It's been a long and demanding journey. It all started on Aug. 4, the first day of practice, making this the 19th week in pads for the Menlo-Atherton football team.
This week, as the culmination of all that commitment and hard work, the Bears ready themselves to play the most significant game in school history: a 6 p.m. game Saturday at Antelope Valley College against Paraclete of Lancaster, with the state championship on the line.
Menlo-Atherton lost its first two games of the season, but has won 12 in a row. On Friday, the Bears beat Manteca, 49-21, in a Northern California Division 3-AA regional championship game.
NorCal champs is one thing. But winning a state title on the road against a Southern California team is quite another undertaking.
"We will have our hands full playing at their home field,'' Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. "We have some guys that can really run. But they have three or four guys who can fly, amazing team speed. This is the first time all season the other team might be more athletic than us.''
Paraclete lost its first three games of the season before finding itself under first-year coach Dean Herrington and winning 11 of the next 12.
The Spirits went 4-0 to win the Southern Section Division 6 title and then beat Mater Dei Catholic, 34-18, for the SoCal regional championship. KJ Latu rushed for three touchdowns against Mater Dei while Jamaal Bell carried 19 times for 128 yards. QB Tooni Ikahihifo completed 10 of 11 passes for 110 yards.
With the win over Manteca, M-A has already gone further than any team in school history. The Bears have scored 528 points this season behind the two-pronged attack of running back Jordan Mims and quarterback Aajon Johnson.
Mims rushed for a season-high 312 yards in the win over Manteca. That came after a 257-yard outburst against Milpitas in the Central Coast Section Open Division I title game.
Mims, who has received scholarship offers from Fresno State, San Jose State, Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Weber State, has rushed for 2,293 yards on the season and scored 28 touchdowns.
Johnson has accounted for 34 touchdowns, 18 passing and 16 rushing. He has rushed for 1,065 yards and passed for 1,986 yards.
M-A will make the trip to Lancaster on Friday and return home Saturday night after the game.
"This is the biggest stage,'' Ravipati said. "The guys will need to rise to the occasion and play their best football of the year. I tell the team, 'you grow most as a person when you step out of your comfort zone.' ''
He's hoping the same can be said of his team once the game is over.
"It's been a fun season,'' Ravipati said. "Hopefully we can finish it off with a win.''