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Some teams have 3 games in August
John Badilla and the Manteca High varsity football team run sprints to end the first half of their first official day of practice Monday. - photo by File photos by Jonomar Jacinto

Are you ready for some football?

Even if you’re not, it’s here.

The Sac-Joaquin Section football season is underway as of Monday — yes, in mid-July — when teams in the area held their first official practices. Teams were allowed to practice with helmets on but contact was limited. That comes soon enough — padded practices can start as soon as Wednesday, and full contact begins Saturday. 

Ripon Christian got a head start to its season Monday, beginning at 7 a.m. At East Union, coaches and players met at 8 to divvy out helmets before getting to work. The rest of the teams from the area braved the heat, starting around 3 p.m. 

“It’s a little crazy that we’re out here in the middle of July, but I’m ready for it and the kids are ready for it,” Manteca High coach Mark Varnum said.

It’ll take some getting used to.

“The fact that it starts in July, it doesn’t seem like football,” Sierra coach Chris Johnson said. “It’s no longer just a fall sport; it’s a late-summer sport. We play three games in August and there are teams with Week-10 byes that may end their season on Oct. 19. That’s crazy.”

The California Interscholastic Federation has allowed for football season to begin earlier than it had been. That’s because the CIF’s Championship Bowl Series goes well into December, giving multi-sport athletes little time to prepare for winter sports.

Practice for all other fall sports — except for water polo — begins next Monday, July 30. Teams may begin scrimmaging against others on Aug. 10, and opening day for fall sports is Aug. 17. For water polo, practice starts Aug. 13 with scrimmages on Aug. 18 and first contests on Aug. 24.

Monday marked the start of a new era for two area programs.

Manteca is coming off back-to-back CIF NorCal Bowl Game appearances, and first-year coach Varnum wants to get the Buffaloes over the hump. He served as offensive coordinator in Eric Reis’ 16th and final year as head coach in 2017 and coached in the lower levels in the five years prior. 

“We know what the plan is,” Varnum said. “We’re just keeping it moving forward and doing what we do. There are some new faces out here but the expectations don’t change. We’re trying to do something that no team from Manteca has done before, and we know it’s a huge task. We’ll find out if these guys are up for it shortly.”

While the transition has been smooth so far in Buffalo territory, Kevin Breaker continues to work out the kinks in his first season as Weston Ranch head coach. A former assistant coach at larger schools in Stockton, Breaker said attendance for summer workouts was “lower than I’m used to” but expects turnout to improve in the coming days.

“We had quite a few guys missing today, and a lot of that had to with physicals,” Breaker said. “But we were out there truckin’ away with what we had and got a lot installed. We’re going to work hard with everything we have as coaches, and the guys who are coming out are committed and working their butts off.”

Johnson kicks off his second year at Sierra after spending 12 as head coach of Ripon, his alma mater. He has mixed feelings on the earlier start to the season. Like Breaker, he had to send players home for not having physicals completed and turned in on time Monday. 

“It’s good and bad,” Johnson said. “I like having the extra week of practice, so the acclimatization period is good — to be able to come out, get the kids in helmets and moving around while getting used to the heat that type of thing.

“The big thing is schools aren’t even open yet, and now you’re trying to start a school activity that requires the office support and things like that and schools aren’t fully functioning yet. That makes it a little tough, and it’s going to take some working out.”