SALIDA -- Bruce Pielstick might have the most difficult task of any coach in the Stanislaus District as he rebuilds a Modesto Christian High program gutted by graduation.
The Crusaders were one of the top stories in the state last year, going 15-0 and winning the State Small School Bowl.
Virtually every player who played a role in that victory is gone, and coach Mike Parsons used the state title as a springboard to become head coach at mighty Clovis West.
"It's an unrealistic expectation to ask a team to win back-to-back state championships, but our football will continue to be played at a high level," Pielstick promises.
"We're going to find out very early just how good this team can be."
MC has one of the district's top recruits in Raymond Nelson -- the 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end verbally committed to UCLA last week -- but he's just one of two starters back.
Only eight players in all return from a team that scored 49 points a game and allowed only 16, then capped its storybook season with a goal-line stand to save a 44-40 win over Frances Parker of San Diego.
Pielstick had the Crusaders lifting weights, conditioning and playing in passing events during the summer, but Monday's 6 a.m. practice marked the start of the 2010 season.
MC kicks off its season in 17 days, traveling to Oakdale on Aug. 27. Not only is it a week earlier than normal, but Pielstick's debut is against one of the area's premier programs.
The Sac-Joaquin Section expanded its regular season to 11 weeks, but teams are limited to 10 games. Nearly half of the district's 49 teams are taking advance of the early start and will take the field the final Friday night in August.
It will be the first time Pielstick takes the field as a head coach, though he has spent 27 years toiling as an assistant.
His first task Monday was to identify a replacement for Isaiah Burse, The Bee's Player of the Year and one of Fresno State's top freshmen this fall.
The burden of replacing the dynamic Burse will fall to junior Nathan Sudfeld, a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder with a solid arm but lacking Burse's agility.
"We're keeping the bulk of the offense from last year, but there will be changes," says Pielstick, noting Burse had a unique set of skills. "Nate can run, but he's closer to a traditional pocket passer than he is to a running quarterback."
The players aren't the only ones getting familiar with the Pielstick approach: Just one of last year's assistants, offensive coordinator Steve Gleason, returns to the sideline.
Pielstick was one of six new head coaches on the practice field Monday: Richie Alkire (Beyer), Todd Sevick (Waterford), Aaron Souza (Orestimba), Jake Messina (Golden Valley) and Mark Miller (Linden) also made their debuts.
While Orestimba and Linden were 5-5 in 2009, the other three were a combined 6-24.
Alkire and Miller will benefit from being familiar with their programs, since Alkire was Beyer's co-coach a year ago and Miller is on his second tour as Linden's top man.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.