High School Football

Immanuel lifts way back to section football prominence

Cody King entered high school weighing “140 pounds soaking wet” according to Immanuel coach Matt Armstrong. He’s now a 185-pound two-way starter for an Eagles team ranked No. 1 in the Central Section in Division V by The Bee.
Cody King entered high school weighing “140 pounds soaking wet” according to Immanuel coach Matt Armstrong. He’s now a 185-pound two-way starter for an Eagles team ranked No. 1 in the Central Section in Division V by The Bee. sflores@fresnobee.com

By Immanuel football coach Matt Armstrong’s recollection, Cody King entered high school four years ago weighing roughly “140 pounds soaking wet.”

He’s now a rock-solid 185-pound senior and two-way starter for The Bee’s Central Section Division V top-ranked Eagles, and a perfect example of the metamorphosis they have undergone over the past four years.

It’s seen Immanuel blossom from doormat to section-title contender.

From nomadic program without a league or home stadium to a team that will re-enter the Central Sequoia League next season, possibly in a brand new 3,000-seat stadium that will be the crown jewel of a 55-acre sports complex being developed a stone’s throw away from the school’s land-locked Reedley campus.

And it all started in Immanuel’s weight room, where King transformed his body the way the Eagles did their fortunes on the football field.

“We’ve put a lot of work in, a lot more than we expected to put in,” said King, the Eagles’ center and inside linebacker. “It’s been continuous for four years, and we’re seeing the results.

“We’re not getting pushed around like we have in years past. It’s something cool that’s kind of our thing, the weight room. We treasure that. It’s a valuable part of our mornings and our summers. We spend a lot of time in there.”

King and Armstrong arrived at the same time, King from the junior high of the private Mennonite school and Armstrong from a stint at Clovis West as an assistant to former coach Mike Parsons.

They joined a proud small-schools program with eight section championships in the trophy case that had fallen on hard times, going a combined 16-48 in six seasons since a 13-0 run to the D-IV title in 2005. Immanuel had a particularly tough time competing in the CSL, where it went 0-6 in three of its four seasons in league play before dropping out and going freelance in football only in 2012.

With King as a four-year starter and Armstrong a stabilizing force for a program that had three coaches in the previous six seasons, Immanuel has gone 27-18, with a D-V runner-up finish last year. The Eagles are 6-1 heading into their homecoming game Saturday against Farmersville at Reedley High.

Armstrong said it’s not hard to connect the dots from a commitment to weight training to the Eagles’ success the past two seasons. And the task of getting kids into the weight room became a lot easier for Armstrong in 2013, when Immanuel built a new 4,000-square foot facility with open lighting and state-of-the art equipment to replace a dated and drab 800-square foot room.

“In the Central Valley, if you’re not lifting weights 10, 12 months a year, you are not going to be successful,” Armstrong said. “And our guys have committed to getting bigger, faster and stronger.

“Early on, we saw our younger kids were very talented. So it was a concerted and group effort to make sure we let it be know the weight room was the way we were going to build our program, and kids bought in. Our young kids bought in because they didn’t know any better, and the older kids bought in because they wanted a change.”

Immanuel appears to be the top contender for the No. 1 seed in D-V.

The Eagles are without a loss to section opposition, and feature wins over D-IV No. 3 Chowchilla (17-8), D-V No. 3 Dos Palos (31-18) and D-VI No. 2 Avenal (34-13). Immanuel’s only defeat came Oct. 17 at Bishop Diego, a now 7-0 Southern Section private school with a stadium overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara that is a bubble team on CalHi-Sports’ state rankings in D-IV.

Playoff seedings across the section’s six divisions will be announced Nov. 7.

“I definitely think we’re capable of winning a Valley championship,” Eagles quarterback Caleb Paulson said. “That’s been our goal since day one. It’s been our goal since losing to Corcoran last year.”

The Eagles, who were coming off consecutive 1-9 seasons before the arrival of Armstrong and the Class of 2016, started turning the corner with a 7-3 regular season last year that led to a No. 3 seed in D-V. Immanuel went on to lose 44-16 to eighth-seeded Corcoran in the final.

Senior leaders such as King, Paulson and receiver/linebacker Chris Rosedale have dedicated themselves to getting back to the section final and bringing a ninth title to their school.

“It left a bitter taste in our mouth,” Rosedale said of the loss to Corcoran. “We’re ready now.”

Immanuel has also positioned itself to grow as an athletic program with the development of its sports complex, which will also feature varsity and junior varsity baseball and softball parks and an eight-court tennis facility.

The baseball and softball parks – which seat 480 and 220, respectively, at the varsity level – are expected to be completed for use in the spring. The tennis courts are already done, having hosted the Central Sequoia League championships last week.

There isn’t an exact time-table for the football stadium, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility it could be completed by next season, which will give the Eagles their first home field after years of playing at nearby Reedley or Dinuba highs.

Immanuel Superintendent Ryan Wood said the land, located 2.2 miles away from campus in the country along the Kings River, was secured by “very gracious donors” to the school, but declined to reveal financial details.

“We’ve been very appreciative of Kings Canyon Unified for use of their facilities, but to have our own, with our colors and logos, will give our community a great sense of pride,” Wood said. “The facilities will also give us another element to our school that is appealing to kids.”

Nick Giannandrea: 559-441-6103, @NickG_FB

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