Klayton Miller was more of a custodian than a quarterback last season, tossing just nine passes a game as Modesto High ground out victories.
With the duo of James Ingram and Arquel Rogers each averaging seven yards a carry, Miller's role was to get the ball from the center to a back.
It was a successful scheme, leading the Panthers to their third Modesto Metro Conference title in six years. Long a bottom-tier team, Modesto has used its grind-it-out style to supplant Davis as the most consistent program in town.
With Ingram and the majority of the offensive line graduating, however, the priority this summer was to prepare Miller to take on a larger role.
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"We did a lot of 7-on-7 passing, so I could work with receivers on timing," says Miller, who threw for 1,241 yards and 13 TDs as a junior. "I also went to camps and focused on improving my footwork, keeping my elbow up, accuracy and throwing it on the run."
Miller completed 59 percent of his throws last fall, throwing just three interceptions, but at times he battled more than just the defense. He sat out a 50-23 win over Beyer after getting in a dispute with coaches the week of the game.
"I'm real competitive and it gets the best of me at times. I got upset and didn't handle it as well as I should have," Miller says. "It's a lesson I needed to learn. We took care of it."
Miller's numbers were modest last year, considering he completed 85 of 145 for 1,149 yards as a part-time starter his sophomore year. Modesto realized early in 2009, though, that the tandem of Rogers and Ingram were difficult for foes to stop.
That led to an average of 40 carries a game, and just nine passes. Of course, the scheme helped Modesto to the conference title and 36 points game.
Ingram had 200 carries and his departure will create additional touches for Miller and Rogers. It also could provide an opportunity for Jaron Ingram, James' cousin and one of the up-and-coming backs.
Ingram's loss isn't the only one affecting Modesto: Andre Barry (30 receptions, 11 TDs) and the majority of the offensive line were seniors in 2009. The good news is the JV team won the MMC last fall and it showed improvement — beating Davis and tying Beyer after losing to both by a combined four TDs as freshmen.
A handful of those players suited up for Modesto's 27-26 overtime playoff loss to Los Banos. It gave Nestor Garcia, a 6-foot, 260-pound lineman, a better idea of what will be expected from him this season.
"Everything's faster on varsity. The linemen are bigger and stronger," the two-way tackle says. "We'll have three or four new guys on the line, so we've got to spend a lot of time working together before we go out for our first game."
Modesto opens Aug. 27, facing Pitman on the new artificial turf at Debely Field on the Turlock High campus. Its early schedule also features Turlock and Sonora, teams that typically have physical lines.
Garcia is a legacy Panther: Brother Christian and stepdad Jonathan Kelly also sported Modesto's red and black.
"There are a lot of us whose brothers or fathers played for Modesto. I think the tradition motivates us to put in the extra time, knowing everyone's counting on us," Garcia says.
Washington Pesaleli is one of the few Panthers with varsity experience on the line, so the 5-10, 260-pound defensive end-tight end has a dual role.
"You win football games by working hard in the summer, and the guys up from JV need to know that," Pesaleli says.
Pesaleli was a regular at the morning lift sessions. Out of bed by 6:30 a.m., he was one of dozens who spent their mornings in a humid weight room.
"We had a couple guys who should have been here more often, but we had very strong attendance," he says. "Going to the playoffs convinced a lot of guys to work harder this summer, because they saw the difference that it made."