The euphoria of reaching the CIF State Division V-AA championship game has provided residual benefits for the Immanuel High football team.
Specifically, a rise in participation at the 275-student private Mennonite school in Reedley.
Eagles coach Matt Armstrong said he has 31 players on varsity and 52 in the program, up from 22 on varsity to start last season and 47 overall.
“You go to a state championship game and everyone in school wants to play football now,” Armstrong said. “We’ve got excitement up on campus. Kids that didn’t want to play want to play now.”
Never miss a local story.
You go to a state championship game and everyone in school wants to play football now. We’ve got excitement up on campus. Kids that didn’t want to play want to play now.
Immanuel football coach Matt Armstrong on his program’s growth in numbers following a run to the CIF State Division V-AA final last season
Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz experienced a similar though not long-lasting spike after a run to the Division IV-A final.
Pittz said he had 60 varsity players – up from the 35 he fielded during the regular season last year – when organized, early-morning weight training began in January. That number dwindled to 33 through attrition of players missing more than eight training sessions.
“We put the kids through a pretty stringent offseason,” Pittz said. “We’re huge on commitment. Some of them had no idea what they were in for.”
But one benefit both Immanuel and Chowchilla have enjoyed from their historic postseason runs is a determination to get back and win a state title. The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dinuba High in the Central Section’s marquee small schools game of the week.
The Eagles lost 56-21 to Mater Dei Catholic-Chula Vista in the V-AA final, while the Redskins were edged 20-15 by Sierra-Manteca for the IV-A title. Both were making their first appearances in the CIF’s expanded state championship system.
Led by a fourth-year starter in defensive lineman/fullback Oscar Hernandez, three-year starters in running back/defensive back Kyle Dunigan and linebacker/tight end TJ Specht, and promising first-year varsity players in quarterback/safety Adam Simonian and receiver/defensive back Bradley Collins-Dunn, Immanuel is off to a 1-0 start following a 35-34 victory over Desert-Edwards Air Force Base on Aug. 26.
“Playing for the state championship was huge for us and I know it was huge for (Chowchilla,)” said Armstrong, whose team is 33-20 with a section D-V title and D-V runner-up finish in his four-plus seasons. “I think it solidified that what we are doing is right. It’s grown expectations. And that’s what we wanted to do, keep expectations growing and keep guys committed to the weight room. Our kids understand that’s where we get better.”
Chowchilla returns several key players – including running back/linebacker Ronnie Reyes, running back/linebacker Damon Perry, running back/safety Justin Cantrell, tight end/safety Bernardo Bustillos, right tackle/defensive lineman Matt Johnston, left tackle/defensive lineman Dylan Rees and center/defensive lineman Gabe Sanchez – from a team that went 12-3 last season en route to the section D-V title.
It’s refreshing to come to work every day and have everyone positive and working hard, without having to prod them. The success from last year has spurred them on. And not getting it done in the championship game has really motivated these guys.
Chowchilla football coach Alex Pittz, whose team is focused on getting back to and winning the CIF State Division IV-A football final
The Redskins opened Aug. 26 with a 51-0 victory over Roosevelt.
“They have been working so hard and they have got great attitudes,” Pittz said. “It’s refreshing to come to work every day and have everyone positive and working hard, without having to prod them. The success from last year has spurred them on. And not getting it done in the championship game has really motivated these guys.”
Stadium not ready – Immanuel had hoped to play home games this season in a new stadium that is to be the centerpiece of the school athletics complex, just down the road from campus along the Kings River.
But Fresno County officials have not signed off on the final stages of construction, Eagles athletic director Josh Franco said, forcing the school to play its four home games at Reedley and Dinuba highs.
After Friday’s game against Chowchilla at Dinuba, Immanuel will use Reedley’s stadium for home games Oct. 7 against Dinuba and Oct. 28 against Kingsburg. The Eagles’ opener Aug. 26 against Desert was at Reedley.