SONORA -- The plant is called Mountain Misery, native to the western slopes of the Sierra, and it oozes a pungent sap that sticks to clothes and skin.
It spreads quickly and covers a lot of ground -- like the way Sonora High prowls on defense.
Which explains why all those "MM" T-shirts are seen in Tuolumne County. The Wildcats pride themselves on hard-hitting football and, yes, defense that rolls out Mountain Misery on all opponents.
Or, as second-year coach Bryan Craig puts it, "I love the physical element on my team."
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"MM" was begun in 1995 by Roger Canepa, the current Central Catholic head coach who back then guided the Sonora defense. That group pounded its way to a Sac-Joaquin Section title, and Craig revived the slogan soon after he took charge.
The Wildcats are accustomed to football success. They absorbed only one losing season during the decade while winning 65.3 percent of their games. A 10-1 campaign in 2000, a section finals appearance in 2005 (after losing their first three games) and a one-point loss to Placer in the 2009 semifinal suggests a program with high goals and a positive self-image.
Mountain Misery also is a metaphor to Sonora's overall philosophy. It stands for hard-contact nastiness and overall hard work to offset physical disadvantages.
Consider their three-day "Boot Camp" each summer, a bonding session during which football players do everything from repainting the "S" above Dunlavy Field to digging trenches for the conduits to the stadium's new lights.
"They sleep on the football field, and nobody begs off," said Rick Francis, Sonora's longtime basketball coach and athletic director. "These kids basically clean up the school."
With that, Sonora has overcome such issues as dropping enrollment. Attendance, which reached as high as 1,700 during the 1990s, dropped to 1,102 last year. It's expected to decrease again before the Tuolumne County economy bounces back.
Regardless, the Wildcats haven't backed off on the football field. Craig, a Sonora graduate and a coach in the program for 20 years, brought in two strength and conditioning coordinators to reinforce the Wildcats' muscle.
They also believe in Dunlavy Field, their 73-year-old hillside venue that USA Today selected as one of the nation's "10 great places to watch a high school football game" in 1997.
Adding artificial turf and new lights -- with plans under way for an all-weather track -- updates the Stanislaus District's most distinctive football venue. The bus ride up the foothills makes game night as tradition-steeped for valley guests as the home team.
But more important, Sonora stresses its own style on the field. Craig, a defense-oriented coach, wants his team "strong and tough. We want to take over everything."
Like Mountain Misery.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.