ATWATER — The question staggered Buhach Colony coach Kevin Swartwood a bit, rocking him back on his heels like a Money Mayweather jab.
The ol’ ball coach swiveled to his left and right, looking for...
Oh, I don’t know.
A quick exit, maybe.
For help, perhaps.
For a tunnel from field to locker room, from hot seat to sanctuary. For a taxi to dive into.
For something -- anything to avoid the question, the "S" word and the answer he’d inevitably give.
“Do I think this group is ... (gulp) ... special?” Swartwood asked rhetorically, no doubt searching his mental library for one of those obscure answers coaches love to give. You know, the ones that sound more like an answer to “How many cliches can you jam into one response?” It never came.
Instead, he delivered the real thing, which is rare in a sport as guarded and sheltered as football.
For months, Swartwood has tried to deflect attention away from this talented crop of juniors. For months, it’s been “we’re too young” and “they need to prove they can play at this level.”
Well, after Friday’s 67-38 victory over Beyer — a record-setting third consecutive victory to open a season and a game in which BC could have very easily scored two more TDs — we can say this with stone-cold certainty: Yes, BC is young, younger than most. But boy, can they play.
By now, y’all about running backs Corey Chapman, Dallon Muse and Jarrell Davis. And how when you put their speed, power and vision together, they form Voltron.
But what you probably don’t know is how 6-foot, 5-inch center Matt Cochran opens up holes big enough for tractors to rumble through.
Or how avoiding Muse or Chapman on kickoffs may still cost you dearly. Junior receiver Matt Small is sneaky quick, and had a return touchdown called back on Friday because of penalty.
“It’s early,” Swartwood finally said. “Our league is going to be way tougher than our non-league. We’re preparing for that. But do I feel like this group is special?
“I think they can be.”
Coach is right in his evaluation of the Central California Conference and of his team. Only I’d take it a step farther.
The CCC will be a dogfight week in and week out. It’s unlikely anyone will run the table. Not Merced, the three-time champion. Not Pitman, a perennial playoff team. Not Los Banos or Atwater. Not GV or Turlock. And not even Buhach Colony.
This season offers refreshing change: the mighty have come back to the Earth, and the mightily bad have dug themselves out of the grave.
Golden Valley is light years ahead of where it was a season ago and Atwater feels like a playoff contender, but no team has come farther than Buhach Colony.
That’s why, for my money, this Friday’s game will be the biggest in program history. The biggest. Bigger than any Bloss Bowl. Bigger than Merced. Bigger than its league opener at Pitman.
You’re thinking: That’s bananas. Burns has gone mad.
Or maybe not.
Buhach Colony travels to Escalon this Friday, and the matchup speaks volumes about where BC’s been and where it’s going.
BC has never played in a playoff game, much less a late-October game worth writing about.
In fact, Escalon owns property in Title Town, winning seven Sac-Joaquin Section crowns since 1993. They are one of the premier small-school programs in Northern California.
If BC were to roll out of town with a win on Friday, it would legitimize everything they’ve accomplished to this point. It would quiet the naysayers that snicker about the quality of opponent, and make believers out of their own fan base.
More importantly, it would earn Buhach a measure of respect, locally and regionally, never afforded to its football program. A win puts BC in the conversation.
For what it’s worth, a close loss would have the similar effect.
But it’s clear, this batch of BC football players don’t deal much with losses or moral victories.
This is a win-only group, now 21-2 over three levels since 2007.
And that alone is rare and pretty special.
James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.