With 30 wins and a Central Section title in the past three years, evidence strongly suggests Bullard High has arrived as a legitimate Division I football power.
Still, the Knights -- only nine months from closing a 13-0 season and their first section crown -- remain haunted by a 2-8 season in 2006 that followed a year in which they also made the D-I title game (losing to Bakersfield 35-28).
Further, it wasn't just any 2-8; it was one that saw Bullard lose to Clovis 75-0, Clovis East 34-0 and Clovis West 70-14 in consecutive weeks.
And maybe that's why Knights coach Donnie Arax continues to point to the program located to the northeast on Millbrook and Teague avenues.
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"Clovis West has [been successful] for 25 to 30 years," he says.
"To me, arriving means you produce year in and year out, and we're getting close to that. Heck, look at Clovis West, their success goes back to the early '80s. And I do mention that to our kids in the weight room."
True, the Golden Eagles have delivered winning records in 26 of the past 29 seasons, have captured 17 league championships and eight section titles, beat Bullard 20 consecutive times from 1982-2006 and lead the series 23-6.
But there's also the what-have-you-done-lately factor that actually favors the Knights.
Bullard swept Clovis West last season and has gone 3-3 against the Eagles while producing a 30-6 record, including 10-3 against Clovis Unified schools, in the past three seasons.
And there is no comparing coaching stability.
While Arax enters his 11th season with the Knights and has a deep-rooted relationship with coordinators Kevin Coughlon (offense) and Brandon Gilbert (defense), Clovis West enters 2010 with its fifth head coach in as many years and a continued shuffle among assistants.
Arax does allow this: "We have all the elements all good programs have -- a good offseason program, a great coaching staff that's been together the bulk of my 11 years, huge community support and talent."
And that's not all.
Successful high school programs, like magnets, attract talent into their districts.
No surprise, then, that quarterback Markus Espinoza (Firebaugh), defensive end Aarin Smith (Central), running back/linebacker Beau Hine (Clovis) and offensive lineman Stephon McCray (Clovis West) have transferred to Bullard.
Espinoza could start, Smith and McCray will for certain, and Hine's eligibility remains in question.
But most important to Arax is this: "In the old days, when we were a nonentity, we always thought, 'We may lose this kid to Clovis West; we may lose that kid to Central.' That doesn't happen anymore, and that's a nice spot to be in. Now, if we were to lose a kid, we'd shake our heads and ask, 'Why would this kid go anywhere?' We think we're running a really good program."
It reached unprecedented levels last year behind a gifted class of 2010 that projected greatness after going 10-0 as freshmen.
This season, it's not as if the Knights are starting from scratch: Jajuan Hammond may be the section's premier wide receiver, Chris Tate and Demetrius Warren can run it and Ian Taubler and Smith represent a frightening defensive-end combination.
But a front-loaded schedule promises to offer a severe test.
"I want to be rockin' and rollin' in December," Arax hammered at his team in a post-practice sermon this week.
But, whoa for the first four games -- Saturday, at Del Oro-Loomis, the 2009 Sac-Joaquin Section D-II runner-up; Sept. 11, at Valley Christian-San Jose, No. 13 in the state in Cal-Hi Sports' preseason rankings; Sept. 24 at Clovis East, ranked No. 2 in the Central Section; and Sept. 30, against Clovis West, ranked No. 4 in the section.
"I do feel we've arrived," says Taubler, a 6-41/2, 235-pound junior and sure national recruit. "Winning the Valley was a pretty big deal. We just have to keep capitalizing on what we've got."