TURLOCK -- Dexter Coward jogs around the secondary with a spring in his step and it's not just because he's trying out a new position.
An appearance in the 36th Lions All-Star Football Classic has given the former Atwater star an opportunity to erase a disappointing senior season.
Coward and his South teammates hope to end a six-game losing streak as they square off with the North at 7 p.m. on Saturday at The University of Pacific's Stagg Memorial Stadium.
"I'm excited," Coward said after Wednesday's evening practice at Stanislaus State. "The end of the year was very frustrating and this is kind of like a second shot to end my career on a high note."
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Coward's senior campaign was derailed on a Friday night in late October at Turlock.
Atwater entered its game with Pitman 2-0 in the Central California Conference and looking to make a statement against the perennial playoff contender.
Coward was effective in early in the game, accumulating 65 yards on eight carries and catching a touchdown pass.
However, things began to unravel when he suffered an injury in the second quarter.
"I'd taken a pretty good pop on the play before, but I was fine," Coward said. "My shoulder hurt, but I figured it would go away.
"On the the next play, I took a hand-off and was just running when I felt my arm pop out."
Coward suffered a partially separated shoulder. He attempted to give it a go in the second half, returning for Atwater's opening possession, but...
"I was in agony," Coward said. "My shoulder wasn't right for the rest of the season and our year went right down with it.
"It's frustrating because we had so much talent. If we had won that game, we'd have been in control in the CCC.
"Unfortunately, it didn't happen like that."
All of that is forgotten now, with a healthy Coward back out on the field.
Wednesday's practice was proof of that.
One minute he was exchanging verbal jabs with Merced defensive end Nathan Mayfield, a longtime conference rival, and the next he was flying across the field to make a play on a pass.
All the while, he wore a grin on his face.
Coward's enthusiasm has been a hit with South head coach Dennis Stubbs and the rest of the Los Banos coaching staff.
"We're really impressed," Stubbs said. "We always knew Dexter was a good athlete, but watching him fly around at safety is something else.
"Put a little extra size on him and he could be something special in a few years."
CCC fans almost got to see the gifted athlete roaming the secondary -- but some issues with the linebacking corps forced Atwater coach Bob Valladao to scrap the idea and put Coward at linebacker.
"I've always wanted to play safety, so I'm having a lot of fun," Coward said. "I'm going to be playing safety at Modesto Junior College, so this has been a great opportunity for me.
"It would be great to get a pick or something, but mainly I just want to win.
"Few guys get to say they went out winners. We could be those guys."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.