A:is for all in the family. Merced is used to having family members on its roster, but never a dynamic like this. Star running back Eric DeAnda is the nephew of two-way lineman Joaquin DeAnda.
B:is for building slowly. After finishing the 2009 season with just 14 players in uniform, Delhi had on average 22 players attend daily summer workouts. Several of those players, coach Rod McCombs happily reported, are second- and third-year varsity players.
C:is for CIF state bowl games, which will once again be staged at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Dec. 17-18. Selections for the Open, Division I, II, III and Small Schools games will be made on Dec. 12.
D:is for dedication. All six members of the Le Grand's varsity coaching staff played for the school: head coach Rick Martinez (class of 1990), offensive coordinator Raul Alvarez (1991), lines coach Erik Estrada ('02), and assistants Michael Serrano ('01), Alex Thomas ('01) and Leo Alvarez ('02).
E:is for everywhere and everything. Livingston senior quarterback Brian Alvarez might have been the only player in the county to throw, catch and run for a score in 2009.
F:is for farewell Mike Sparks. A longtime pillar of the Dos Palos football program, and its all-time leader in wins, Sparks will retire from coaching after this fall. In 22 seasons, Sparks is 199-66-2 with 17 league titles, six Valley championships and two state titles.
G:is for Grant, yes, Sacramento Grant -- the 2008 CIF State Open Division champions. On Oct. 1, Merced fans will get an up-close look at the national power, its legendary coach Mike Alberghini and five-star recruit Villiami Moala, regarded as one of the best linemen in the country.
H:is for "hold the line." Atwater returns a bevy of talent from the best defense in the Central California Conference in 2009. Atwater gave up just 255 points, held opponents to 14 or fewer points six times and shut out Johnson, 50-0. Linebacker Andrew Morgan leads a group that also includes defensive end Armando Garcia and safety Ben Finister. A young secondary gets a boost from new coach Seneca Ybarra, a former Merced assistant.
I:is for the immovable object, Livingston noseguard Dereck Gutierrez. The senior is built like a rock pile -- 6-foot-2, 340 pounds -- and is as strong as two men with agile feet. Buhach Colony center Matt Cochran (6-4, 330) called him a beast. Livingston head coach Chris Lacey simply calls him "our defense."
"We've never had a guy that we could tell fill two gaps," Lacey added. "He'll hold the point and free up (middle linebacker) Charles Brown."
J:is for jumping ship. Jake Messina enjoyed considerable success as a coordinator at Merced, so it makes sense that he'd pluck a few blossoms off the rose bush now that he's headlining his own program. Joining Messina's rebuild at Golden Valley are two former Merced grads: class of 1989's Herchel Thompson (running backs coach) and 2002's Joe Morales (freshman).
K:is for killjoy. Atwater cornerback Amir Tumbling tore his Achilles' tendon on the first day of the Pitman camp. Tumbling had 35 tackles and two interceptions last fall.
L:is for Laughrea, as in Rocklin QB Jimmy Laughrea. Loftin Stadium has seen its share of heralded quarterbacks -- St. Mary's Cody Vaz (Oregon State), Atwater's Nathan Sanchez (Reedley JC) and Los Banos' Erik Martin -- but few compare to Boise State-bound Laughrea, a gunslinger with nimble feet. Rocklin travels to Los Banos tonight.
M:is for Memo Ramirez, Golden Valley's kicker. Ramirez, an All-Area soccer player and the two-time CCC goalie of the year, will play football full-time.
N:is for new beginnings. A fixture on the Chowchilla coaching staff, Phil Cheatham has retired from football to pursue a music career with his Christian rock band, Driven Cure. Cheatham served as a Chowchilla assistant for seven seasons, experiencing two Valley championships and four finals appearances.
Phil plays the bass guitar and is joined by his son Michael, another former Chowchilla coach.
Driven Cure released its first CD last September and has toured in Hawaii, Mexico and Washington.
O:is for overhaul. Construction on the Golden Valley football stadium has begun. GV is slated to receive an all-weather track, artificial turf, new concession huts and bleachers. The construction doesn't just affect Golden Valley. Stone Ridge Christian, which also called the site home, will host games at Buhach Colony this fall.
P:is for Pioneer Market Grizzly Stadium, seating capacity 1,000. After 60 years of playing in the Gold Bowl at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, Mariposa moves to its locally funded, volunteer-driven stadium on campus.
Q:is for a quarterback of keen interest: Chowchilla's Thomas Flanagan. A renown baseball player with a natural throwing motion, Flanagan joins the fold after sitting out last season. Chowchilla doesn't throw much, but when it won a section title in 2008 it had a QB (Rob Diepersloot) who could stretch the field.
R:is for renewed rivalry. In shaking up the Sac-Joaquin Section, realignment has restored one of the Valley's top grudge matches: Hilmar at Escalon on Friday, Oct. 29. The two small-school powers rank among the southern half of the section's best in terms of winning percentage in the last 10 years. Escalon has a winning percentage of 83.6 percent in the millennium -- or 104-20-1 -- while Hilmar (84-30) has won nearly 74 percent of its games.
S:is for stuck in line. Livingston has two of the top skill players in the Western Athletic Conference in Alvarez and Brown, but the addition of former Division-I playoff team Los Banos and resident powers Central Catholic and Patterson likely means Livingston starts the season as an also-ran.
T:is for The Trigger Men. So much has been made and will be made about The Getaway Boys, but what about the players charged with calling the play and then putting the ball in their hands -- the quarterbacks? Of our five cover boys, three have familiar hands giving them the rock: Dos Palos' Ryan Yriarte (four-year starter), Merced's Rudy Monteon (801 yards, 4 TDs, 9 INTs) and Buhach Colony's Ben Watkins (700 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs).
U:is for up for grabs, the Central California Conference. The departure of defending champion Los Banos -- because of section-wide realignment -- means the throne has been vacated. Merced was the last to wear the crown in 2008-09. Pitman and Golden Valley garnered a split in 2005, the last of two straight by Pitman. Turlock hasn't won since 2003. It's been more than a decade since Atwater's dynasty ended in 1998. Buhach Colony has never won a CCC title.
V:is for Victory with Honor, the Sac-Joaquin Section's slogan.
W:is for the tongue-tying question: Which one will be Wichmann, as in the next Cody Wichmann, the giant tight end and lineman now playing on scholarship at Fresno State? The honor and lofty expectation go to Le Grand's Alex Martinez, a 6-foot-4 senior primed for a banner season in the Southern League. He's the reigning SL Lineman of the Year and will likely be the top target for first-year QB Alex Bucios.
X:is for ex-coach Jon Betschart, who has resurfaced in Los Banos, where he'll run the 3-4 defense for head coach Dennis Stubbs, the man he replaced at Golden Valley. Betschart and Golden Valley separated in the spring after three unremarkable seasons. He was 9-21 with no playoff appearances.
Y:is for yards in a mile, 1,760. If you were to take the total number of yards gained last season by our five local CCC teams and lay them down in a line -- 20,479 -- it would stretch from the Sun-Star building in Merced to Atwater High, down Santa Fe. Total distance: 11.63 miles.
Z:is for Zero Week. The season gets underway tonight for a few: Rocklin at Los Banos; Atwater at Napa; Hilmar at Beyer (Downey, 5 p.m.); Paradise at Merced; Stone Ridge Christian at East Nicolaus.
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.