Being an SHS graduate of 1981, I have spent the last 41 years watching the Shafter Generals football teams compete on Friday nights, giving us a great time, with a lot of highs, and yes, a lot of lows as well. But, as Principal Shipley says, “Once a General, always a General.”
We love our Generals, win or lose. Well, this year, we received an early Christmas present, able to watch this year’s Generals win the first Valley title in 65 years. This year’s team isn’t the most talented team on paper, with four losses in league play, but they were always in the games, with all of their losses under 10 points, including two by 1 point.
This year’s squad put together a performance in the playoffs that rivaled any team in history, finding ways to win, no matter what or who they were facing. They played the majority of the playoffs without their leading rusher, with Koa Rhodes out with a knee injury. Christopher Espinoza took the load on the ground, as their corps of receivers stepped up their production, giving a freshman quarterback, Ezekiel Osborn, an array of targets to throw to.
Shafter has had some very good teams over the years, as well as some that just didn’t have the talent to compete at a high level. This included a team that went undefeated in the regular season, dominating teams throughout the season, and losing to Kennedy in the championship game. This year’s team was different than a lot of those previous teams, and Coach Jerald Pierucci hit the nail on the head when asked about the ability of this year’s team to find ways to win. “They really like each other, they hang out on and off the field. They just have a great chemistry.”
Being able to see the games from the sidelines as I snapped pictures and took notes, I have an up close look at what the team is going through and how they handle the different situations. There have been years when you could really tell if the team was going to pull a game out. I could see the look on their faces as the opposing team scored, or took a sizeable lead in the game. I would look at the kids and a lot of the time you could see the dejection on their faces or the panic in their eyes as they feel the game slipping away. A lot of times this resulted in bickering, with offensive players complaining about the defense, or the other way around after the defense would work to get the ball to the offense, only to have them squander the opportunity. You could just see the desperation on their faces, usually accompanied by a fear of losing the game, instead of a look of a team that is fighting to win.
This year’s team was down a few times, including a 21-point deficit in the championship game. I never saw them hang their heads, bicker over who was at fault, or get that look, of trying not to lose, instead playing to win. This team never stopped working, taking blow after blow, only to get up and fight their way back in.
There is still another chapter to this story, as the team prepares for the Regional playoffs. I can't wait to see how this story is going to end. But, win or lose, thank you Generals for a wonderful season of entertainment, and the pride and spirit of being a General.
Jamie Stewart is editor of The Shafter Press. His opinions are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the newspaper or its management.