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Lathrop looks to win first varsity game and then some
Sept. 3: vs. Escalon
Sept. 11: at McClatchy
Sept. 17: vs.  Highlands
Sept. 24: at East Union
Oct. 1: at Sonora
Oct. 8: vs. Oakdale
Oct. 15: at W. Ranch
Oct. 22: vs. Manteca
Oct. 29: vs. Sierra
Nov. 5: at Kimball
Walking off the field for the first time victorious is not going to be a walk in the park for the Lathrop Spartans.

Lathrop will make its Valley Oak League varsity debut this fall, but before the Spartans suit up against East Union in their opener they’ll have to roll out the welcome mats for Escalon Sept. 3.
The Spartans come into the season with a level playing field, as Lathrop will have its first class of seniors. Where those seniors lead the Spartans is a question only the results of a 10-game schedule can answer.

“I feel that this season is like an equal-opportunity situation for us going in,” Lathrop senior Cedric Starling said. “We’re not juniors playing against seniors anymore. It’s senior on senior now; just like when you were in Pop Warner and everyone was the same size, now we are all equal.”

The Spartans will also take a trip to Sacramento to take on McClatchy and then host Highlands before opening their inaugural VOL campaign. Lathrop will be making its VOL debut along with first-year varsity program Kimball. A successful season will mean holding its own against established programs like Manteca, Oakdale and Sierra, and it’s something Spartans feels they can accomplish.

“The goal is for us to make the playoffs,” third-year head coach Jesse Rodriguez said. “I think we can;  6-4, maybe 5-5 might get us in, so I am hoping for that. We’re  Division IV even though our enrollment is probably a Division V.

“But I really think we can do that.”

Lathrop’s road to the postseason will take a new path with the Spartans landing in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division-IV 16-team bracket. The playoff bracket will be broken in half – Division IV-a (largest schools) and Division-IV-b (smallest schools).

The Spartans’ offense will revolve around running the football. Lathrop will be forced to keep teams honest, but the Spartans will be leaning on junior tailback Xavier Walden and a serious dedication to the ground game.

“We are just going to come out and run the football,” quarterback/linebacker Pablo Chavez said. “Basically, we couldn’t find any success passing the ball (last fall), so we are focused on sticking to running the ball and see how that works out.”

After trudging along the past two seasons, competing in nearly each of their ball games, excluding a 55-0 loss to Sierra in the season opener and a 41-0 blowout at the hands of Christian Brothers, Lathrop is poised now to turn the corner.

One of the final hurdles standing in the way of the Spartans’ success is getting each member of the young program to commit to one another.

“This entire summer we have been focusing basically on team work and family,” Chavez said. “We are learning to work together and trying to do our best for one another. We are doing alright, there are still some squabbles here and there, but we are getting closer.

“Everyone out here is working; we are all trying.”
After building an 83-58 record before taking the reigns at Lathrop, Rodriguez has a clear understanding of what it will take to produce a winner. But ask him if his squad knows what he expects of them to become winners, and Rodriguez discloses one of his primary goals.

“Not yet,” Rodriguez said when asked if his kids understand his expectations. “That part is a work in progress still. The demands and the commitment and the things like that, they’re getting there, but it’s not where we want it to be yet. We’ve improved and the kids are starting to get the idea, but it’s something that I am always going to strive for more from them.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, because I am always going to demand more.”