Rusty Stivers paused for a long moment, careful to be precise with his answer.
The Modesto Junior College football coach, who played for legendary coach Jerry Van Lengen at Hilmar High School in the late 1980s, had just been asked during MJC’s media day how good his Pirates could be in 2022.
“My answer to that,” Stivers started slowly, “is that I have no idea.”
Wait. What? Modesto Junior College finished 8-3 last year, including a 36-14 victory over Diablo Valley in the Dec. 4 Grizzly Bowl, and are widely considered a program on the come.
How could Stivers have no idea?
“We might be really good,” he clarified, “but everybody else might really good, too, so I hesitate to say.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys, but we’ve got to do something with them.”
Five of those “good guys” hail from Turlock: sophomore tight end Holden Baldwin (6-4, 240); sophomore linebacker Jayden Jackson (6-0, 225); red-shirt freshman Tamirr Bullock (6-1, 260); sophomore offensive lineman Solomon Ussery (6-6, 275); and freshman offensive lineman Colton Salsig (6-0, 255), the lone Pitman High product.
“I’m very excited and grateful to be part of a program like this,” said Salsig. “This program has really come a long way in the last 10 years.”
That’s for sure. Stivers recalled his inaugural season (2015) at MJC, when his roster had no Division I recruits.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’d do anything just to have one D-I recruit,’” Stivers said.
Last season, the Pirates produced seven D-I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) recruits and three D-I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) recruits.
That’s big-time progress.
“We’ve definitely got a big season ahead of us,” said Baldwin, who was named fourth-team preseason All-American honors from JCGridiron.com. “Big things are coming.”
“We’re building such a great bond with the guys we had last year and the freshmen coming in,” said Jackson. “I can’t wait.”
The wait won’t be wait much longer. The Pirates open up on Sept. 3 in Oakland against Laney College, then play the following Saturday night in Modesto against Santa Rosa.
Both games are slated to kick off at 5 p.m.
“We’re really good in our linebacking corps and we’re really talented on the defensive line,” said Stivers, whose defensive coordinator is Eddie Abassi, a Turlock High product.
“We’re gunning for the top this year,” said Ussery. “We can be part of something really special here.”
Bullock left no doubt as to how special.
“We’ll win the state title this year,” said Bullock.
“Are you sure you want to say that?” he was asked?
“Yeah, write that down,” he said.