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Elsie Allen senior Alex Torres said he knew something was up after the first play from scrimmage. Something was different.

“Everybody came off hard. Everybody came off hard from the first snap,” the lineman said. “We were hungry for the win.”

Hungry? Try starving. Or famished. Ravenous even.

After all, it had been 1,441 days since any Elsie Allen football team had last tasted victory.

When the final whistle blew Friday night and the scoreboard read Elsie Allen 26, St. Vincent 9, it was the first high school football win for every single Lobo on the field. Seniors entering their fourth season had never known the feeling of victory.

When I asked players to describe their emotions, there were myriad answers: Excitement. Relief. Shock.

“My parents are still shocked,” senior Erick Vargas said. “They are used to me giving them the score and they say, ‘Oh, you got it next time.’”

Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Vargas, next time is now. Elsie Allen is 1-0 — undefeated, on a winning streak.

“We needed that win so bad,” first-year head coach Derek Hester said.

You can hear it in his voice. Hester has been coaching at Elsie Allen in various capacities for four years, but officially took over head coaching duties this season. At some point he wondered if that losing streak had something to do with him.

“Maybe it’s me,” he recalled thinking. “They haven’t won since I’ve been here. I was the last common denominator.”

Wrong, Vargas said. Hester is a key factor in what happened Friday night.

“He’s been trying to push the program forward since freshman year,” he said.

It’s been a heavy load.

Hester is the seventh varsity head coach since November 2014.

“It’s high school football and sometimes the odds are just stacked against you and winning becomes almost impossible,” he said. “I just always knew if they had the stability and a halfway decent program behind them, they could play good football.”

So he asked his players, some of whom he had coached as freshmen and sophomores on the JV team, to stay the course. And a core of them did. But not a lot.

More than 1,000 kids go to Elsie, but only 17 suited up to play football Friday night. They don’t have a freshman team. They don’t have a junior varsity team. Any kid remotely interested in playing has a spot on the varsity squad.

Hester calls it “Iron Man Football” because most of his guys play every snap.

That, too, tells Hester something about the players who have stuck with it.

“Through coaches getting fired, through them not having a weight room or an offseason program, they’d show up,” he said.

So on Monday, when the team usually spends a chunk of practice breaking down film and zeroing in on certain plays, Hester gathered the team, popped in the film from Friday’s game, sat back and watched.

No analysis, no breakdown, just enjoyed the moment. Again.

You can’t blame the Lobos for wanting to relive it, just a little.

It takes something special to stay the course in the face of all those losses.

Torres can’t put his finger on what allowed him to keep going, but he thinks it is trust — a belief that years of hard work with nary a win to show for it would produce something positive.

“I would just tell myself and my teammates, ‘Trust the process,’” he said. “There is a process with everything. You’ve got to trust.”

For Vargas, it was never really about winning. That’s not what brought him out to practice or what drove him as he suffered through conditioning drills in the heat. Sure he wanted that ‘W,’ but it wasn’t his inspiration.

“I was just raised to work hard and eventually it will all work out,” he said. “It also helps having all of your brothers with you ... it’s a great sport to be around your brothers and have coaches that love you.”

Trust and love. Sometimes that’s what you have to fall back on when the more obvious rewards are few.

Hester talks about playing in front of crowds so spare he could hear crickets after big plays. He’d think of what his players are putting into it and he’d have to bite his tongue to keep himself from barking into the stands.

On Friday, he didn’t have to do that. There was something in the air. There were people in the stands. The band was there. His friends came. They saw him get nailed with a bucket of ice water after the game.

“My wife was out there telling the neighbors on Facebook to come,” he said.

When we finished talking, Hester called me back.

He wanted to emphasize what role his wife has played these last four years. The peanut butter sandwiches for players to eat on the bus, the sitting in the cold stands with three kids under five rooting on Dad’s team, putting much of life on hold during the football season.

“It’s been a long road for us,” he said.

It’s still a long road, win or no win. Elsie hasn’t won a league game in nearly forever. A postseason appearance? Never, by Hester’s recollection.

But it’s amazing what one win can do for confidence.

“Now it’s like 2-0 is on the table. So we are talking about it, we are talking about the possibilities,” he said. “Let’s make some history, because there is some history to be made at Elsie.”

The Lobos travel to Tracy to play Millennium High Friday.

Vargas feels good about it. He’s feeling so good that the guy who for three years had to report to mom and dad the team’s losing score now has to remind himself to stay humble.

“We are working hard,” he said. “We are trying to not let the win get to our head.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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