It didn't take long for Golden Valley running back James McCabe to notice the difference. The GV football team was scrimmaging during a camp at UC Monterey Bay, and it was obvious the offensive line was moving people around.
McCabe realized then that all the team's time in the weight room was paying off.
"We focused a lot on getting stronger and it really showed at camp," McCabe said. "Our offensive line and defensive line really did well."
GV isn't big enough to intimidate many teams.
What Golden Valley players do have -- to go with some extra strength -- is a better understanding of the spread veer option offense.
Last year was all about transition with a new coach and a new offense.
"I think we can compete," said lineman Javier Rodriguez. "We don't have the biggest guys, but we can put you to the ground."
A talented secondary that included Jay Jay Terry and Jeremy Jacobo was a big reason coach Jon Betschart's boys surprised people with their 5-5 finish.
The defense kept Golden Valley in games.
But this year, the offense will have to lead the way.
"Based on what we saw at camp, we're further along offensively than we were last year and that's encouraging," Betschart said.
"We went to a 3-3-5 defense like Atwater. That may pose problems for people, but it's not as polished.
"We're going to need our offense to control the ball. That's what we do. We want to play a possession game and give ourselves a chance to win."
Matt Martin has won the quarterback job and will be expected to lead the offense.
McCabe returns at fullback along with wingback Rey Rivas to help anchor the running game.
"This year, we're going to have to rely on our offense a lot and that's fine," McCabe said.
Golden Valley added a Sac-Joaquin Section heavyweight to its pre-conference schedule.
GV heads to Carmichael Jesuit Sept. 20.
"That game is going to show us where we stand," McCabe said. "That's a game everyone is looking forward to playing."
The schedule also features GV's first varsity game held on campus since the school opened in 1994.
Golden Valley will host Modesto Downey on Sept. 12.
"We want to see if it helps give us more support from the student body," Betschart said. "We want to give it a shot."
The GV players expect to be in the hunt for the playoffs.
"We worked really hard," Rodriguez said. "It was tough waking up at 6 a.m. every morning to go work out hard and then condition afterward.
"But it gives us a feeling that we can do something good."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at email@example.com.