High School Football

Sonora coach hopes rigorous early schedule will help prepare team for bigger games

When talking about the upcoming season, Sonora coach Bryan Craig said the beginning of the year could be just like 2018 when the Wildcats started 0-4.

“Our team last year took a little bit longer to jell and this team is young so we may start 0-4 or 0-5,” Craig said. “I don’t know, we may win right off the bat.”

Despite the early struggles last year, Sonora won seven in a row en route to its fourth straight Mother Lode League title before falling to Colfax in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Semifinals.

“We looked back on it (0-4 start) as we got into the season and we are kind of grateful for it,’ senior quarterback Nick Crockett said. “It was a wake-up call. We were playing sloppy and in practice, we had no effort. Being a senior now, it shows how important that effort and focus is.”

Besides tough early tests against Escalon, Hilmar, Oakdale, and Ripon, this year’s team is “one of the youngest” Craig has had in his 11 years as coach.

“I think we have seven or eight seniors,” he said. “I think since we are young, it might take us a little while to play with one another. We talk about family. We have to play like a family or we won’t win.”

One of those returners is Crockett, who played quarterback sparingly in 2018 but with Jake Gookin graduated, he will take over the triple-option style of offense.

“It (style of offense) kind of helped me with my agility and my speed,” Crockett said. “Passing, it’s fun, but I like the adrenaline of running the ball and passing it off.”

Along with Crockett on offense, Craig mentioned senior fullback Elijah Macdonald as someone who could have a breakout year as well as junior wide receivers Justin Morgan and Gabe Milbourn. Morgan will be the team’s slot receiver and ran a 11.2-second 100-meter dash during track season.

Applying pressure on the players is “the streak.” The Wildcats have won all 29 Mother Lode League games since moving into the conference in 2014.

“That’s a big fear for a lot of us seniors,” Crockett said. “We don’t want to be the group ends it.”

Craig, whose Wildcats have gone as far as the section semifinals the last five years, said his team’s tough non-conference schedule is built to prepare them for league play.

Escalon, Oakdale, and Ripon all made the semifinals last year while Hilmar won a section and state title.

“We are planning on getting to the playoffs and you don’t want to be one and done,” he said. “We want to go deep in the playoffs and get a section title and I think what prepares for us is playing the best teams possible.”

Day 1: Big Valley Christian


School: Sonora

Record: 7-5, 5-0 in Mother Lode League

Players to Watch: Senior quarterback Nick Crockett, Junior wide receiver Justin Morgan, Junior wide receiver Gabe Milbourn

Biggest Game: Oct. 18 vs. Calaveras

Something special about school: Golden Regiment marching band is great and worth traveling up to a game.

Playoff appearances last five years: 2018: Lost to Colfax in CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. V Semifinals 2017: Lost to Colfax in Div. V Semifinals 2016: Lost to Capital Christian in Div. V Semifinals 2015: Beat Bear River in Div. V Championship, Lost to Hanford in CIF State IV-AA NorCal Championship 2014: Lost to Central Catholic in Div. IV Championship

Season Schedule:

DateOpponent Time

23Oakdale 7 p.m.
30at Ripon 7 p.m.

6at Escalon 7 p.m.
13Hilmar 7 p.m.
20West7 p.m.
28Bye Week


4at Argonaut 7 p.m.
11Bret Harte7 p.m.
18Calaveras7 p.m.
25at Amador7 p.m.

1at Summerville7 p.m.
Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.