Bullard High's continued journey toward an elusive prize -- the 54-year program's first Central Section football title -- finds the Knights unbeaten, ranked in the Central Section and state, and way imperfect.
Problems? Major, and let's count them:
- Quarterback Kerr Taubler: Out for at least a week with an elbow staph infection.
- Wide receiver Jajuan Hammond: Out for two to three weeks with a separated shoulder.
- Center Mike Mendoza: Out for at least three weeks with a sprained knee.
- Linebacker Daniel Snelling: Out for one more week because of disciplinary problems.
- Cornerback John Jones: Out indefinitely after injuring a knee on the last play of practice Wednesday.
How good are they? Among the best at their positions in the section this season and among the finest Bullard has ever had.
Yet 10-year Bullard coach Donnie Arax says there could be a positive to be gleaned from the losses: "I like this situation because it kind of tests our character. We're not good front-runners; I'm not comfortable with it. I would have thought we would have tripped up along the way, and I'm not sure that would have been a bad thing for us."
The answers to the character exams will be learned in a difficult County/Metro Athletic Conference-ending run against No. 19 Sanger, No. 10 Edison and No. 13 Hoover.
But, while Arax is about to find out something about that character, he already knows all he needs to about the team's characters.
There is no shortage among a sure, surly group with six seniors starting their third varsity seasons after going unbeaten on the freshman team in 2006.
"It's a challenging team in a lot of ways," Arax says. "It's so confident it needs to be humbled. I called a parent meeting at midseason, and I've never done that. It's not like they're breaking laws. I guess they feel they can't be beaten; they're too cocky. And we really haven't done anything. I mean, what have we done?"
Everything but win it all.
Under Arax, the Knights are 70-38-1 with three league titles and a 2005 section Division I runners-up finish to Bakersfield.
Interestingly, for a program that has never found gold, this is the ultimate search.
"We don't want to lose the big one, we don't want the reputation that we can't finish it," Arax says. "In reality, our goals are now set where Clovis West's have been for a long, long time. Our season will be a disappointment if we don't win the big one at the end."
Shidan show near end?
Sanger's latest conquest of Edison comes amid street talk that coach Chuck Shidan's 20th season with the Apaches will be his last.
"I'm here," came a response as evasive as Sanger running back Felix Villagran with the outcome hanging in the balance last Friday, when the Apaches shocked the then-No. 5 Tigers 21-19.
Villagran rushed for 117 yards as Sanger improved to 9-3 against Edison under Shidan, who is 143-81 overall, with three section titles.
Many of the wins over the Tigers were considered upsets, perhaps no greater than the last, when the Apaches recovered a fumble with 2 minutes remaining and scored the winning touchdown with 18 seconds to go.
This gives Sanger (3-4) a chance -- albeit remote -- to extend a streak of 13 consecutive winning seasons.
Regardless of talent -- and this team is a cut below the norm in red, white and blue -- the program continues to compete well under Shidan, regardless of division or competition.
He doesn't confirm or refute rumors: "I'm enjoying it, and I have a great support staff. It's a trying year, but I love coaching; that's what I do."
CW golf raises the bar
Clovis West's section- and state-title counts in 32 years of varsity competition stand at 162 and three. Now to watch to see whether the Golden Eagles' girls golf team -- the best in section history -- will boost those totals.
On the section level, they will be the prohibitive favorite to capture a fourth-straight crown Tuesday at the Tulare Golf Course.
To reach the state level, Clovis West must place among the top two Tuesday and then the top three at the Southern California Championship on Nov. 16 at Murrieta. The State Championship, typically dominated by SoCal representatives, will be Nov. 19 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach.
Combining four-year starters in Asia Adell, cousins Morgan and Jamie Thomas, and Alison Ross with the Orito sisters -- junior Alyssa and rising star Camille -- the Eagles blend the talent, experience and course savvy to make a deep run at state.
But as good as they are, consider: their section-shattering 378 in the North Area finals at Madera Municipal Golf Course mirrors winning scores at the past two SoCal Championships. And, at the SCGA Golf Course in Murrieta, those scores were posted at a much more demanding venue with elevation changes and tricky, fast greens.
Regarding the SoCal finals, should his team get there after placing seventh last year, Clovis West coach Ken Shipley can only say this: "Our 18-hole scoring average has improved by more than 30 strokes over the last two years, which is outstanding. So we have a good chance for the highest finish we have ever had."