DOS PALOS -- Mike Sparks' coaching creativity was pushed to the max last fall. Lack of speed, depth and experience left the Dos Palos football team with potential holes all over the field.
The 21-year veteran called upon all of his guile to patch the holes with spackle and tape, but the result was Dos Palos' first losing season in some time.
Sparks may have to be even more clever this season.
Faced with the same set of problems, the DP coach is turning to four sophomores on offense for the first time in his long tenure.
"Last year we weren't as talented as we've been, but the kids played hard," Sparks said. "We lost more games than we were used to, but we were in most of those games.
"This year could be a lot like last year. We're going to have to play hard every single week."
Avoiding a repeat of last season's struggle may depend on how quickly the sophomore quartet adjusts to the varsity game.
"We've got four sophomores stepping in to play key positions," Sparks said. "There will probably be some growing pains.
"They're all highly skilled players, though. They can play on the varsity level and that's why we have them in there."
Ryan Yriarte will take over at quarterback, Sean Demmers is the starting center, Travis Martin takes over at right tackle and Kevin Schofield will play one of the running backs in Dos Palos' I-back, double-tight offense as well as starting at linebacker.
"My brother was on the team last year and it was pretty disappointing to watch," Schofield said. "Our motto this year is working hard to get back on track.
"The sophomores aren't really feeling any pressure, we're just trying to learn as fast as we can.
"We've been running this system since we were in junior high, so it helps. It's also nice knowing there are other guys your age going through what you're going through."
Fortunately for Dos Palos, there are a few veteran returners to provide stability while the underclassmen find their legs.
The most dangerous of those veterans is returning all-conference wide receiver Hector Gomez.
It's not easy for a receiver to make a name for himself in DP's run-heavy offense, but Gomez's combination of hands and speed make him tough to ignore.
"I don't get thrown to a lot, because we run the ball, but coach has been trying me in different things," Gomez said.
"I've been moved around -- sometimes lining up at running back -- and there's been some plays added just for me.
"It's been fun."
Senior tackle Joseph Maldonado will anchor the offensive line and protect Yriarte's backside.
And if DP's offensive drives happen to sputter, four-year varsity kicker Humberto Del Rio should make sure the team comes away with points.
On the defensive side, senior Cody Green makes the move from cornerback to safety and Eric Jacobo will lead the team's linebacking corps.
The bulk of DP's starters will be first timers, but despite the team's lack of experience, Sparks sees the potential for success.
"One thing we have going for us is tradition," Sparks said. "Our guys don't want to let down those traditions.
"The last year we won the Valley wasn't necessarily our best team, but they got it done.
"If these guys continue to work hard, we'll be in every game."
Sparks' veterans are spreading the word.
"We didn't always work hard last year and we let down a lot during the fourth quarter," Gomez said. "This year we're working much harder and the leaders are emerging.
"I think it's going to be a good season."