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It’s crazy hot but football season is not that far away
shaun king
Can Hughson head coach Shaun King and his Huskies produce a third consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championship? - photo by Turlock Journal file photo

It’s kind of hard to think of any other sports besides swimming and diving when it’s 110 degrees outside, but the fact of the matter is that we’re just about three weeks away from the start of high school football season.

Practices begin officially on July 29, and there are already a few interesting storylines for the 2024 season.

Can Hughson win a third straight section title? — The Huskies have won the last two Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 championships, going on to capture the NorCal and state titles in 2022, and are a heavy favorite to make it three in a row.

No pressure.

Hughson is led by senior-to-be quarterback Robert McDaniel, who’s had a busy offseason. First, the 6-2, 195-pounder switched his commitment from Cal to Arizona, and then he was invited to the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback competition.

After commingling in the Las Vegas regional combine in May, McDaniel just missed the cut for the final 20. He was 21st. But when one of the competitors backed out, McDaniel made a lightning trip to Los Angeles for the finals June 18-20.

Locals have known for the past two seasons that McDaniel is one of the top quarterbacks in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Now, the rest of the state, and even the nation, are considering him one of the best.

Over the past two seasons, McDaniel has completed 60 percent of his passes, amassing 4,746 yards with 58 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions.

But what’s a quarterback without receivers? Tight end Max Mankins and wideouts Malakai Sumter, Pitman transfer Lawson Aviles and younger brother Bryce McDaniel will give McDaniel a wide array of targets.

Who will rule the TVL? — Back in 2009, Modesto Christian became the first Trans-Valley League school to win a state championship on the field. Prior to 2007, “mythical” state champions were crowned by Cal-Hi Sports, the leading authority on California high school sports since the 1970s.

The following year, Escalon won a state championship, giving the TVL back-to-back state titles.

In 2018, Hilmar joined the club. A year later, Escalon and Ripon delivered state titles on the same night. In 2022, Escalon and another TVL rival, this time Hughson, won state titles on the same night.

The TVL’s reputation as the toughest small-school league in the state was secured.

This year, section stalwarts Sonora, Orestimba and Ripon Christian move into the league, which only enhances the conference's reputation. 

In a league that had co-champions four times between 2015 and 2019, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the eventual TVL champ had two league losses on its record. Hilmar, Hughson, Escalon, and Sonora all have legitimate shots. Orestimba, Ripon and Ripon Christian are the dark horses, while Modesto Christian has almost no chance with its program near collapse.

Can Pitman get it turned around? — The Pride haven’t had a winning record since going 10-1 in 2018, coach Tom Tyler’s last year with the team. They also haven’t won more than three games in a season since Tyler’s departure. And, after winning eight of the first 10 Harvest Bowls, Pitman has lost 10 consecutive matchups with crosstown rival Turlock, the defending Central California Athletic League champion.

Is this the year Denair gets back on track? — After winning section, NorCal and state titles in 2019, and reaching the section finale again in 2019, the Coyotes have fallen on tough times, with no more than two victories in any season since. But at small schools such as Denair, where roster size is key, it all depends on turnout. One thing is certain: when coach Anthony Armas has the horses, he knows how to get them to the finish line.