Jesse Flores spent the summer before his junior season transforming his body, packing on the muscle and building the speed required of a two-way captain.
Passes through the speed ladder followed by record-setting lifts – each exercise watched by the sun, smothered in heat and cheered by the Delhi High School coaching staff.
Flores was preparing for a position change on defense and an increased workload as a middle linebacker and fullback, two focal points in the Hawks’ system.
His fast rise as a prospect was supposed to signal the arrival of a downtrodden football program, long an afterthought in the Southern League. Instead, it mapped out just how much farther the Hawks needed to go.
“Across the board, they’ve decided their goal is to go 10-0 this year,” coach Rod McCombs said. “That was a goal established by them, and we pointed out the things they needed to do to obtain that goal.
“The biggest hurdle they have to get over is using excuses to get out of doing things and not doing things the way they’re supposed to be done. If our league gave out championships for excuses, we’d be the perennial champion.”
The Hawks finished the 2015 season a disappointing 5-5 and missed the postseason for the eighth time in nine seasons. There was a 20-19 loss to Mariposa, a game decided by two missed extra points by the Hawks, and a six-turnover disaster against Denair.
“They know the mistakes they made last year that set them on a course for a 5-5 season,” McCombs said. “It wasn’t just that we were outplayed by several different teams. For the most part, it was our own mistakes that cost us several games. A lot of that had to do with personal egos. We knew there were teams we were athletically superior to, but why is it that we were 5-5?”
Flores epitomizes the Hawks football program.
The 5-foot-11, 230-pounder had 138 tackles and rushed for a team-high 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, but McCombs said his focus drifted in and out, adding to the frustrating ebb and flow of the Hawks’ season.
Then wrestling season hit, and Flores discovered the value of around-the-clock accountability. The heavyweight pieced it all together, marrying his superb strength with a laser-like focus, to produce a historic campaign.
Flores became the first wrestler in school history to reach the CIF State championships, finishing seventh to earn a medal.
“After wrestling season, he fully understands what it takes to end up on top,” McCombs said. “He’s gone the last two seasons as one of our primary football athletes who finished mediocre at best. As an individual, he had an outstanding season, but he didn’t set examples that pushed his teammates to where the entire team needed to be. That’s the main component that has been missing from our team the last couple of years.
“There were things we asked him to do that he fell short of doing. There again, from a coaching perspective, he wasn’t giving an all-out, everyday effort. This year, he’s been a lot better about it.”
Delhi looks to unseat defending champion Orestimba. The Hawks and Warriors meet in Week 9, a game that may decide the trophy.
With an influx of linebackers, McCombs will return Flores to his natural position – hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. As a sophomore, Flores racked up 97 tackles, including 12 for a loss, and forced three fumbles.
Think he’s happy about the change?
McCombs said Flores was named the Outstanding Defensive Lineman at the Fresno State camp and aced the program’s final lifts of the summer. Flores squatted 500 pounds and benched 300 for a one-rep maximum.
The Hawks open the season at Livingston Aug. 26, welcome Johansen Sept. 2 and then travel to Division VII finalist Big Valley Christian Sept. 9. Delhi will have two weeks to prepare for its league opener versus Mariposa Sept. 23.
The Hawks’ mettle will be tested early by the Grizzlies and a trip to Gustine, now coached by alumnus Mike Mendonca and quarterbacked by the explosive Trevor Flores, in back-to-back weeks.
“They have championship potential, but we are just trying to take it one Friday night at a time,” McCombs said of his team. “Our focus right now is to be a champion every Friday night.”
Head coach: Rod McCombs
2015 record: 5-5, 2-5 SL
Key returners: FB/MLB Jesse Flores; OLB/WB Scorpio Castorena; MLB/FB Samuel Cortez; S/WB Fabian Garcia; OT/DT Julian Moreno; WB/C Alecxis Miranda; G/DT Derek Perry.
Key newcomers: DB/WB Alvin Prasada; LB/TE Jose Saucedo; QB Aiden Rocha; DB German Lua; TE/LB Damian Rivera; OL/DL Zech Ybarra.
Notable losses: QB Luis Avalos; OL/DL Jaime Vera; OL Armando Fernandez; OL Samuel Giovanni; OL/LB Braulio Gamino; DB Samuel Rodriguez; OL/DL Manuel Garcia; DB Daniel Jimenez.
Stadium: Hawk Stadium (2,000).
Big game: Denair, Oct. 21.
Head coach: Anthony Armas
2015 record: 3-7, 2-5 SL
Key returners: RB/OLB Justin Steeley; OL/DL Joe Brasil; OL/DL Zach Ramaley; OL/DL Hector Obando; RB/DB Chase Pritt; C/ILB Joey Freitas; TE/OLB Dylan Mann.
Key newcomers: WR/DB Blake Davis.
Notable losses: RB/OLB Juan Barrera; OL/DL Kyle Perkins.
Stadium: Jack Lytton Stadium (2,500)
Big game: Delhi, Oct. 21.
Head coach: Michael Mendonca
2015 record: 10-2, 6-1 SL
Key Returners: WR/DB Tony Fontes; QB/S Trever Flores; C/NT Daniel Caldera.
Key Newcomers: OT/DT Kevin Medeiros; WR/DB Tyeler Flores; WR/LB Daniel Rowlett.
Notable losses: RB/LB Brandon LaBry; TE/LB J.D. Laupua; RB/DL Fabian Morales.
Stadium Name: N/A (2,000)
Big Game: at Orestimba, Nov. 4.
LE GRAND BULLDOGS
Head coach: Raul Alvarez
2015 record: 2-8, 2-5 SL
Key returners: QB Beto Marquez; WR/DB Rigo Mares; RB/OLB Eric Zaragoza; FB/ILB Travis Johnson; OL/DL Alfonso Madrigal; RB/LB Julian Diaz.
Key newcomers: OL/DL Izak Murillo; WR/DB Elijah Hernandez; OLB/K Elio Garcia; WR/DB Ian Perez.
Notable losses: OL/DL Maurisio Ramirez; WR/DB Jose Renteria; OL Alex Regalado.
Stadium: Geary & Fontes Stadium (2,000)
Big game: Mariposa, Nov. 4.
Head coach: Ryan Oliphant
2015 record: 5-5, 4-3 SL
Key returners: RB Josh Land; OL Jacob Luechner; LB Cole Sjostrom.
Key newcomers: QB/DB Colton Weidner; RB/DB Daniel Jensen; OL/DL Jaq Quinn.
Notable losses: WR Zack Smith; LB/RB Jake Williams; QB/DB Jake Mayberry QB/DB
Stadium: The Gold Bowl (3,000)
Big game: Le Grand, Nov. 4.
Head coach: Aaron Souza
2015 Record: 11-1, 7-0 SL
Key returners: WR/DE Toby Silva; OL/DL Drew Martin; OL/DL Antonio Richardson; RB/DB Layshaun Johnson; QB/DB Josh Barron; TE/LB Christian Ramirez TE/LB.
Key newcomers: RB/DB Tymon Bolden; OL/DB Javen Rocha; OL/DL Jamie Munoz; WR/DB Tyler Vargas.
Notable losses: RB/LB Austin Martins; QB/DB Joe Sheldon; OL Homar Ruz; WR Angel Reynoso.
Stadium: Warrior Stadium (3,000)
Big Game: Gustine, Nov. 4.
RIPON CHRISTIAN KNIGHTS
Head coach: Trey Ozenbaugh
2015 record: 9-3, 5-2 SL
Key returners: TE/OLB Ty Beidleman; ILB/OL Jake Beukelman; OL/FB/OLB Brandon Vrieling; RB/WR/DB Zach Cortwright; OLB/FB/QB Willem Hoekstra.
Key newcomers: QB Mark Ozenbaugh; WR/DB Andrew Vander Weide; OL/ILB Tristan Deshields; RB/FB/ILB Michael Kamps.
Notable losses: QB Travis Zuidervaart; FB/TE Connor McGovern; WR/OLB Ethan McMurray; Derek Dotinga FB/TB/OLB; WR/DB Jonah Lewis, FB/TB/S Seth Silveira, OL/DL Chad Kamper, OL/LB Will Kamps; OL/DL Luke Nydam; OL/DL Michael Fisher; OL/DL Eron Roen.
Stadium: Ripon Christian Athletic Complex (1,200)
Big Game: None.
Head Coach: Lonnie Statzer
2015 record: 2-8, 0-7 SL
Key returners: WR/SS David Staley
Key newcomers: WR/FS Michael Vivo; RB/LB Christian Jimenez.
Notable losses: RB/DB Caleb Reynolds
Stadium: Wildcat Stadium (1,000)
Big game: at Denair, Nov. 4.