Davis High School senior Prachi Bulsara doesn’t know much about football, but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying the games.
“I don’t know what’s going on most of the time,” said Bulsara, who serves as the Associated Student Body vice president. “But when I hear everybody else cheering, I start cheering.”
She’s been cheering a lot this season.
After going 8-31-1 since 2009, their last winning season, the Spartans are 4-0for the first time in more than a decade. And, for the first time in years, there’s a buzz on campus regarding the football team.
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Four years without a winning team might not seem that long, but Davis was once a powerhouse in the old Central California Conference, and a contender in the early days of the Modesto Metro Conference. And the fall was swift and definitive.
After years with nearly 3,000 students, the school’s enrollment began a rapid decline in 2010.
“Before Gregori opened, we used to get kids from the Salida area and other realms on the northwest side of town,” said Davis principal Mike Rich. “The reason Gregori opened is because we weren’t built to have that many kids.”
A similar decline impacted Johansen when Enochs opened in 2006.
Davis’ student population is now just under 1,600. But the Spartans are done talking about being the smallest school in the MMC.
“We’re trying to take away the negativity as much as possible and make it as exciting and special for the kids that we have here,” said Tim Garcia, who coached for seven seasons at Central Valley in Ceres before returning to his alma mater three seasons ago, the first two as offensive coordinator. “It seems to be working so far.”
The Spartans look like a team that can vie for one of the MMC’s two automatic playoff berths. Failing that, they could still get into the playoffs by virtue of their overall record, and they’re certainly capable of winning six or seven games this year. But playoffs or not, they’re just two wins from a winning season.
Davis begins MMC play Friday when it hosts winless Enochs at Downey’s Chuck Hughes Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
“Garcia is a phenomenal coach,” said senior running back Darin Lugo, who scored two touchdowns in last week’s 52-20 win over Weston Ranch (Stockton). “He’s really bonded with our team. He loves us, we can tell.”
Garcia said developing better relationships with his players is the area he has developed the most since he started coaching.
“I’m definitely older and wiser,” said Garcia, who has played for or been associated with a veritable who’s who of Modesto coaches in Len Johnston, Don Lanphear, Dan Gonsalves, Dan Pacheco, Mike Glines, Steve Da Prato and Sam Young. “My perception on life, in general, is way different. I’m more detail-oriented now; my communication with kids is different. Football isn’t the most important thing, and neither is winning.”
Winning may not be the most important thing to Garcia, but it sure is important to Davis’ student body. Janice Espindola, a junior cheerleader, can tell the difference winning makes.
“Last year, there wasn’t really a crowd at the games,” Espindola said. “This year, there are a lot more people coming to the games and it’s fun to get them involved. It’s really exciting to see them so excited for the team.”
The excitement isn’t restricted to Friday nights. The activities during school hours bring the football players and other students together. During lunch on Fridays – game days – a few players will back their pickup trucks into the quad area and host a potluck tailgate party.
Also, a different school group or club will host an event designed to build school spirit and unity – goofy stuff, such as putting a cookie on your forehead and trying to get it into your mouth without using your hands; or forming a circle with classmates, clasping hands and trying to pass a hula hoop from one student to the next without breaking the chain.
Some of the credit for the resurgence in school spirit is given to activities director Ann Farina, who has worked in the Modesto City School District for more than 20 years.
“I don’t want them to worry about what others think about them, or that they might look silly doing something,” Farina said. “Just go out and do it. That’s what’s fun about high school – being involved.”
The football team riding a surprising wave of success makes everything more fun.
“I think it plays a big part,” said Farina, who has worked at Davis for 10 years. “It helps the kids want to be here. We all know that we need academics, but fun enhances academics.”
And a winning football team enhances the fun.
“The school is more like a family now,” said Corina Huey, Davis’ senior class vice president. “We’re more together now, and we’re making memories now.”