It’s that time of year again; time for Turlock to come together for the friendly and intense competition known as the Harvest Bowl. This season marks the 13th time Pitman and Turlock High meet at Joe Debely Stadium, continuing a tradition of rivalry between the town’s most talented football players.
But before these players were rivals, many of them shared memories together as teammates at the youth level.
Between the two varsity teams slated to meet on Friday, 40 players went through the Turlock Youth Football program, learning how to play the game as 49ers or Vikings. Of those 40, 10 49ers and five Vikings are on the Pride roster and 10 49ers and 15 Vikings are on the Bulldogs roster, meaning teammates turned opponents are aplenty.
Turlock’s Danny Velasquez, Nicolas Berry and Michael Linares and Pitman’s Chris Martinez, Marcus McBay and Anthony Carbajal are prime examples of this, with Velasquez, McBay and Carbajal sharing roots as Vikings and Berry, Linares and Martinez sharing a past with the 49ers.
When asked about their former days at the youth level, each player recalled memories with laughter.
“It was a lot of fun. Going to Super Bowls every year; beating up on a lot of teams. We were just really good,” Velasquez said.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve re-watched our highlight video we made,” McBay said. “I watch it all the time still.”
More often than not, however, the players laughed at their own expense as well as at the reversal of roles from opponents to teammates and vice versa.
“My whole youth career, Danny scoring umpteenth touchdowns and we’d lose by like 30 or 40. That’s why I love having him on my high school team,” Berry said.
Still, in the midst of fond memories, the weight and implications of Friday’s game were very much present. With both Pitman and Turlock holding undefeated records in the Central California Conference, this is the first season that it’s a winner-take-all Harvest Bowl for a league title.
For McBay and Carbajal, defensive pillars for Pitman at their respective positions of strong safety and defensive tackle, success on Friday will hinge on stopping their former teammate Velasquez who is Turlock’s offensive leader at quarterback.
“Going back, [we were] depending on Danny for a lot of things. But now we’re just going to have to stop him,” Carbajal said.
“I always know Danny throws out that stiff arm, so I have to watch out for that one,” McBay said.
On the other side of the field, Velasquez, running back Linares and offensive guard Berry will have to rise to the occasion against a 9-0 Pride team chasing perfection in addition to the CCC crown. Adding to the pressure is the fact the neither team has won a league title in over a decade.
“It’s going to mean everything. It’s our senior year, we’re playing for a title,” Berry said. “Both schools haven’t won a title in 12 to 13 years, so it’s definitely going to be meaningful.”
“Harvest Bowl just by itself is a big game to Turlock and Pitman, but putting the CCC on the line is really going to be difficult and puts the game at higher stakes than it already is,” Linares said.
But despite the championship implications of this year’s cross-town matchup, the biggest implication of them all is the fact that win or lose, Friday will likely mark the final time these players will share a football field together, as teammates or opponents.
“This is my eighth year playing there and it might be our last game; it’s going to be crazy,” Martinez said. “We’re going to leave a lot of stuff in the past.”
“I think it’s going to be a really emotional game since it’s our last one against each other. Last time playing with each other and against each other, you know on the same field together,” Carbajal said. “It’s going to bring the heart out of a lot of us,”