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The Garces High School football team gets in an early morning practice Friday on campus.

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The Garces High School football team worksout Friday morning gearing up for this upcoming season.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High School football coach Tim Antongiovanni keeps time on the football teams exercise regime Friday morning.

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Garces High School football coach Tim Antongiovanni works with his team during early morning practice in Bakersfield before it gets hot.

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Garces High Rams linemen ready for another football season practice early morning Friday as kicker Josh Hedden gets in several practice kicks.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High School football player Matt Sanders.

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Garces High School football player Jeffrey Rogan.

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Garces High School football player Jack Scott.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High School football player Manny Flores.

Garces' players won't deny it: There was more than a bit of disappointment when they found out that their star running back, Sheldon Croney, was transferring to Ridgeview.

"It was a shock," senior Jack Scott said, "and honestly, we're still trying to get over it. Sheldon is going to do great things in his life, so we respect his decision. We're trying to do our best without him."

As the summer went on, the Rams came to accept the fact that Croney -- who set school records with 2,377 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing last year -- would not be in their backfield.

"When I got official word that he was withdrawing ... I told the kids, 'We lost a good player, and we lost a friend today. But we're going to move on and replace him,'" first-year coach Tim Antongiovanni said. "And I went around the room and pointed out some of the kids who are going to replace him. And I said, 'Hey, you're the next kid who's going to step up.'"

Specifically, juniors Konstantin Zagustin and Cam Roberson will split time at running back. Connor Bruce, a sophomore, is the most likely replacement for Jake Pavletich at quarterback. And Antongiovanni takes over for Jim Maples, who was fired in the midst of off-field turmoil even while he had led the Rams to three straight Central Section Division II title games.

This year's team also will have to deal with the rugged Southwest Yosemite League and a bump up to the Division I playoffs.

Heck, Garces even has a new principal and new athletic directors, after Kathleen Bears and Lela Stieber stepped down from those positions in the spring.

In short, everything is different.

"The kids are learning a lot in a short time," Antongiovanni said. "We've got a huge learning curve for the (coaching) staff as well, but the effort level is there. As long as that's there, we'll keep improving."

It's not as if Garces' cupboard is bare. Scott and senior Sam Tobias bring experience to the wide receiver corps and the defensive backfield, and the offensive and defensive lines are well-stocked with talent, starting with 310-pound senior tackle Manny Flores.

"We have a couple new starters, but we're all seniors," Flores said. "We've all played with each other a lot. Honestly, it makes me excited for the start of the season."

That said, Garces knows that having a new coach, leaguewill cause some bumps along the way.

"We've played those teams before, but now we're playing them week after week," Tobias said. "It will be harder to make it to the title game and make it through the playoffs, but I think we can still compete with these teams and have a good season."

Their new coach wouldn't have it any other way.

"You set the bar high, and you shoot for it," Antongiovanni said. "There's no other way to do it. We're not going to settle for mediocrity. We're going to compete."