Officially, the league calendar begins next week for Stanislaus District football teams.
On Friday, though, three Modesto Metro Conference teams square off against future league opponents in their final non-conference test, a unique preview created by the Sac-Joaquin Section's latest realignment cycle.
Large-school No. 4 Downey (3-0) celebrates its home opener against seventh-ranked Pitman (1-2), while No. 10 Modesto (2-1) travels to Joe Debely Stadium to face No. 6 Turlock (1-2). All four schools will compete in the same league next fall. Pitman and Turlock move from the Central California Conference, a move justified by enrollment size and competitive equity.
"One of the longest-standing rivalries around," Modesto's first-year coach Brett Wagner said of his team's clash with Turlock. "We want to make it a good rivalry, especially since next season we move into league together. We have to rise to the occasion."
The Turlock schools won't be moving into the MMC.
The athletic directors from Downey, Modesto, Enochs, Gregori, Turlock and Pitman will meet Wednesday, Sept. 20, to discuss potential names for the new league. The candidates include: the Central California Conference North; the Stanislaus Athletic Association; and the Central Stanislaus Athletic Association.
Pitman athletic director Dave Walls said the principals hold the deciding vote.
Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said realignment has been a talking point in practice this week. The Knights' coaching staff has used it to create a league-like atmosphere in practice. When gearing up for a league opponent, Plaa said the five-time defending MMC champions tend to be more purposeful in their prep.
"When we get ready for an MMC team, it's so much different," Plaa told a near-capacity crowd at Coach's Corner, the site of Monday's Quarterback Club. "We're trying to teach these kids, 'Hey, you're going to be in the same league,' and Pitman's defense is one of the best we'll see all year long."
The Turlock schools will fill the void left by the MMC's three smallest campuses: Davis (1,807 enrollment), Johansen (1,774) and Beyer (1,674).
On Friday, the Vikings (0-3) travel to Ceres (2-1) in yet another future league meeting.
Davis, Johansen and Beyer will join Ceres, Los Banos, Pacheco, Lathrop and Mountain House in the Western Athletic Conference next season. With that move, the section's realignment committee hopes to level the playing field for long-suffering athletic programs, like Johansen and Davis, and younger ones, like Lathrop and Mountain House.
To contact reporter James Burns, email email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @jburns1980.