As the Los Banos High School football team prepares for its first section semifinal game since 2009, the Tigers are standing on the edge of a precipice of numbers. With a heralded class of seniors about to leave, the new school in town, Pacheco High, is beginning to take its toll on LB's numbers.
When Los Banos advanced to the semifinals of the Division I bracket in 2009 before falling to Monterey Trail, the school's student population was 2,400. Today, that school boasts 1,100 students while Pacheco, in its first year with seniors, sits at 1,539.
Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso doesn't expect any drop-off in production other than the usual ups and downs of high school football in a small town, regardless of the smaller numbers.
"I think that Los Banos has gone through its trials and tribulations in the past," Caropreso said. "We were really successful in late '90s and early 2000s, then we kind of dropped off for a while. I don't see us being the last great Los Banos team. We have lots of kids in our lower levels that will help us out."
Caropreso remembers winning a Division II title his senior year at LBHS in 1991 as one member of a 28-man roster.
"If you put the time into it -- and yeah, you've got to have the players," Caropreso said. "But if you put the time in during the offseason and in the weight room, that will move the program in the right direction."
Pacheco coach David Snapp has the unique experience of having been inside both programs, as LB's running backs coach for several years before becoming Pacheco's first varsity head coach. He sees it from a different perspective.
"Their student population number might be shrinking, but their football player numbers aren't shrinking," Snapp said. "We had 400 more students in our school this year, and they had 14 more players than I had on varsity. It's kind of deceiving if you're just looking at enrollment numbers."
Part of that is tradition -- children have grown up in Los Banos wanting to be a Tiger.
Regardless of the size of the program, the next crop of Los Banos starters will have big shoes to fill. James Sams has compiled 3,696 yards (just shy of Rodney Percoats's school record of 3,777) and 37 touchdowns in two years as LB's featured back. During the same span, quarterback Chris Corpuz has completed 192 of 336 passes for 3,483 yards (1,355 to Daeton West and 908 to Keith Turner), 49 TDs and 16 interceptions, propelling LB to a 21-3 record in the last two years.
The numbers are there in the lower levels -- the freshman team suited up 30-40 kids during its 8-2 campaign, and the JV team averaged a few more in going 5-5. Add to that a pair of healthy youth-football programs (Tigers and Wildcats) and the two schools are well-suited to weather the storm splitting the town has caused.
"We're going to have some challenging times, no doubt about that," said Caropreso, in his first year as LB's head coach after years on the coaching staff. "But I think by having a successful program and running the program in the right way, you're always going in the right direction.
"You can always say, 'What will the program look like after this year? Why would I take this job?' " continued Caropreso. "I knew exactly what we had coming back, and I knew it would be a challenge after that. That's why you coach, because of the challenge of it."
Instead, Caropreso compares Los Banos, a town of about 36,500, to other two-school towns. He looks at Turlock (pop. 69,000 in 2011), where Pitman (9-3) made the playoffs, but Turlock High (4-6) Turlock Christian (2-8) both missed the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Los Banos is still in it at 11-1 and Pacheco made the playoffs at 5-5 in just its second year with of varsity play.
"I think both programs are going in the right direction," he said. "I think football in Los Banos is going in the right direction."
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at email@example.com