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Pandemic, fires rage as prep teams hold out hope for season
Bulletin football 2019
Lathrop running back Isaac Ramos tries to break free from Manteca lineman Evans Nicolas during their zero-week contest at Bennie Gatto Field on Aug. 23, 2019. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Ripon High's football team was all set to restart its conditioning program this week.

This so happens to be the week that fall sports was supposed to begin in the Sac-Joaquin Section. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, the football season would have kicked off on Friday night. 

Poor air quality caused by the spreading wildfires up and down the state may have canceled a lot of games anyway. For Ripon, its plan to resume physical conditioning after a month-long break has been delayed.

“We were going to start doing some conditioning again this week but we had the heat and then the fires,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman

Bulletin football 2019
East Union football players greet the “Red Sea” cheering section prior to kicking off their 2019 season opener against visiting Downey on Aug. 23. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
said. “We're trying. It's a little frustrating but what can we do? We'll try again on Monday. We just want to get them going toward football shape a little bit so that come Oct. 1 we're full go with we can do with our whole summer program.”

It has been a stop-and-go offseason for the reigning California Interscholastic Federation Division 4-AA champion and the rest of the prep sports programs in the area. These Indians, however, have likely had the least amount of time to train together. 

They were the last of the seven Manteca-area teams to receive the go-ahead to begin its summer conditioning in late June, then Musseman decided to halt the sessions about three weeks later ahead of the CIF's anticipated July 20 announcement that ultimately pushed start of fall sports to late December/early January. 

Teams momentarily ceased their gatherings until state and local health officials approved the resumption of youth sports training with minimal use of equipment. 

“At that point we had to start weighing burnout with the kids,” Musseman said. “What can we really accomplish by just running around as a team, because we're not allowed to do any football stuff.”

Football teams at Manteca and Sierra, reigning SJS champions in Divisions III and IV, meet twice a week for in-person workouts, but much of what individual athletes are doing to prepare is on their own. 

Sierra running back Kimoni Stanley spends much of his time away from home at a local gym. 

“I've been mainly focused on school,” he said. “I'll go lift weights so that I'm not at home all day sitting on my butt.”

There is much riding for him in his third and final season on the varsity squad. He is closing in on Sierra's all-time rushing record, and Stanley hopes he gets more opportunities to showcase his abilities to college coaches.

“I've thought about what it would be like if we didn't have football season, but I don't stress too much about it,” Stanley said. “I'm doing what I can to keep getting better and I'm looking forward to having a football season, but if it doesn't happen I'm confident I will have another one in the future.”

Manteca has been using video conference meetings to supplement its twice-a-week in-person workouts. Third-year defensive lineman Dominik Neuharth misses the everyday interactions with teammates, coaches, classmates and teachers. 

“This is not for me,” Neuharth said of distance learning and distnace training. “And I'm sure everyone else would agree.”

A captain on both the football and wrestling teams, he doesn't want to miss out on what is expected to be a special year.

“I would be extremely devastated to not have a season,” Neuharth said. “It's my senior year, I'm a team captain and this is the 100th football season for Manteca High.”