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Spartans itching to get into pads after contact-free summer
Lathrop High senior Kevin Rainey returns with the football while his teammates break out of a huddle during a 7-on-7 drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

LATHROP — The Spartans are ready to strap on the battle gear after spending their entire summer program without their armor.

The Lathrop High squad, however, didn’t participate in a full-contact camp. It will have to wait until Aug. 14 at the earliest, provided they get in two days of pre-conditioning first, to get into pads. The Sac-Joaquin Section’s Dead Period begins this week, and the first official day of practice is Aug. 12.

“Because of when I was accepted (in January), I didn’t want to present any hardships for families by asking them to provide money for a contact camp,” said new head coach Steven Wichman, who takes over a team that has gone 4-35 in its first four seasons. “It’s definitely something I’d prefer to do.”

The Tracy native had to get creative to combat the monotonous summer days of weightlifting and field work. On June 8-9, the team stayed on campus overnight and held various activities that included ping-pong and 3-on-3 basketball tournaments in the small gym.

“We were just trying to create a bond amongst the players, and we did that,” Wichman said. “Other than that we’ve been in the weight room five days a week and on the field conditioning and installing our offense, defense and special teams. But we’re at that point now where we want to get the pads on.”

Otherwise, he’s pleased with what he has seen out of his players so far. Participation has been consistent every day, with roughly 40-45 Spartans attending summer workouts.

In mid-June, the team held its first youth camp to further establish its relationship with the Lathrop Jr. Spartans youth program. In that same week, Lathrop competed in the Delta Junior College 7-on-7 Passing Tournament on June 22 with Kenny Garrett, who shared time behind center as a junior last season, leading the way.

“We did fairly well. There were eight teams in our bracket and we finished somewhere in the middle,” Wichman said. “We had a chance to do a little better but at that point we were still figuring some things out.”

Now, they are as ready as they can be until Aug. 12 rolls around. By then Wichman will be working full-time as a special education teacher for Lathrop High. He previously worked at Venture Academy Family of Schools in Stockton.

Lathrop will scrimmage at Downey in Modesto on Aug. 24. The Spartans’ rigid nonleague schedule remains the same as in 2012, with road games against Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff qualifiers Capital Christian and Ripon following their season opener with visiting Liberty Ranch.

“I was able to get to the kids early enough to where we have put in a lot of work and gotten to know each other really well by this point,” Wichman said. “I don’t feel that I am new to them anymore. We’ve definitely done the things we needed to do in the offseason to be a competitive team.

“The kids’ attitudes have been right from the beginning. I think they understand what they have as far as talent, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to build on that.”