Johansen High senior Marques Spears wants everybody to know that when his Vikings play host to Central Catholic tonight, it's just another football game.
Except that Johansen isn't just playing for Viking pride, but for every Modesto public high school.
"That's how I look at it," Spears said. "Basically, if Central hasn't played a real Modesto city school like us in a while, that means we're standing up for everybody. It's not just for Johansen."
Meanwhile, at Central Catholic, senior James Orth sees Johansen as just another of the solid challenges in the school's first year under coach Roger Canepa.
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Except for the fact that Orth's brothers, who also played for Central but never got the chance to suit up against a Modesto Metro Conference school, have made it a point to rally for this game.
"I'm excited because I had brothers who played here and they always wished they could play some of the Modesto city schools," said Orth, a starter at receiver and safety. "I have friends at all the other Modesto schools, and we talk about how it's too bad we don't play each other."
Neither Spears nor Orth, nor any of their teammates, have had the chance to see Central battle an MMC team on the football field. The reason? None had yet been born. The last time it happened was in 1989, when Modesto thumped Central 54-12.
Since then, no Raiders football team has crossed paths with Modesto, Downey, Beyer or Davis, and certainly not with Johansen or Enochs, both of which opened since that last tilt.
"I never really reached out to play those schools," former Central coach Mike Glines said. "I know there were a couple schools that wouldn't play us, saying they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing against a small school."
That span of 19 years has seen Central embark on one of the greatest runs of small-school success in state history while the schools that make up the large-school MMC have enjoyed limited non-conference and postseason success.
"It's been a tough position in the last 10 years for the public schools against the private schools, and I don't know how else to say that," Davis coach Brad Goudeau said. "If a private school team takes it to us, then it's that much tougher for us to keep kids in our program."
Sudden schedule shifts last December created openings in Central's schedule. About that time, Jason McCoy took over as head coach at Johansen.
McCoy was a visitor to Central practices while trying to break into coaching, and when he got the Johansen job he reached out to Glines.
"Coach Glines had an open-door policy and I went over to learn from him, to observe his practices and see how they do it," he said. "When I took this job, I wanted our team to play against the best and to compete at a high level."
Interest in any game pitting the Raiders against an MMC team would help fill seats.
"I talked to Central last year about playing this year," Modesto coach Rod Long said. "It's a natural fit right now for the coaches and players in our conference to play them."
The first time a Central team took on a Modesto city school was in 1976, when the Raiders got three touchdown passes from Tim Garcia in a 33-14 victory over Modesto. That was the only time a Glines-coached Raiders squad took on a Modesto public school.
Either Modesto or Davis, and often both, took on Central each year in the 1980s, and the games were competitive for the most part. The Raiders are 7-8 in games against Modesto city schools -- 1-5 against Davis and 6-3 against Modesto.
"Challenge is good," said senior T.J. Belton, a Central running back/defensive back. "I always get told by my friends at other schools that they would beat us if we played. I'm getting calls from some of those guys this week."
The level of excitement at Central is being matched at Johansen, which is in a position to make a large statement.
"We are out here representing all the city schools," Spears said. "We're going to go out and hit and let everybody know that. It kinda would mean more to win this game. It certainly would give us a boost and a lot of pride.
"Other than that, this is just another game."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.