Merced College football coach Bob Casey and Modesto Junior College coach Rusty Stivers chat regularly.
The pair came up the ranks of their respective programs as assistants at the same time and would often cross paths on the recruiting trail or at major high school football games. The schools no longer are in the same conference, but that has only helped solidify the friendship.
For years, we would scrimmage with Gavilan, but now that they’re not in our conference, MJC was the easy choice.
Merced College coach Bob Casey
So, when even the hint of a possibility community college scrimmages could be reinstated this year, the former rivals worked out a plan. That plan became a reality this week when the California Community College Athletic Association’s cost containment that eliminated scrimmages after the 2011 season was lifted.
MJC will come to Stadium ’76 for a scrimmage Aug. 25 at 6 p.m., helping both teams prepare for the season-opening weekend Sept. 3.
“For years, we would scrimmage with Gavilan, but now that they’re not in our conference, MJC was the easy choice,” Casey said. “Coach Stivers and I had already talked and agreed we’d set this up if it got approved. So they’ll come to our place this year and we’ll play in Modesto next year. After that, we’ll see.
“It’s huge for us, one because of proximity, but two they’re just a good challenge. We’ve seen the last couple years, by the time we get to the Blue/Gold game, guys are tired of lining up against each other. This gives everyone something to look forward to.”
Casey said with so many former high school teammates crossing between the programs, they’ll do a little bonding, including a postgame barbecue.
The coaches have tossed around ideas on the scrimmage format, but Casey said nothing had been finalized yet.
“The most important thing is that both teams get their reps,” Casey said. “I imagine both teams have some situational things we’ll want to work on. How long we go is something coach Stivers and I will probably hash out in the next couple weeks.”
The Blue Devils are coming off a disappointing 4-6 campaign, the program’s 17th in a row without a winning record, and will play a new nonconference schedule. Merced keeps contacts with Shasta (9-2) and Yuba (5-5) and adds Redwoods (3-7) and San Jose (2-8).
While all it takes is one good recruiting class to make a dramatic change, on paper the changes look good for the Blue Devils.
The most important thing is that both teams get their reps. I imagine both teams have some situational things we’ll want to work on.
Merced College coach Bob Casey
“I’m not excited about the schedule next year, when we’re going to have to travel a ton, but this year looks good,” Casey said. “Redwoods and San Jose are improving teams, but the potential is definitely there for us to be 2-0 like last year. Honestly, it comes down to the guys and how they interact with each other. Are they willing to work and play for each other?
“Last year, we had a lot of talent, but internally, we weren’t a very good team. Guys weren’t happy for each other’s successes, and when you have a team like that, it guarantees a 4-6 season at the least. There’s a lot of work to be done before this season, so we’ll have to see.”