When Russell McWilliams transferred to Gustine High for his senior season in 2002, he was introduced to a football rivalry so intense it pushed the limits of the rulebook.
The Redskins won’t face bitter rival Orestimba until Week 10, but the neighboring Westside communities already are giddy about the possibilities.
Both teams are 5-0 nearing the midway point in the Southern League and have looked the part of potential champion. Gustine has built its résumé on the strength of its defense and offensive line, while Orestimba has a lethal combo in quarterback Joe Sheldon and running back Austin Martins.
McWilliams doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, but the fifth-year head coach has been on campus long enough to realize there’s something special building in the atmosphere.
The Bee sat down with McWilliams to talk about the state of his program, the literal growth of its star running back Brandon Labry, and the prospects of playing Orestimba for a Southern League title on Nov. 6.
Q: By now, you would think Brandon Labry would be a household name. The kid has three 200-yard games. My colleague Joe Cortez is a stickler when it comes to pronunciations. How do you say Brandon’s last name?
A: It’s “La-Bree.”
Q: How would you describe his running style?
A: Downhill. He makes one cut and he’s gone. He’s got burst and size. What’s funny about him is that he was 90 pounds as a freshman. He’s 205 now. He peaked really late and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s been in the weight room the last two years.
Q: Now tell us about him off the field. Is he Prom King cool or nerdy shy?
A: He’s a super nice kid. The last few weeks he’s been giving everything to his offensive line. He’s the guy that gets along with everybody on campus and everybody gets along with him. He’s a good student, too. All the teachers love him.
Q: Physically, he was a late-bloomer. Can the same be said about his recruiting?
A: I’ve called up some colleges, but they’re just as busy as us. I’ve been trying to get tape out on Twitter and Hudl. He’s interested in Sacramento State and I know Modesto Junior College has already contacted him. If he tells me where he wants to go, I’ll send stuff their way. I’ll be sending some stuff to Davis and Humboldt State.
Q: As impressive as your offense has been – averaging better than 30 points per game – your defense has been solid, too. Has that quietly been the backbone to your success?
A: I seriously think the defense and offensive line have been, hands down, the key to what we’ve done. That line has had 300 yards rushing in five straight games. Defense has two shutouts, and Waterford scored on special teams. The defense has been really good ... once they found their groove after the opener.
Q: How special is it that both Gustine and Orestimba are undefeated and pointed toward a classic Week 10 meeting?
A: Me and (Orestimba coach Aaron Souza) have talked about it. We kind of hoped this would happen. It’s great for these two towns and this rivalry. There is a lot of tension on our part, but a lot more excitement around the campus.
Q: You two have been playing football against one another since 1948. What’s that rivalry like?
A: I can’t tell you what Oakdale-Sonora is like, but our rivalry is heated. It’s different. Me and Souza can talk as much as we want, but it’s still heated. It’s not as dirty as it was when I first moved to Gustine, but it’s still just as intense. You can feel it; it’s tangible. It will be electric. I guarantee this place will be packed.
Q: This program has improved almost every year since you took over in 2011. What’s been your secret?
A: I don’t think there’s any secret. I came in and made the offseason a priority. Being an old offensive line coach, I made foundational blocking a priority. As a staff, we’ve grown up with the program and continued to teach ourselves and learn.
Stanislaus District football rankings
Comprised of schools from the Modesto Metro Conference, Valley Oak League, Central California Conference and Western Athletic Conference.
1. Central Catholic (5-0, 2-0) vs. Kimball
2. Oakdale (5-0, 2-0) vs. Lathrop
3. Manteca (5-0, 2-0) at Sierra
4. Turlock (3-1, 0-0) vs. Golden Valley
5. Patterson (5-0, 1-0) vs. Ceres
6. Los Banos (4-1, 1-0) at El Capitan
7. Merced (2-3, 0-0) vs. Atwater
8. Pitman (3-2, 0-0) at Buhach Colony
9. Modesto (4-2, 2-0) idle
10. Downey (4-2, 1-1) vs. Johansen
Comprised of schools from the Trans-Valley League, Mother Lode League, Southern League and Central California Athletic Association.
1. Sonora (5-1, 2-0) at Summerville
2. Hughson (5-0, 0-0) at Escalon
3. Escalon (3-2, 0-0) vs. Hughson
4. Orestimba (5-0, 2-0) at Mariposa
5. Hilmar (3-2, 0-0) vs. Ripon
6. Ripon (2-3, 0-0) at Hilmar
7. Modesto Christian (1-4, 0-0) vs. Mountain House
8. Gustine (5-0, 2-0) at Denair
9. Ripon Christian (4-1, 1-1) at Waterford
10. Stone Ridge Christian (5-1, 2-0) idle