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Isaac Salas, No. 70, blocks during the City County All-Star Game at Central's Koligian Stadium. Jake Boust also played.

Jalen Cropper wore his jersey but not his other gear at the City County All-Star Football Game on June 14 at Deran Koligian Stadium.

Cropper represented Buchanan High, the Clovis school where he wrapped up his prep football career. 

“Tedford didn’t want me to play,” he said, referring to Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford. Practice for the Bulldogs began this week, and Tedford wanted his freshman recruit in peak condition. The season will reunite Cropper and the other member of the self-professed Dynamic Duo, Sanger’s Arron Mosby, who Cropper said is expected to have a starting position this year.

Cropper didn’t appear to mind the lack of playing time. He urged on his fellow county teammates, who ultimately lost an extremely close game to their city rivals 15-13. And he had family, including new little brother, 3-month-old Cameron, supporting him.

But two of his Apache teammates — Cropper played for Sanger his first three years — participated in nearly every one of county’s offensive series. They wore their red helmets with the familiar arrowhead logo, emerging from the game drenched in sweat and only a little disappointed with the outcome.

Recent graduates Jake Boust and Isaac Salas played like their senior season hadn’t ended, making key plays and setting a Sanger standard of outhustling the rest of the field.

“I was only taken out of one series,” Salas said. “I knew what I had to do. I had to go 100 miles an hour. The main thing I took from this — I had to keep that passion, in all things.”

Salas and Boust team with fellow Apache Steven Gomez for the North/South Rotary All-Star Football Game at 7:30 p.m. June 22 at Veterans Stadium in Merced. Practice for the boys’ south team was this week at Liberty High in Madera Ranchos. 

Salas indicated that until the Rotary game is over, the season hasn’t ended.

And he said that he intends to “keep my body strong” even as he heads to college at Fresno State, pursuing an undergraduate degree in civil engineering. And in one final comment Salas said of the city-county game, “We had our highs and lows. But you always find a way to fight back through.”

The end of the game involved the county team moving the ball dramatically all the way down the field and into great scoring position. Evenly matched defenses prevented the scores being run up. 

With about 3 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Milton Clements of Central caught a deep pass by teammate quarterback Trent Tompkins, also of Central. Clements was brought down about the 15 yard line. Then Colt Nelson of Madera ran it to the 5 yard line. However, city held county right there as an attempted field goal came up short on a botched kick.

The half had ended with a 7-7 tie. The tide shifted somewhat after a hiked ball sailed over the county punter’s head and into the end zone for a city 2-point safety near the end of the third quarter. Then Angel Maldonado of Roosevelt ran in a touchdown for city. But the kicker missed the extra point.

County roared back with less than a minute having expired on the game clock. About 4:45 minutes left in the game, Tompkins passed to Preston Conti of Minarets in the end zone for the score.

“I feel like the better team lost,” said David Wilson, Kingsburg coach who took on coaching duties for county. Vince Branstetter of Roosevelt High coached city. “But I was extremely impressed with you guys. You guys could’ve just quit, and you didn’t.”

Earlier I’d been daydreaming of a scenario in which Tompkins passed to Boust who would take it all the way downfield, utilizing the blocking skills of Salas and score. Of course I would have gotten the shots and topped my story with the scene.

Maybe next year with some different all stars.

Before the game, Boust said he’s got a busy summer with school, practice and weekends working as a lifeguard at Wild Water. He said he’s playing for Fresno City College in the fall and attending classes. His goal is to continue his schooling, pursuing a degree in kinesiology. 

“I’m more a science and math kind of guy,” Boust said. “I prefer it to science and essays.”

And he said he enjoys memorizing stuff, like anatomy. Kinesiology is the study of the mechanics of body movement. But at that moment he was more interested in getting ready for the game. “Pretty excited,” Boust said as he disappeared into the county locker room.

This was one of just a couple visits Boust had made to Koligian Stadium. He said he came to watch Central and Edison battle it out in the playoffs. The stadium is named for west-side farmer, World War II veteran who saw combat in the Philippines and Fresno County supervisor Deran Koligian. 

The stadium was dedicated in 2006. Alexander Duarte, a facilities staffer for Central Unified, explained that the turf was replaced two years ago with an artificial product that uses sand for stability rather than the black pellets of the previous surface. He said the district plans to build a new high school right behind the stadium on Grantland Avenue. It will be near Harvest Elementary and Glacer Point Middle School and is scheduled to open in fall 2021, wrote Myles Barker of gvwire.com.

And Cropper talked a little about moving into an apartment on campus and what position it looks like he’ll be playing — receiver. About Mosby he said, “He’s finally getting his shot this year.” Mosby’s put on some muscle and is playing inside or outside linebacker.

Cropper also got some ink done. Everything on his arm had a reason and a story behind it. Two that stuck out were doves representing his grandfathers and another about family, the closer nuclear kind. 

Expect Cropper to work hard making his mark. He has ambitions.

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