contact with the city, since members of the football team and other sports canvass the town every year selling raffle tickets. Part of the proceeds help offset the Lions' athletic travel costs, but a large donation each season goes to a local charity, and coach Mark Miller said that Linden athletes have raised more than $100,000 for charity over the years.
At the end of this school year, Miller said, Linden will be making a donation to the St. Joseph's Medical Center's cardiac intensive care unit.
At Calaveras, the vital connection between the team and its fans is reinforced prior to each home game. They call it the Bern Turn.
"Bern Cuneo started coming to our games in 1958 after getting out of the service and he only missed a handful of games over the years," said Calaveras coach Jason Weatherby. "We called him our biggest fan and he'd sit in the same spot every home game.
"In 2010, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Until then, the varsity always would take the field down the stairs right in front of our snack bar. But once we found out he was sick, we changed the route and walked behind the bleachers to where he was sitting so we could shake his hand before coming on the field."
Cuneo died following the 2010 season, but the Redskins still take the long way to the field.
"Every year we remind the team about that as a way of telling them how important the fans are to everything we do," Weatherby said. "And that's why we still take that route."