It won't be long before the clanging of weights and grunts are heard in the Chowchilla weight room.
Soon enough, John Henson's boys will be preparing for the 2008 football season.
The Chowchilla coach would like to give his guys a little time off, though.
"We're looking forward to next season," Henson said. "Our weight-lifting sessions begin in mid-January. For some guys, we're not starting soon enough. They want to get out."
Never miss a local story.
Chowchilla, which finished 8-4 this fall, has come close to winning Valley Championships in each of Henson's two years.
Henson led Chowchilla to the section title game in his first season, only to see Dos Palos come away with a 17-7 victory in 2006.
This year, Chowchilla lost to Taft 14-7 in the semifinals.
Taft went on to defeat Corcoran 28-14 to win the championship.
Despite falling just short again, Henson came away from this season feeling good.
Despite an onslaught of injuries, his guys never quit.
"Sure, there's some sense of disappointment," Henson said. "As coaches, we thought we had the talent to take it all the way to the championship game.
"If we had to go out, we went out with a great effort."
Chowchilla actually led Taft 7-0 midway through the second quarter.
A personal foul against Chowchilla -- which Henson claimed was questionable -- aided Taft in a scoring drive that tied the game.
Trailing 14-7 late in the game, Chowchilla appeared to have evened things when quarterback Rob Diepersloot threw a 33-yard pass into the end zone.
However, Diepersloot had taken one step over the line of scrimmage and the play was called back.
Three of Chowchilla's four defeats came by seven points or less.
In the other, a 25-14 loss to Washington Union, Chowchilla trailed 19-14 with five minutes left.
"We're excited about next year and the guys we have coming back," Henson said.
"Our JV team won the league title for the second year in a row. So we'll have some good juniors coming up.
"We have a lot to look forward to next season."
* * *
The Sac-Joaquin Section could be well represented this year at the CIF State Championship Bowl games.
CalHiSports currently has Stockton St. Mary's (12-1) ranked as the top Division II team in Northern California.
If St. Mary's can defeat Napa Saturday in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, it'll probably earn a berth in the state title game.
St. Mary's could be joined in Carson by Modesto Central Catholic.
Central Catholic won its seventh straight Sac-Joaquin Section championship on Saturday with a 24-6 win over Patterson.
Mike Glines' boys are ranked No. 2 by CalHiSports in Division III Northern California Rankings.
The top team is Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman (11-1-1), who tied Central Catholic (11-1-1) 35-35 on Sept. 8.
The two teams could have made it a lot easier on the selection committee if they'd decided to play overtime.
Central Catholic will be rooting heavily for St. Mary's this weekend against Napa.
St. Mary's is the only team to beat Central Catholic -- a 45-41 victory on Sept. 14.
If St. Mary's goes on to the Division II state title game, it's going to be hard for the section commissioners to ignore Central Catholic in favor of Cardinal Newman.
Cardinal Newman's lone loss was to Del Oro, which was destroyed 49-14 by Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship on Friday.
* * *
The Merced girls basketball team will be in action when the 25th annual Merced Holiday Invitational starts today at Merced High.
Modesto will face Turlock in the opening game of the tournament at 3:30 p.m.
Pitman plays Mission San Jose at 5 p.m. and Oakdale faces Monte Vista at 6:30 p.m.
Merced will close out the opening day marathon against Modesto Johansen at 8 p.m.
The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday.
* * *
Marcus Knott was hoping to have one of the area's top athletes in uniform this season.
However, all-sport star Bernard Bolden was sitting up in the bleachers when Merced opened the basketball season against Fairfield Armijo on Tuesday night.
Bolden chose not to play basketball in the hopes of putting on some weight for football next year.
Fellow football players Kameron Huddleston and Nathan Mayfield also decided not to play basketball.
Bolden hopes to put on about 15 to 20 pounds.
The junior does plan to play baseball and run track this spring.
Did Knott make a pitch to Bolden, who was a standout on the basketball JVs last year?
"No, I haven't talked to him about it," Knott said. "We want players who really care about being out here, and if a guy -- for his own reasons -- doesn't really have that desire, then it's probably best for everyone if he doesn't come out."
But that doesn't mean Knott hadn't been hoping.
Asked flat-out if Bolden had been front and center in his plans for this season, Knott said: "Oh, yeah!"
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.