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      Turf wars

      The rich are getting richer.

      Or in this case, the green is getting greener.

      California and South Callaway have both made numerous changes to their football facilities during the offseason, including the installation of Field Turf at both schools.

      This is a noteworthy upgrade to a pair of noteworthy programs --- California has made a return to its glory days as a football power, while South Callaway has established itself as one.

      Now, no more mud baths, just turf wars.

      "My gosh, it's super exciting; I'm just so happy for our kids and community," South Callaway coach Tim Rulo said. "It looks so nice, I still catch myself staring as I drive up on it. It's just awesome."

      The grass fields at the schools always started the season in good shape, but all it took was one rainy Friday or, worse yet, a rainy week leading up to game day to make the field a mess.

      The field wouldn't be the same the rest of the season, as football games could turn into mud wrestling.

      Not anymore.

      "It's a beautiful field with bermuda grass in August," California head coach Marty Albertson said "But after October, it turns yellow and it's eaten up by the end of the year."

      More to the point, poor field conditions can effect a game's outcome.

      "When we got to host Maryville (in the semifinals) last year, it was a little bit wet and where the grass was pretty thin, it was pretty slick," Albertson said. "I thought if we'd played on turf, we would have had a better chance, because we were a little quicker than they were and they were bigger than we were.

      "So I thought the field conditions helped them a little bit. But we won't have to worry about that anymore."

      Both schools had other upgrades, including new bleachers and press boxes, and more are planned. And while this will benefit other sports and school programs, the driving force was certainly football --- and having success in football.

      The Bulldogs have gone 10-2 the last three seasons; the Pintos have gone 13-1 and 12-2 in the last two. If they'd gone 2-7 or 1-8 and not gotten out of their district, well ...

      "I have no doubt that the success we've had helped, but I'd like to think it's just one of those things that it was time," Rulo said. "We needed to take this step for our school, not just our football program."


      THE SWAG IS BACK in California. It's just taken a while.

      The Pintos had run of six straight playoff appearances in the 1990s, including three state trips to the state title game and a state championship season in 1997. But then, from 2002-11, the bottom dropped out --- Pintos made just one playoff appearance. And that team went 3-8.

      That was then, this is now --- 25-3 the last two years and back-to-back trips to the semifinals. They're baa-aack.

      "We've been fortunate, we've had some good kids," Albertson said.

      But more than just a run of talent, the program is back on solid ground.

      "We think so," Albertson said. "We have a bunch of dedicated, hard workers, both during the season and during the offseason. That's what it takes."

      California lost 14 seniors to graduation, but have 14 again this year. "They know what it takes to win," Albertson said, "and we hope our younger kids will step up and help to continue the success."

      Senior tailback Walker Borghardt and senior quarterback Jaden Barr, who's now a three-year starter, lead the offensive show. Borghardt rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, while Barr produced more than 1,500 yards of total offense.

      And there's no substitute for having a quarterback with two years experience --- winning experience, at that.

      "He throws the ball really well and he can run the ball well, too," Albertson said. "He knows what it takes to win ... he's like having a coach on the field."

      The Pintos have three 6-1 receivers who could pose some matchup problems including Drew Norton, who had seven touchdown receptions last year.

      Then there's the 255-pound Nathan Squires, a returning all-state lineman, who will play offensive guard and linebacker this year.

      "He's basically our best player," Albertson said. "He's 255 pounds and he can run."

      He's not the only one, Albertson said, as "We have several explosive players."

      That's a good thing. So hold on Pinto fans, it should be another great ride.

      "Our goals haven't changed --- win the conference championship, the district championship and then the ultimate one, the state championship," Albertson said. "That's what we're working towards."


      WHILE IT'S A RETURN TO GLORY for the Pintos, the Bulldogs are the new kids on the block. But, like the Pintos, they've had a run of talent, but they also believe the program is here to stay.

      "I'd like to think by now, that people understand that we have an established idea with what we're doing," Rulo said. "I'm watching the kids work hard during practice, I watched their hard work in the offseason, and they're buying into the idea of playing Bulldog football.

      "We lost some phenomenal kids, but we have another senior class that is primed out ready to make their own stamp, build their own legacy."

      One of those seniors is quarterback Troy Hentges, who accounted for 21 total touchdowns (12 passing) as a junior. "We're very excited to watch him play; he's very confident and comfortable back there," Rulo said.

      Seniors Corey Hanger and Mason Shoemaker give the Bulldogs a potent 1-2 punch at tailback, thanks to running behind a potent offensive line.

      "I'm really excited about our offensive line (which returns three seniors, including three-year starter at center, Michael Witt)," Albertson said. "Eventually you're going to run up against teams with as good as skill people as you have, then it comes down to the offensive and defensive lines.

      "That's what wins those close ball games."

      Senior Dakoda Ballard will anchor the defensive line, while the secondary should be another strength with the return of Hanger and Shoemaker.

      Besides the facilities, there will be another big change for South Callaway this season --- no chance of meeting Blair Oaks in the postseason. The Falcon have ended the Bulldogs' season the last three years, but have made the move from Class 2 to Class 3.

      Did Rulo shed a tear?

      "No, I did not," he said with a laugh. "But coach (Brad) Drehle is doing a great job with the program; it's a class program. Playing them was a great barometer to see how good we were, we just came up a little short every year."

      This year?

      "We just want to keep improving and whatever that looks like and wherever that goes," Rulo said, "we just want our program to keep getting better."

      It is. Greener, too.