A football team playing for a perfect season battled a team playing for another win on a sunny November day in Clovis.
Alta Sierra’s eighth-graders carried a 7-0 record into the contest against Clark, which hoped to avenge an earlier loss to the Bruins.
Spectators filled the stands at Clark’s field. The home team’s pep squad cheered for the Chieftains. Anticipation was in the air.
Editor’s note: The Independent today begins a two-part series on the intermediate school football teams in the Clovis Unified School District. Today, we feature the Alta Sierra Bruins and Clark Chieftains.
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Chatter on social media in the days before the game had churned up “lots of emotion,” said Chris McGrady, head coach of Alta Sierra’s eighth-grade team.
Clark — second in league going into the game — opened the final contest of the 2015 season by recovering an onside kick. The Chieftains then moved to Alta Sierra’s 4-yard line.
Alta Sierra’s coaches called a timeout, hoping to settle their players.
The next series of plays could tell whether that strategy would work.
Across Clovis Unified every fall, students get the opportunity to play tackle football beginning in fifth grade. This fall, about 1,800 students participated on elementary and intermediate school teams.
The intermediate programs “help teach our student athletes how to compete as a team and work together to overcome adversity,” said Joe Aiello, director of educational services for Clovis Unified.
By the time players reach eighth grade, many are aiming to play in the competitive Tri-River Athletic Conference, which includes all five Clovis Unified high schools.
Coaches are looking to the future, too.
Of Clark’s eighth-graders, head coach Jeremy Luginbill said: “They will continue to improve in the Clovis High School system, and we look forward to watching them develop and compete in the future.”
As local football fans know, that is quite a system. Clovis High has roared back to football prominence under coach Rich Hammond, and the Cougars entered this year’s Division 1 playoffs seeded No. 1.
Alta Sierra’s students head to Buchanan, which this year shared the TRAC title with Clovis High.
“They will be a force when they hit Buchanan,” McGrady said of the Alta Sierra eighth-graders, who went undefeated as seventh-graders.
With Clark on Alta Sierra’s 4-yard line, the Bruins tried to regroup.
“Our Alta boys were playing with too much emotion, and Clark was taking advantage of it,” McGrady said.
The timeout seemed to work. Alta Sierra’s defense held Clark, and the Bruins’ offense took over. Kendall Milton, running back/free safety, led Alta Sierra all year, McGrady said. How would Kendall and his teammates respond on offense against the Chieftains?
Win or lose, the seventh- and eighth-grade teams for Alta Sierra and Clark played before loyal fans.
Daniel Moore rooted for his son, Daniel Jr., an Alta Sierra seventh-grader who started playing football when he was 4½.
“He likes the contact, and he likes the camaraderie with the other players,” his father said. “They’re all great kids, and they did good this year.”
Alta Sierra’s seventh-grade team finished at 6-2, placing second behind Granite Ridge. Clark’s seventh-grade team finished 2-6.
Among Clark’s fans, Jose Gallegos said it was “very awesome” to watch his eighth- grade son, Joey, play for the Chieftains. “He’s able to perform well, and he’s a great teammate,” Gallegos said.
The Gallegos family celebrates after every game — win or lose. “That’s the way it rolls sometimes,” Jose Gallegos said of losses.
Luginbill, Clark’s head coach, said there’s another reason to celebrate each season.
It’s exciting to see players come to Clark from eight elementary schools and form a united team, he said: “They develop a family bond and understand that we all have the same common goals. Our team slogan is, ‘We Are One.’ ”
Alta Sierra took control as quarterback Travis Hall threw touchdowns to Brandon Hernandez, Mark Green and Kendall. In addition, Mark returned an interception for a score.
The final score: Alta Sierra, 33; Clark, 10. The Bruins finished 8-0 and won the league title. Clark placed second at 5-3.
Luginbill said: “Congratulations to Coach McGrady and Alta Sierra on a great season!”
Earlier in the season, McGrady anticipated his team’s success. “This team will do some big things in the future if they continue to improve and work hard.”
Head coach: Rick Sandoval
Assistants: Jerry Aujero, Chris Pena and Andrew Williams
Players: Nathan Addison, Miguel Alonzo, Jon Baker, Christian Barnes, Bradley Bergeron, David Borrego, Camryn Bracha, Jonathon Brantley, Carson Brubaker, Joshua Burton, Anthony Cervantez, Joseph Chiarito, Sky Collins, Hyrum Davis, Kyle Davis, Dominic DePrinzio, Clark Donaghy, Jackson Dukes, Cristiano Escalante, Zachary Fish and Steven Franco,
Gabriel Gonzalez, Israel Gonzalez, Mijah Haywood, Antwon Jackson, Michael Jacot, Kasen James, Robert Jones, Cyrus Lo, Joseph Martin, Miles Molloy, Daniel Moore, Simeon Nenadov, Mario Ortiz, Matthew Paley, Hayden Petersen, Tyson Rhodes, Ethan Royal and George Ruiz,
Jeremy Sanchez, Isaiah Sandoval, Tyler Sheen, Stephen Shelly, Diego Silva, Mason Slowinski, Izaac Smith, DJ Stevenson, Dustin Taschler, Isaac Thompson, Ben Tout, Marshall Vaughn, Dedrick Ventura, Alec Vuicich, Justin Welch, Alexander Williams, Christian Williams, Jonathan Wolfe and Gabriel Yang.
Head coach: Chris McGrady
Assistants: Stephen Grady, Scott Inouye and Joe Marquez
Josh Allison, Charlie Barnes, Kelly Brewer, Daniel Bruce, Jonathan Caram, Dominique Carrillo, Matt Cerda, Drake Cervantes, Grant Cozzi, Paulino Cruz, Dalu Danu, Okechkwu Egbuziem, Caleb Fane, Mike Flores, Steven Garcia, Don Gatz, Mark Green and Devin Guerrero,
Travis Hall, Jace Henson, Brandon Hernandez, Tracey Hunter, James Jacinto, Charles Jones, Dante Lawson, Bradley Lockwood, Noah Lopez, Vincent Mahaffey, Race Mahlum, Justin Martin, Matt Merritt, Kendall Milton, Israel Moreno, Jared Nichols and Matt Nichols,
Ben Oller, Rhett Owen, Joshua Palafox, Shane Pond, Amr Ramadan, Mason Reilly, Jack Skinner, Zack Studt, Kenneth Tan, Christopher Trevino, Elijah Vara, Alex Vartanian, Austin Villarreal, Nick Warner and Liam Wolf.
Head Coach: Jeremy Luginbill
Assistants: Jason Anderson, Lorne Bell, David Canjura, Adam De La Vega, Scott Franz, Jeremy Leonardo, Phil Muro and Jake Poindexter.
Cason Allison, Brandon Amezcua, Dominick Angel, Thomas Brown, Shane Burke, Kade Campbell, Jesus Carranza, Jacob Carter, Noah Chacon, Benjamin Chang, Hunter Coleman, Michael Curtis, Dillan Dandes, Zack Dellamaggiore, Andrew Dowie, Carson Dyer, Diondre Fontes, Christian Garcia and Isaac Garcia,
Jordy Hilford, Donovan Hodge, Evan Holguin, Josh Holt, Cooper Lilles, Sunthy Lokeomanivong, Angel Madrid, Seth Madruga, Dominic Mastriano, Andrew McClellan, Ayden Merrihew, Isaya Morales, Parker Morgan, Chueyee Mouanatoua, Jack Nabors, Austin Navarro, Freeland Nedio, Kyle Okerson and Randy Owens,
Simeon Parks, James Philips, Caleb Pouliot, Connor Price, Antonio Ramos, Cory Rickerd, David Rocco, Johnny Rubalcava, Elijah Ruiz, Lane Sailors, Joey Salinas, Koby Savath, Drew Steinhardt, Justin Steinhauer, Isaac Suarez, Elijah Torres-Cordova, Johnathan Vang, Joshua Vega, Jonah Velasquez and Dylan Wigton
Isaac Aceituno, Roberto Aparicio, Tyler Araujo, Joseph Avila, Rowdy Brand, Peyton Burnett, Randy Castillo, Orlando Castro, Daniel Chavira, Mikelli Chiaramonte, Jaden Coffee, Danny Collins, Skylar Coon, Taylor Coon, Josh De La Cruz, Jorge Diaz and Keith Dunlap,
Nicholas Easter, Byron Fountain, Joseph Gallegos, Nathan Garza, Carson Gibbons, Michael Gonzales, Rafael Gutierrez, Garrett Harris, Chandler Howard, Phoenix Jones, Joel Jurado, Austin Krebs, Koby Kropf, Kourtland Leavell and Cody Luginbill,
Alex Macias, Dylan Mason, Rhys Montes, Brandon Nunemaker, Jefferson Ordonez, Joshua Perez, Carson Pfeiffer, Jordan Priddy, Zak Ruskofsky, Chris Rylant, Moses Saenz, Cody Salatino, Julian Saldivar, Damien Sanchez, Ahmed Sidi, Little Sierra, Damian Silva, Harrison Sims, Jarrett Smith, Porter Smith, Bryan Trujillo and Dylan Youngblood.