ATWATER --- In February 2009, Jarrell Davis was bouncing around the weight room when Buhach Colony coach Kevin Swartwood raised a hand and waved him over.
"Yeah, coach," said Davis, then a junior preparing for his first full season at the varsity level.
Swartwood had a surprise for one of the principals of his deceptive Fly Sweep offense.
He pointed Davis toward the door, building his anticipation with talk of a new kid.
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A new weapon.
"Look through there," Swartwood said.
Davis, a diminutive running back with ultra-fast feet, stepped out of the weight room and into the shadow of Matt Cochran, a 6-foot-5, 360-pound sophomore.
As his eyes widened and head craned, his jaw, well...
"My whole jaw hit the floor," Davis said. "I've seen people that have been big like that, but I've never played with anybody that big."
But could he play?
That was the only question fellow running back Dallon Muse had when he bumped into the Houston, Texas, transfer on campus.
"You're going to play football with us, right?" Muse prodded.
Cochran, the son of a preacher, nodded politely, "Yes, sir."
"After that, we were best friends," Muse said.
It certainly appeared that way on the field as Buhach Colony's offense put up record-setting numbers in 2009, leading the program to its first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
Three running backs eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
Corey Chapman rushed for 1,546 yards in just nine games and was on pace for a 2,000-yard season before injuries ended his season.
Muse rushed for more than 1,150 yards, and Davis topped the milestone in a first-round playoff loss at Stockton St. Mary's.
Lost in all the headlines, dazzling touchown runs and wild end zone celebrations was the biggest man on the field.
Cochran, the soft-spoken, highly intelligent first-year center, had as much to do with Buhach Colony's offensive fireworks as Fly boys Muse, Davis and Chapman.
"He gets all the credit if you ask me," Muse said.
With nimble feet, natural strength and a wide body, Cochran almost single-handedly solidifed the inside run game for Buhach Colony, opening up holes the size of train tunnels for Chapman and Muse to explode through.
As those two gutted defenses, luring extra defenders into the center of the field, Davis found more and more running room on the outside.
"A lot of people don't understand the Fly. They think it's just a bunch of fast guys running around. We had some pretty fast guys, but our run game is based on two things: one, our perimeter game; and two, the inside run.
"Matt changed our inside run game, because he's got a big body with good feet. And he was smart enough to pick up the run schemes."
Cochran shies away from compliments like these; instead redirecting the spotlight to less heralded teammates. He insists he's hardly the superstar. The kid with the super-sized XXXL jersey has a teeny-tiny ego.
Buhach Colony returns eight players, including six starters, from last fall's offense.
Chapman is out indefinitely for disciplinary reasons. The senior has led BC in rushing each of the last two years, despite missing considerable chunks of time in each of those seasons.
Tackle Michael Escobar, quarterback Ben Watkins, wide reciever Matt Small, Cochran, Davis and Muse return as first-stringers, and will be joined by second-year varsity linemen J.J. Corn and Chris French.
One of the few fresh faces on offense, tackle Andrew Mark, might be the most talented.
But it's clear, on this line, in this offense, Cochran is the captain.
He's earned that distinction.
He spent his offseason traveling from camp to camp, turning heads in Fresno, Berkeley and Cal Poly. He also shed 30 pounds since last fall, shaved time off his 40-yard dash and poured himself into Swartwood's "Bigger, Faster, Stronger" weight-lifting regimen.
"He's got big, big upside," Swartwood said. "There's so much in front of him."
Cochran will never forget his first day on campus -- or the way he stunned a room full of football players.
"Everybody got completely silent," he said. "Everyone was staring at me. I thought it was weird. That had never happened before."
People still stop to stare, but nowadays, they're usually collegiate coaches or scouts.
Surmised Swartwood: "He's one of those rare kids that we got lucky to have come to our school."
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.