Bill Rozak

With the high school fall sports season just a few days away, the Sonora Wildcat football team is a lean, mean, muscle machine ready to get started.

With a new training regiment designed by Wildcat longtime trainer and Bones Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine co-owner T.J. Pilchard, the Wildcats have developed muscles they never knew they had.

"The goal was to develop a training regimen that would simulate football activities to help give players improved conditioning and help them avoid injuries," said Pilchard, a 1994 Sonora graduate. "We want to improve our conditioning to be strong late in games like the third and fourth quarters. And it's been good. They're a good group of kids that like to work hard."

The new circuit training was introduced by Pilchard and his staff shortly after the 2012-13 school year ended in June. The kids perform various exercises using dumbbells, weight plates and Thera-Bands and go through 25 stations in 25 minutes. They get a five-minute break and then go right back into it for another 25 minutes. The team is doing the workout twice per week.

And the Wildcat brass has noticed a big difference in their players.

"There's a huge difference in our conditioning right now," said Wildcat co-offensive coordinator Kirk Clifton. "We are in far better football shape than we ever thought we would be. We're maximizing our time better and we're improving our conditioning drastically."

"The kids have responded really well and we're getting stronger in different muscles that normally we don't train," said Sonora head coach Bryan Craig. "T.J.'s a straight shooter. He'll tell you exactly how it is and he's a great guy to have in charge of kids' health because he cares so much and really fights for their safety."

The Wildcats conditioning was on display during their Mountain Misery Football Camp held on July 19-20 where they hosted Calaveras and the Division 4 State Champions Central Catholic. And against the state champs, the Cats were especially impressive.

"Last year in camp we were out of shape," said Wildcat training assistant Adam Suess. "This year, we were in shape and beat up on everybody."

The early results has the coaching staff thrilled but they won't know exactly how well the training program is working until they get a few games into the season.

"We're excited, but this is a work in progress," Pilchard said. "It's been a challenge but John Brunolli (Bones co-owner) and my staff (Jenna Bishop, Danielle DeMarco, Hayley Banks and Sabine Berry) have done a great job. And the coaching staff has done an awesome job helping the players buy in."

The Wildcats went 4-6 last year and lost a pair of close games in the fourth quarter and missed the playoffs. They also gave rival, and Division 3 section champion, Oakdale a run for its money in the first half before the Mustangs pulled away in the second half. Had any of those games gone the Cats way, they likely would have made the postseason.

"We've been telling the players about the training program that, 'This about imposing your will on others in the third and fourth quarters of games,' " Pilchard said. "And we also didn't have any injuries at camp this year. It's exciting that the kids are excited which tells us it's working. We're playing their music, they're getting a great sweat and when they're done, it's a fast hour."

With a new workout program and individual, specialized training, guess how much Pilchard is being reimbursed for time and effort? Not one penny. Pilchard and his staff are volunteers 100 percent. He even offers injured players a few free trips to his business to help them rehabilitate.

The Wildcats new conditioning will be tested immediately when they open the season onSept. 6against upper-division Turlock at Dunlavy Field. Pilchard will be on the sideline leading his team of aspiring high school trainers and therapists and hopes he won't be treating any injuries, and, to watch the Wildcats impose their will. But if there is an injury, Pilchard will be at the ready.

"He's the first one on the field if somebody gets hurt," Craig said. "We rely on his experience completely.

Said Clifton, "He's invaluable to our program and our school."