Their passes wobble and are bobbled, they hold when blocking and lose hold when tackling, but that band of pretenders who are summarily whisked off the field moments before the lights go on for varsity football games are guaranteed the spotlight the following season.
For a glimpse into the future of your favorite high school team, watch the junior varsity.
It is there that players learn to win, or learn to live with losing. They master fundamentals and memorize responsibilities. Friendships are cemented that must weather the travails of varsity football.
Player development is important enough for George Machado, the third-year coach at Hueneme High, to have fired all 8 of his junior varsity and freshmen coaches before this season.
"We swept the rug then threw the rug out the door," he said.
The Hueneme junior varsity was 0-8-1 last season, but Machado insists that lack of success had little do with the housecleaning.
"I'd watch a JV game and see a one-back formation with motion and some defense I've never seen before," he said. "From top to bottom it's got to be the same program. Any coach who has control would agree."
Machado, a former Santa Clara High quarterback who directed Hueneme to a share of the Channel League title last season, hired a group of 7 former Santa Clara players and coaches, led by Al Torres, to take over the junior varsity.
The entire Hueneme program is now on the same page--literally.
"I handed out a vocabulary list to all the coaches," Machado said. "Our defense is the split 6 and the offense is the veer. Period."
Defending Marmonte League champion Channel Islands also had an 0-9 junior varsity last season. But Coach Joel Gershon has nothing but praise for his junior varsity coach, Ron Lewis.
"It's his first losing season," Gershon said. "He's done a great job."
Lewis might be sacrificing victories to maintain continuity throughout the program. Although a less-sophisticated, power-oriented offense would be more successful at the junior varsity level, Lewis teaches Gershon's wing T.
"Our JV coaches see themselves as part of the entire program," Gershon said.
A junior varsity coach who believes that his team is more than a training ground for the varsity is in for a rude awakening. The running back who carried the junior varsity to victory might be carrying the ball for the varsity the next week.
When Santa Clara quarterback Mike Teron was injured in the first game last season, sophomore Tim Gutierrez was promoted from the junior varsity. Gutierrez led the Saints to the playoffs by passing for 1,656 yards.
Meanwhile, what would have been a dominant junior varsity team finished 6-4.
Similarly, the 5-4-1 record of the Oxnard junior varsity last season is a deceiving measure of the talent of this year's junior class. In fact, Coach Jack Davis believes his juniors are the best in school history. Six sophomores played on the varsity last season, including quarterback Johnel Turner.
"The junior varsity wouldn't have lost a game with those guys," Davis said.
Depending on the philosophy of the coach, the best sophomores are either thrust into the varsity lineup for a quick dose of experience or are left to season on the junior varsity.
"If you're impatient like me, the lower levels will suffer," said Machado, whose 3 starting offensive backs all played varsity as sophomores. "I know that makes it hard for the junior varsity to win and sometimes kids need to learn how to win at the lower levels."
During the 4 years that first-year Buena Coach Rick Scott coached at Hart, the junior varsity was 40-0. Scott knows why. "So much of it had to do with our philosophy. For instance, the junior varsity never played at less than full strength because I never brought up a sophomore to the varsity," he said.
Some coaches like to promote the best sophomores because it allows them to adjust sooner to varsity play. Shedding the "junior" to become a full-fledged varsity performer is a difficult transition.
"It takes juniors time to get involved emotionally and mentally," Ventura Coach Harvey Kochel said. "It takes time to get them to develop intensity."
Adds Scott: "The biggest difference between sophomore and varsity football is that things happen so much faster. Warm-ups, the bus ride, right down the line. It takes some kids two to three games to adjust."
Consider Kochel and Scott experts on helping players make the transition--Ventura and Buena each opened the season with two victories.
"It takes a few games for juniors to make an impact," said Santa Clara Coach Steve Dann, whose team is also 2-0. "That's why we bring up the best sophomores for the playoffs. It helps the transition the following year."
The off-season before a player's first varsity campaign is crucial to successfully negotiating the step up to varsity competition.