Imagine a scene from a James Bond movie. You're bound at the ankles dangling from a rope over a large shark tank. The evil genius is all ready to cut the rope. You'll soon be chum. But he offers you an out, as evil geniuses are wont to do. He'll spare your life but you have to correctly pick the winner of a high school football game.
Who do you choose?
Here's a look at the Front Row's list of Top 10 coaches in the region ... if you had one game for your life!
10. Aaron Souza: All he's done is guide the Warriors to three consecutive Southern League championships, going 31-4, and made four straight trips to the postseason. What he's done is turn Orestimba into a football power. More importantly to Warriors fans, he's defeated archrival Gustine three years in a row, keeping The Chief in Newman.
9. Bryan Craig: Since taking over for Robert Cendro in 2009, Craig has posted a 75-32 record with four 10-win seasons and just missing a fifth last year when the Wildcats finished 9-3. Since joining the Mother Lode League, the Wildcats are 24-0 in conference, 43-7 overall with back-to-back trips to the Sac-Joaquin Section final in 2014-2015, winning it all in '15 and earning a trip to a Northern California regional bowl game.
8. Frank Marques: While he hasn't guided the Yellowjackets to the heights of Jerry Van Lengen in the 1980s, when Marques has a "horse" he can ride, he guides it triumphantly across the finish line. Last season, he took a team that finished 5-5 and guided it to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI banner. In 2008, he stunned Central Catholic and in 2011 he defeated Mark Loureiro's Escalon team. His Yellowjackets came up short in section title games in 2013 and 2015.
7. Rick Martinez: Now the head man at Golden Valley, Martinez proved his ability to get it done by turning tiny Le Grand into a dynasty with five consecutive appearances in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-V title game between 2009-2013, four straight championships (2010-2013), and a trip to the state bowl in 2011.
6. Mike Parsons: Won a Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF state title in 2009 at Modesto Christian and then guided powerful Clovis West to a Central Section crown the following year. Parsons has led MC to the section final four other times ... this with a roster that rarely features more than 25 players.
5. Rob Scheidt: His Merced teams always are competitive and he has a knack for coming up big in the big games. He has yet to win a Sac-Joaquin Section championship but he was close in 2006 when the Bears failed to pick up a two-point conversion on the last play of the game and lost 37-36 to Vacaville. Still, the game plan was good enough to win that day. In rivalry games against Atwater and Golden Valley, he's 26-2 since 2004, losing 21-20 to Atwater in 2009 and 38-35 in triple overtime to GV in 2005.
4. Scott Edwards: Big schools in the Sac-Joaquin Section have been sniffing around Edwards' door the past few seasons, and for good reason. He fits the old adage ... "he can take his'n and beat your'n, and he can take your'n and beat his'n." This guy could coach a quilting club to a .500 season
3. Jeremy Plaa: Year in and year out, his teams consistently compete at the highest level of any Modesto City Schools team. Plaa has built a sustainable program that made his team the most dominant in the Modesto Metro Conference the past decade. Only a record-setting, undefeated season by Gregori in 2017 kept the Knights from a record sixth consecutive MMC title. Now, he'll be further tested in the Central California Athletic League with the addition of Turlock and Pitman
2. Roger Canepa: It took Canepa a while to win the big one, but when he finally did, it was THE big one. Canepa guided the Radiers to four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF state titles, including a table-running effort in Division III in 2015. Since then, his teams have been competitive in D-II. Remember, Central Catholic is a school with an enrollment of 380 students.
1. Trent Merzon: Absolutely gets more out of his players than any other coach in the region. Kids in Oakdale grow up dreaming of becoming Mustangs, and when they do, they play hard for the man who's taken this program to new heights. Oakdale has made the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons, and during that time it has reached the section championship game eight times, including seven of the last eight years. He's won the Sac-Joaquin Section's blue banner on four occasions and a state crown in 2016. And, he's 9-5 overall in head-to-head matchups against rivals Central Catholic, Manteca and Sonora since 2014. The man knows how to win big games.
If you ever find yourself strung up by your ankles over shark-infested waters, Merzon's your guy.