High School Football

Why life in new CCAL might be tough – and fun – for Modesto, Turlock football teams

Gregori coach McCoy talks about upcoming season at Downey scrimmage

Downey hosted league rivals Enochs and Gregori as well as Beyer, El Capitan, and Sonora in a scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Modesto, California.
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Downey hosted league rivals Enochs and Gregori as well as Beyer, El Capitan, and Sonora in a scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Modesto, California.

Gregori High football coach Jason McCoy is looking forward to life in the Central California Athletic League.

With the additions of two historically tough Turlock teams — Turlock and Pitman — and the loss of struggling Davis and Johansen to the Western Athletic Conference, there is little margin for error in the new, six-team Sac-Joaquin Section Division II conference.

And that’s fine with McCoy, The Bee’s 2017 Coach of the Year who led his Jaguars to a Modesto Metro Conference title and a first-round section playoff victory.

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Gregori coach Jason McCoy signals for the sideline during a preseason scrimmage at Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., Friday, August 10, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

“Its going to be great for the high school fans and great for the community and great for our kids,” McCoy said. “Whoever makes the playoffs from our conference deserves it. Our football around here in my opinion has just gotten better in the last 10 years. “

The Jaguars lost their starting quarterback — Bobby Avina, The Bee’s All-District Player of the Year — and leading running back (Mason Medrano) and wide receiver (Gabe Sanchez) to graduation but senior receiver Marcello Longstreth (42 receptions, 914 yards, eight touchdowns) and senior Fidel Velasquez (73 tackles, nine sacks) return. Seniors Trey Longstreth, Jared Hughes, and Elliot Johnson are a couple of guys that could have breakout seasons, according to McCoy.

Last year was great for the Jaguars but McCoy said “it’s a brand-new year” in 2018.

“The things that don’t change is waking up every morning and coming to class to get stronger and going on the practice field to get better,” said McCoy, whose team opens the season Friday at Buhach Colony. “That standard will never change. Our standards are always to do your best in everything you can do. We lost three kids that are playing Division I football right now. When you lose that from any roster, its tough.”

Coming off a season in which they finished 8-3, Downey is looking to win a share of a league title for the sixth time in the last seventh years.

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Downey quarterback Beau Green makes a pass during a preseason scrimmage at Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., Friday, August 10, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

With senior Bryce Peterson moving from quarterback to wide receiver due to a lingering shoulder issue, the quarterback battle is down to junior Bryce Gouker and freshman Beau Green.

Both played in Friday’s scrimmage at Downey High.

“They have both been battling it out,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “Beau is the biggest kid of that group and just turned 15 and Bryce has a lot of experience and has been super efficient in practice.”

Peterson, a UC Davis commit, “will be used in a lot more places” now that he his not behind center, according to Plaa. It was always the plan to switch to wide receiver since he was being recruited for that position in college.

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Downey’s John Sousa breaks free for a gain during a preseason scrimmage with Sonora at Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., Friday, August 10, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

“I wouldn’t mind have either one at the starting spot,” Peterson said of Green and Gouker. “They are both great quarterbacks in their own way. Its a great competition.”

Seniors Anderson Grover and Javon Gamez are two key receivers that are returning for the Knights but Plaa is looking forward to seeing the return of center Jackson Betz, who broke his ankle in overtime in the first game of the season last year.

“He is 6-4, 260 and he is a monster,” said Plaa, whose team opens at home against East Union. “A lot of college coaches love him but because he has no junior film, none of the college coaches can go to their head coach and say ‘Hey, lets offer a scholarship to this guy.’ So they have told him we have to wait until four games and then we are going to take a look at your film.”

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Gregori quarterback Baker Melendez rolls out to pass during a preseason scrimmage with Downey at Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., Friday, August 10, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Both McCoy and Plaa agree that nobody in the league is going to go undefeated and staying healthy will be a major factor toward winning the title.

“Whatever happens with the adversity in the league and whoever can be resilient and still be playing Week 10 for the league title, I think that’s what we have to get to used to, that idea,” Plaa said.

“Every opponent on our schedule from top to bottom is tough,” McCoy said. “There are no gimmes in any week. On our schedule, seven of the 10 teams were in the playoffs last year. We are in for a battle.”

Turlock (8-3), last year’s Central California Conference champion, is looking for their fourth straight season with three losses or fewer under James Patterson and the Bulldogs return senior quarterback Jonah Kosakiewicz.

Modesto (7-4) showed promise in Brett Wagner’s first year at the helm and the Panthers return senior running back Zaire Eugene (678 rushing yards and six touchdowns).

Enochs (4-6) and Pitman (5-5) also will look for turnaround seasons.

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Gregori’s Tony Leatherberry fights off a Downey defender during a preseason scrimmage at Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., Friday, August 10, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

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