The Grace Davis High football program returned to the land of relevancy with a record-setting quarterback, a stable of young wide receivers and a head coach who dared to attack through the air.
Now, can the long-suffering Spartans remain relevant? There is hope.
The Spartans won five games for just the second time this decade and challenged in the Western Athletic Conference, finishing behind tri-champions Mountain House, Los Banos and Pacheco.
Quarterback Xavier Rodriguez ranked among the Sac-Joaquin Section’s leaders in passing, piercing the sky for a regional-best 3,518 yards and 37 touchdowns. His efforts carved out new opportunity, too: Rodriguez is playing on scholarship at Arizona Christian University.
He has left behind weapons for his successor, senior Elijah Diaz, a former Pop Warner and lower-level quarterback. Davis returns two 1,000-yard wide receivers, insulating the dual-threat Diaz: Gregory Smith, who had a team-best 1,084 yards and 17 touchdowns; and Michael Sherrod Jr., who had a team-high 67 catches for 1,015 yards and 12 scores.
“Our system is very quarterback friendly,” said coach Tim Garcia, who is 18-33 in five seasons at his alma mater. His best seasons were his first and latest; matching 5-5 campaigns in 2014 and 2018, respectively.
“When you have the weapons around him that we do, there is some pressure that will be taken off his shoulders.”
In fact, Davis’ top-four pass-catchers are back in camp. Nick Arrieta had 603 yards on 44 receptions, and Diaz had 493 yards on 43 catches.
Garcia believes Diaz’s experience as an athlete in the super-charged spread offense will give the Spartans an element they lacked last fall. Diaz will draw on his time working closely with the other receivers, but Garcia says his biggest advantage will be his fast feet and play-making mentality. Diaz averaged more than 10 yards per catch last fall and scored five TDs.
“He’s a quiet leader, very coachable, and an intelligent football player,” Garcia said of Diaz, who will also start at middle linebacker. “He understands the system and what we’re trying to do. Physically, he brings a different dynamic with him being able to run the football. We’re confident he’ll be able to take over.”
He’s proven himself capable.
Diaz replaced an injured Rodriguez early in a conference loss to eventual champion Mountain House on Sept. 14, 2018. Trailing 14-7, Diaz tied the game with about four minutes left in the first half on a 1-yard dive.
“Nothing is going to change. All we do now is add the dimension of the defense having to defend a running quarterback,” Garcia said. “He has the ability to do what we need him to do. We’re excited. When those Friday night lights come on, we know we’re going to get his best.”
Davis opens the season Aug. 23 with reigning Southern League champion Ripon Christian, a team that rolled to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI finals appearance.
The Spartans also travel to Franklin on Aug. 30, and then celebrate their home opener against El Capitan on Sept. 6. After a bye week, Davis opens the WAC with a gauntlet: vs. Mountain House, Sept. 20; vs. Los Banos, Sept. 27; and at Pacheco, Oct. 4.