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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
Talented juniors join star-studded senior class for D2-bound Manteca
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
By JONA MAR JAC I NTO The Bu lletin
Manteca is movin’ on up. The Sac-Joaquin Section’s reigning Division III champion has been elevated to the Division II gauntlet for the playoffs because of the “continued success” rule. The Buffaloes claimed Section titles in four of the last five seasons, capturing the Division IV crown in 2016 and the Division III banner in 2017, 2019 and 2021. There was no postseason play during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the 202021 academic year. “I feel like it’s going to be fun,” Manteca running back/ linebacker Blake Nichelseon said. “When you win (playoff) games in D-II it’s more rewarding because it’s against better comp. Honestly, I like the competition, so just going up against better teams is exciting.” Fifth-year coach Mark Varnum shares that excitement and believes the team is ready to tackle the challenges to come. To prepare, he added an out-of-state powerhouse to an alreadyrigid non-league schedule. Leading the way are three
third-year varsity standouts, and they’re reinforced by younger players with bustout potential. Manteca went 10-4 last season, starting on a sevengame win streak before lositng its final three Valley Oak League contests with injuries to key players, including Nichelson. The Buffaloes regained their form in the playoffs, avenging the Week 10 loss to Oakdale in the SJS Division III final. They went on to lose to Wilcox of Santa Clara in the California Interscholastic Federation Division II-A state playoffs, dropping to 0-5 all-time in NorCal Bowl Games. “That’s the biggest thing for us,” Varnum said. “We’re bringing back tons of experience, and we have a chance to be special because the younger guys coming up are from a very talented JV team. We’re pretty pumped about that”. Here’s a deep dive into the 2022 Buffaloes: Standouts: It starts with the Buffaloes’ Big Three of Nichelson, Alijah Cota and Dylan Gulseth. A four-star outside linebacker, Nichelson is one of the top-rated players in the nation for the position, and he’s coming off a program record-breaking year on offense with 2,316 yards from scrimmage (1,876 rushing) and a state-high 288 points (44 touchdowns). The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Cota is a three-star line-
Manteca is led by third-year varsity starters Blake Nichelson (20), Alijah Cota (5) and Dylan Gulseth (76).
Aug. 19 vs. Vista del Lago Aug. 26 at Patterson Sept. 2 at Cosumnes Oaks Sept. 9 vs. Turlock Sept. 17 at Damonte Ranch Sept. 23 Bye Week Sept. 30 at Kimball Oct. 7 vs. Sierra Oct. 14 at East Union Oct. 21 vs. C. Catholic Oct. 28 vs. Oakdale
backer but will also get reps as an edge rusher for the Buffs. He will again split time at fullback and tight end on offense. Gulseth, whom Varnum calls “a coach’s dream,” is an athletic 6-3, 285-pound offensive tackle. All-VOL first-team defensive lineman Mason Gibson will play more offense this season at guard alongside Gulseth, giving the Buffs a formidable tandem on the left side. “I think this year’s line is a lot stronger,” Gulseth said. “Our run blocking will be even better.” Tight end Garrison Reis will play a part as both blocker and playmaker after earning All-VOL secondteam honors as a sophomore. He started the year at quarterback as Hudson Wyatt sat
out half the regular season per SJS transfer rules. Reis also plays linebacker. Varnum expects a big year out of Wyatt, who had clutch moments in the thrilling homecoming overtime win against East Union and Section-clinching victory over Oakdale. “What I’ve been most pleased with over the spring and summer is how much Hudson has developed,” Varnum said. “He has always had great quarterback instincts, but he’s really now mastering the offense and taking on a leadership role. I think he’ll have a phenomenal season, and we’re excited he gets to be under center Week 1.” On the rise: Two late-season call-ups from the 9-1 JV team paid immediate divi-
dends for Manteca. Now a junior, Kaden MacDannald made his varsity debut in the Buffaloes’ second-round blowout of Sacramento, rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll play running back and slot receiver as well as free safety for the defense’s young secondary. Lineman Isaiah White was one of the team’s most productive defensive players down the stretch before a knee injury in the SJS final ended his breakout freshman campaign. Receiver/ cornerbacks Eddie Anthony and Chris Chavez are other sophomores getting the varsity nod. Tommy Perea started at linebacker as a sophomore last year but missed most of the season with a knee injury. He returned in time to aid the team’s title march. At 6-3, 290, junior Bryson McMichael adds girth up front at right tackle. Bryson Davis is playing his first season of high school football, but Varnum believes the 6-1 junior has the natural talent to be a factor at running back and cornerback. “Between Bryson and Kaden, any other year they’re the No. 1 every-down back, but we happen to already have a guy (in Nichelson) there,” Varnum said. Schedule: There are no cakewalks leading up to the VOL for Manteca. Two are strong Sacramento-area opponents (Cosumnes Oaks, Vista del
Lago), and two others are longtime contenders (Turlock, Patterson) from the southern end of the SJS. With Weston Ranch leaving the VOL, that opened up another non-league spot in Manteca’s schedule and the Buffs used the opportunity to connect with Reno-based juggernaut Damonte Ranch. The Mustangs regularly take on top NorCal programs, and this year they’ve targeted San Joaquin County with Lodi and Escalon also penciled in. Manteca makes the trip across state lines Saturday, Sept. 17. Outlook: The road to that elusive state championship has only gotten tougher for Manteca. Facing Division I-II-level teams at the outset, the Buffaloes will find out right away where they stand. Longtime rival Oakdale, SJS D-II champ Central Catholic (now in Division I) and emerging East Union will be their biggest tests in VOL play. They’re 0-7 against CC, since the Raiders joined the VOL in 2014. The Buffs do have history of upper-level success in the postseason. The last time they were in Division II, they defeated Del Oro for the 2001 title — the first of the program’s eight. “The kids are really bought into (competing in) D-II,” Varnum said. “We’re going to do what we do. It doesn’t matter if they put us in the NFC West, we’re going to play Manteca football.”
“Running a football team is not different from running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party, a business. The principles are the same, the object is to win - to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don’t think it is. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing. Remember, a student athlete is not a right - it’s a privilege. You have the honor to represent your school, your community, your family and yourself.”
Best of Luck to All of You! Phil Waterford President/Owner Manteca Ford & Exotic High Line
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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
THE NEXT LEVEL
Lancers hungry for more after successful 1st season under coach
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
Right tackle Aaron Velazquez (70), quarterback Dylan Lee (1) and running back David Flores (5) are looking to lead East Union back to the postseason.
Mike Kuhnlenz led East Union to its first postseason win since 1992 in his debut season as Lancers coach, and they’re looking to build upon the 6-6 finish. They’ll have to do so with an almost-entirely new cast of athletes in the passing game that is now centered around the talents of Dylan Lee, a rising college prospect and one of the top receivers in the Sac-Joaquin Section last year. He has transitioned to quarterback after the now-graduated Luke Weaver shattered singleseason passing records in the spread offense. “We lost a lot of pieces from a really talented group,” Kuhnlenz said. All-Valley Oak League linebacker Adam Jimenez, receiver/cornerback Kainoa Ontai and receiver
Standouts: A multi-sport (basketball, baseball) star, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Lee can play almost any role for the Lancers. Last year, he was one of the most prolific receivers in the SJS with 69 catches, 1,350 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. He looks forward to returning behind center on Friday nights. “I was doing it a lot last year over the summer, so it’s not like it’s been that long, and I played (quarterback) growing up,” he said. “It should be not that hard to get back into it.” Lee will remain an everydown anchor on both sides of scrimmage. He is a three-star rated linebacker who holds offers from four NCAA Division I schools. “We’re still going to throw the rock,” Kuhnlenz said. “He’s doing a great job of making his reads and he’s a very good runner. He’s a smart kid who knows the offense. If a D-I guy is touching the ball every down on offense, that’s probably not a bad thing.” Senior offensive tackle Aaron Velazquez and junior linebacker Carson Sanders are returning All-VOL second-
team selections. On the rise: With Lee moving to quarterback, Nickolas Luna (318 yards, five TDs) is left as the lone returning starting receiver. Blake Mount is expected to emerge as another top target. He’s one of four sophomores elevated to the varsity team. “We’re fast again,” Lee said of the receiving corps. “It’s our second year under Coach K, so we understand the offense and the concepts a little more. We’re just trying to get better one day at time.” The hard-running David Flores, who led EU with 7.5 yards per carry last year, will get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield and provides additional pass protection. Fellow senior Emilio Perez Jr. and Sanders are also in the rotation at running back. “We’ve been playing together for four years now, and we have that connection,” Flores said of his chemistry with Lee. “It’s going to be tough for the defense.” The Lancers boast a deep rotation of defensive linemen, including juniors Sebastian Arrizano (6-0, 245) and Leland
By JONAMAR JACINTO
Jacob Toste are among outgoing talent. Kuhnlenz believes there are enough returning veterans mixed with younger up-andcomers to make another run, and with promise at the lower levels there is hope for sustained success. “We have six guys returning on offense and four returning on offense — that’s about half (of the starters) coming back,” Kuhnlenz said. “They know what’s expected of them and what to do in practice. If they believe we’re going to compete, they’re going to have to work for it and do what we’re supposed to in practice and they’ve definitely been doing that.” East Union had chances to beat Manteca and Kimball in Valley Oak League play and was competitive with eventual SJS Division II champion Central Catholic. The Lancers routed Del Campo 51-7 to snap their 29-year drought of postseason victories. They were eliminated by eventual SJS Division IV runner-up Merced in the second round. Here’s a deeper look into the Lancers’ 2022 season to come:
Crabb (6-4, 275). The talented junior class includes free safety Orian Germann and outside linebacker Ivan Alvarez, one of several midseason call-ups from the JV last year. Schedule: East Union gets a solid test out the gate with Trans-Valley League power Ripon visiting on Friday, but it only gets tougher from there. The following week, the
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Aug. 19 vs. Ripon Aug. 26 vs. Downey Sept. 2 at McNair Sept. 9 at Atwater Sept. 16 Bye Week Sept. 23 vs. Lincoln Sept. 30 at C. Catholic Oct. 7 vs. Oakdale Oct. 14 vs. Manteca Oct. 21 at Sierra Oct. 28 at Kimball Lancers host reigning Central California Athletic League champion Downey, pitting two spread offenses. “Coach (Jeremy) Plaa is doing a great job over there and has done it for a long time,” Kuhnlenz said. “If you want to get ready for teams in league like Kimball or playoff teams that also like to air it out, let’s go play a big-time school like SEE
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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
FRESH START FOR SIERRA
Harbison returns as coach after Timberwolves’ 1-9 season
By JONAMAR JACINTO The Bulletin
Standouts: Though the spread is known to be a pass-first system, the Timberwolves have a history of productive run games out of the single-back formation. That’s good news for Anthony Grady, who flashed his game-breaking potential last year as a sophomore. He kept his team in striking distance in a non-league game at Stagg, rushing for
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
Jax Ballard, from left, Anthony Grady and Joey Mendez key Sierra’s transition back to the spread offense under coach Jeff Harbison.
270 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Sierra came up short, 49-35. “He’s looking like the guy,” Harbison said. Grady can’t wait to see how he is featured in the spread. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I had a good season last year, so I’m hoping I can do a little bit better than that.” Paving the way is another second-year junior in Jax Ballard, a 6-foot1, 280-pound road grader. Sierra has good size in the trenches, but picking up the blocking scheme has been a challenge. “It’s really different with the new game plan,” he said. “This year it’s spread out, a lot more running (for the linemen), a lot more pulling. Everything is pretty much faster.” On the rise: Senior receiver/free safety Joey Mendez is primed for a breakout. Harbison believes he’ll be a key contributor on both sides of
scrimmage. “I’m really looking forward to this season,” Mendez said. “New coach, new energy, new everything almost. The future looks bright, but I’m just looking forward to improving from last year. “Obviously disappointed not only by the team’s performance, but my own performance. I’ve been working all offseason to get better.” Senior Maximus Morales and second-year junior Aydan Harris are the hybrid linebacker/safeties on defense. Morales may also play different roles offensively, including back-up to quarterback Arjun Birdi. Schedule: Sierra will be a bit of a wild card to start, which may work to its advantage. The T’wolves face their toughest non-league opponents in the first two weeks when traditional TransValley League power Hughson and Stagg visit.
They travel to Merced in Week 2 to meet postseason qualifier Golden Valley. Sierra ends its nonleague schedule against Armijo (road) and Modesto (home), 2-8 teams a year ago. The Timberwolves drew the SJS Division III finalists, Oakdale and Manteca, for their first two VOL matchups, both on the road. “We just want to get better every day,” Harbison said. “We can look at however we did last against Hughson last year (49-0 loss) and get better from that. We’ll look to put a solid product on the field.” Outlook: Improving from a 1-9 season is very doable, but this year’s group wants to set the tone for the new (or old) regime. “I think we have the size and speed to compete with some of these top schools,” Ballard said. “Looking at 1-9, I don’t want to have that behind my name and the class of 2024. I want to be able to graduate with
Sierra is starting over again, but this time with its all-time winningest coach leading the way. Jeff Harbison and many of his former assistants are back, and they’re tasked with resuscitating a program that went 1-9 at the varsity level last year while its JV team disbanded. His predecessor, Chris Johnson, led the Timberwolves to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship in 2019 but struggled to keep numbers up during the height of the coronavirus pandemic the following two years. COVID-19 cases decimated the program last season, forcing Johnson to scrap the rest of the JV season. Despite the tough assignment in front of him, Harbison is happy to return. “I missed it the last six years,” Harbison said. “It’s nice to be back out there working with kids and building relationships. I look forward to see what these athletes produce.” Harbison’s first go-round lasted 11 years (2005-16), going 88-49 while claiming two Valley Oak League titles (2009, 14), the 2015 SJS Division IV championship and 2015 Division IV-A state crown. He is reinstalling the spread offense that helped bring Sierra success, moving away from the runbased flexbone tripleoption employed by Johnson. Harbison has put together a veteran coaching staff, which includes the return of offensive coordinator Jeff Abrew and lines coach Les Wheeler. Mike James, previously head coach at cross-town rival East Union and the defensive coordinator under Johnson, now leads special teams. “We’re still learning,” Harbison said. “We had such a limited summer. They have a lot to learn; it’s a challenge for the athletes learning a brand new offense. But they’re taking to us pretty well and doing what we’re asking of them.” Here’s a closer look at the 2022 Timberwolves:
Aug. 19 vs. Hughson Aug. 26 vs. Stagg Sept. 2 at Golden Valley Sept. 9 at Armijo Sept. 16 vs. Modesto Sept. 23 Bye Week Sept. 30 at Oakdale Oct. 7 at Manteca Oct. 14 vs. Kimball Oct. 21 vs. East Union Oct. 28 at C. Catholic bers at the freshman and sophomore levels,” Harbison said. “The sophomores looked very solid in a passing tournament at the end of the summer and went 5-1. The kids are picking up what the coaches are teaching and running with it.”
bragging rights.” Ballard and the rest of the junior class had to grow up quickly last season, so it’s an experienced group. The current sophomores provided a glimmer of hope for the future, going 7-3 at the freshman level. “We’ve had good num-
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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
LAYING IT ON THE LINE
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
Lathrop seniors Justin Tisdell, from left, Kameron Jones, Gian Albano and Hector Meza have their sights set on a postseason berth.
By JONAMAR JACINTO The Bulletin
Justin Tisdell’s family has invested a lot of time at Bennie Gatto Field, so he does not want to take his final year at Lathrop High for granted. The Spartans’ lone thirdyear varsity player believes that this year’s group, headed by second-year coach Ryan Teicheira, has what it takes to
put together an historic season. His older brother, Ross Jr., starred on the program’s first — and only — postseason-qualifying team back in 2015. Their father, Ross, is a long-time assistant coach/ defensive coordinator. “It means a lot,” Justin said of his final go-around at LHS. “I grew up on these sidelines watching my dad coach and watching my brother play. It’s crazy to think that I’m in my senior year and I am where I was watching my brother play. I want to be able to take it farther than he did.” Lathrop was not far off in Teicheira’s debut season. The Spartans won five straight at one point before dropping three of their final four in Western Athletic Conference play, narrowly missing the playoffs with a 6-4 record. Teicheira introduced the Wing-T offense, which he picked up from his two years as an assistant for Valley Oak League heavyweight
Spartans target postseason berth after tough end to 2021 Aug. 19 vs. Bradshaw Ch. Aug. 26 at Mt. Diablo Sept. 2 at Weston Ranch Sept. 9 Bye Week Sept. 16 at Ceres Sept. 23 at Pacheco Sept. 30 vs. Beyer Oct. 7 vs. Grace Davis Oct. 14 at Johansen Oct. 21 vs. Los Banos Oct. 28 vs. Mtn. House
Oakdale. The players immediately embraced their new identity as a smash-mouth team, and Teicheira is adding new wrinkles to the scheme. “Expectations are the same as they were last year,” Tei-
cheira said. “We knew we could be really good, we just made some mistakes that put us out of (the running for playoffs). “The juniors (now seniors) are hungry after the way the
season ended — it doesn’t sit well. They’ve done a great job in the offseason taking command of the team, and the sophomores coming up have bought in. The chemistry we had last year is carrying over. The kids want more than what we achieved last year. For them, 6-4 wasn’t a true depiction of what our team could have done.” Here’s a look at the 2022 Spartans: Standouts: The strength is once again up front, just the way Teicheira wants it. Lathrop lost two of its top linemen, Harold Gary (WAC Defensive Player of the Year) and Jeremy Buck (WAC Offensive Lineman of the Year), to graduation, but senior guards Gian Albano and Hector Meza bring experience and leadership. Meza enjoys blocking in the Wing-T, which makes use of his agility and powerful 6-foot-1, 295-pound frame.
“It brings us out more and basically shouts out the linemen,” Meza said. “If the line doesn’t work, then the whole team doesn’t work. The line hits hard and works hard. The Wing-T is perfect for us.” Tailback Roman Giordano (241 yards, 5.7 per carry) and wingback Kameron Jones (92 yards, 7.7 per carry, three TDs) flashed their abilities with limited touches. “This year’s group has a lot more speed,” Teicheira said. “There’s more open-space talent with our skill guys. We’re looking to try to get the ball in space. We spent a lot of time this summer incorporating (shot)gun/pistol packages, and it’s because we have more skill guys that we want to get the ball to.” Albano is the workhorse at the line of scrimmage, as he’ll see plenty of reps on defense, as well. Jones starts at cornerback for the promising defensive backfield. The SEE
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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
TRIAL BY FIRE Ripon’s senior leaders lead untried talent into challenging schedule
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
By JONAMAR JACINTO The Bulletin
The last of the 2019ers have graduated, leaving Ripon coach Chris Musseman with a team he hardly recognized at the start of summer practices. He led the Indians’ historic march to the Division IV-AA state championship three years ago. After the awkward 0-3 pandemicshortened spring season, the team made it as far as the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal behind a handful of talented third-year varsity standouts. The 2021 Indians finished 8-5, an overall terrific season marred by two losses to longtime rival Escalon. Musseman has expressed concern over the truncated development time of his current group of varsity athletes. In the spring of 2020, he had games at every level canceled by health-and-safety protocols. While numbers are
up across the board this season in participation, the program overall lacks the game experience of previous teams. Despite it all, he is impressed with how new leaders have stepped up and revived some of that togetherness that helped the 2019 team thrive. “I like the camaraderie right now,” he said. “It’s a tighter group that we have had the last couple years at this point of the season. There is some athleticism, but it’s young and inexperienced athleticism. We don’t know how it’s going to translate into Friday nights.” While unproven, the team isn’t lacking confidence. There may no longer be a state champion on the roster, but these seniors still feel the weight of their predecessors’ success and use it as motivation. “State is always a goal,” senior inside linebacker/ fullback Aiden Krupa said. “I would like to think a state championship is the goal for every team. We see it on the sign every time we come out here to practice. It just makes us want it more.” Here’s a closer look at the 2022 Indians: Standouts: Lineman Emiliano Acosta is Ripon’s only returning All-TransValley League player. He
Camryn Arriola (58), Adam Johnston (6), Aiden Krupa (10) and Ricky Ochoa (53) are the senior leaders of an otherwise youthful Ripon team.
Aug. 19 at East Union Aug. 26 vs. Sonora Sept. 2 vs. McClatchy Sept. 9 at Calaveras Sept. 16 vs. Modesto Chr. Sept. 23 at Hilmar Sept. 30 at Riverbank Oct. 7 vs. Livingston Oct. 14 Bye Week Oct. 21 vs. Escalon Oct. 28 at Hughson
made all-league as offensive lineman, and is one of only two returning defensive starters with Krupa being the other. Camryn Arriola joins Acosta at the line of scrimmage, where the Indians are stout. They’re the lone returning starters on offense. “We’re looking really good,” Arriola said. “We have some new kids out there but they’re learning. We also have some size with our linemen, which we didn’t have much of last year.” Outside linebacker/running back Adam Johnston and middle linebacker Ricky Ochoa add some
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needed experience after contributing in reserve roles as juniors. On the rise: There is untapped potential at key spots in Ripon’s Wing-T offense. At quarterback, Musseman can go with 6-foot-3, 193-pound junior Ty Herrin or the more agile Trent Vink, a senior who did not play football during the COVID season and had his junior year cut short to injury. There may be cases in which Ripon uses both behind center in the same game, as they offer different skill sets. With his size, Herrin could also play at
tight end. Vink would line up at slot receiver if he’s not calling the shots. The Indians can broaden their playbook and run the traditional Wing-T or operate out of the pistol Wing-T attack. “It gives us an opportunity to be more multiple on offense,” Musseman said. “It’s dependent on who is in the game. That’s what dictates what the offensive system is going to look like.” Two sophomores have been elevated to the varsity and will be featured at the skill positions. Anden Ries will split time at tailback and wingback with junior Xavier Clark, while Brett Shaw is getting paired at receiver with 6-2 junior Jesus Ochoa. All of them will get looks defensively, as well. “They’re pretty athletic kids,” Musseman said. “They’re still going to be pretty young with it all, but there’s some explosiveness there and that’s something we’re definitely going to need on offense.” Schedule: The youthful Indians should be well tested by the time they host Modesto Christian for their Trans-Valley League opener on Sept. 16. They kick off with three opponents that also qualified for the playoffs last year. Ripon starts with a
tough road game at East Union, which is led by NCAA Division I prospect Dylan Lee. Next are home contests against Mother Lode League powerhouse Sonora and Sacramentobased McClatchy, a large school coming off its best season in many years. Ripon wraps up preleague play at Calaveras, a traditional MLL heavyweight looking to rekindle its former glory. “We have a pretty good mix of what we’re going to see in the preseason,” Musseman said. “Our preseason prepares us pretty well for what we’re going to see in league.” Outlook: Only three of Ripon’s 10 opponents had losing records in 2021. To be competitive in the toughest small-school league in the state, these Indians will have to grow up fast. “We have some kids that are going to be OK, they’re just new to football,” Musseman said. “There’s still a lot of work to do with them, and hopefully by the time we get to league we’re ready. “When you have an inexperienced group, who is going to be that guy or those guys who lead in times of adversity? Who is going to take us to that next level? We won’t know until we get out there.”
The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
KNIGHTS CHARGED UP
Ripon Christian reinvigorated after regaining postseason eligibility
JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
By JONAMAR JACINTO The Bulletin
Ripon Christian has regained the chance to capture that elusive Sac-Joaquin Section championship. RC was one of three schools in the SJS that received two-year bans from postseason play for their participation in a club football season before the state relaxed its COVID-19 mandates in the spring of 2021. The Knights would have been heavily favored to reach the Division VII final last season, but they, along with Capital Christian of Sacramento, lost a last ditch-effort in court to reverse the Section’s sanctions. Last month, the SJS and the schools reached a settlement, reducing the postseason ban to one year. The programs are still under probation, however, and won’t be able to host playoff games this season. “We were really hoping to have a playoff experience last year, because we thought we could make it pretty far and do well,” RC senior quarterback Trey
Fasani said. “Being able to prove that this season is definitely exciting, and we’re looking forward to it.” Ripon Christian placed third during a competitive season in the Southern Athletic League and finished 7-3 overall. The Knights would have been a top-two seed in the playoffs. Their top players at the skill positions are back, and the roster has been supplemented by up-and-comers who were 8-1 in the junior varsity ranks last season. Here’s a closer look at the season ahead for Ripon Christian: Standouts: Returning are dynamic second-junior running backs and two towering targets for a three-starrated quarterback. Fasani (1,065 yards, 13 TDs, three INTs) steers the modified fly offense for third-year coach Phil Grams, who is getting creative with the attack. “Our philosophy is that even though we run the fly, we’re going to play to the talents of our team,” he said. “It will look a little different and more opened up than in the past. We still like to grind a little bit with the fly sweep and then pop a vertical play, but we’ll be a little more dynamic.” All-SAL first team selections Thys Van Der Hoek and Grant Sonke are among the weapons at his disposal. Van Der Hoek is a 6-foot-8 tight end/defensive end who is drawing attention from NCAA Division I programs. Leading rusher
Grant Sonke (774 yards, 11 TDs) stands out in all phases of the game. Defensively, he starts at inside linebacker and also handles place kicking duties. Wide receiver/linebacker Griffin De Abreu and flyback/defensive back Brady Grondz are other big-play threats. OL/MLB Dustin Hoekstra, Grondz and Sonke started at sophomores last year. “Our 6-8 tight end can catch over anyone, but he can also block and pretty much do anything,” Fasani said. “I also have a 6-5 receiver who is another big target downfield. Grant Sonke had a great season last year, he’ll be a big contributor again this season.” In the trenches, RC lacks the size, depth and experience of its previous lines. They lost All-SAL Defensive Lineman of the Year Zach Brouwer and firstteam offensive lineman Jay Hoekstra to graduation, but second-team selection Jacob Kowes is back as an unquestioned team leader. “We may not have the experience that we had last year, but as a senior leader I see these guys have a lot of heart,” Kowes said. “We work hard and we’re aggressive on the field. Our size does not reflect our skill.” On the rise: Grams is excited about the return of senior RB/MLB Derek Van Elderen, who missed the last seven games of 2021 with a ruptured spleen. He adds breakaway speed and depth to the backfield.
Senior Ethan McGovern will play a bigger role on defense at linebacker and safety and is another option at running back. Senior newcomer Justin Severson arrives from East Union, giving RC additional depth at receiver and defensive line. Junior Carson Bunnell is up from the JV and the team’s biggest lineman at 6-3, 267 pounds. Schedule: The Knights’ involvement in the club football league cost them a playoff appearance, but they gained some friends along the way. One of them is Central Valley Christian of Visalia. The Cavaliers participated in the California Association of Private Sports short season and went on to annex the Central Section Division III and NorCal Division IV-AA championships. Before they face off, the schools’ volleyball teams will play each other at all three levels tonight when the season officially kicks off. “There are football families from Central Valley Christian and Ripon Christian that know each other well,” Grams said. “It should be an incredible night of fellowship with CVC, and I’m looking forward to that game and seeing my friend (and CVC coach) Mason Hughes.” Ripon Christian will then travel to Sonoma County to take on Cloverdale, which reached the North Coast Section Division VII semi-
Thys Van Der Hoek (81), Griffin de Abreu (11), Trey Fasani (5) and Jacob Kowes (65) have high expectations for Ripon Christian this season.
Aug. 19 vs. C. Valley Chr. Aug. 26 at Cloverdale Sept. 2 vs. Calaveras Sept. 9 Bye Week Sept. 16 vs. Denair Sept. 23 at Orestimba Sept. 30 at Waterford Oct. 7 vs. Le Grand Oct. 14 at Mariposa Oct. 21 vs. Gustine Oct. 28 at Delhi
finals. The Knights close out non-league play with traditional Mother Lode power Calaveras at home before their bye week and the start of SAL play. They’re looking forward to see how they stack up against one of the few teams left standing in the state in 2021. “It’s a good way for us to play what is probably going to be our toughest (opponent) in the beginning of the season,” Kowes said. “It’s going to get all those jitters out of the way and set us on the right path for the rest of the year with intensity and intentionality in everything that we do.” Outlook: If the inexperienced line can jell and remain healthy, the Knights should have enough for a deep run even without
home games for the Section playoffs. Grams likes his depth on offense and overall experience on defense, which is guided by longtime coordinator Eddie Erdelatz. With numbers up at both the JV and varsity levels, Grams believes the program is set up to thrive beyond this season. There are 19 freshmen on the JV team, the program’s largest group of freshman ever. And with three sophomores playing up, RC will have 23 on the varsity and 24 on JV — solid numbers for one of the smallest school in the SJS. “Ripon Christian football can be competitive in any season, and our guys are looking forward to a great year,” Grams said. “We’re excited about the future of the program.”
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The Bulletin-Friday, August 19, 2022
TOP 20 RETURNING PLAYERS TO WATCH By JONAMAR JACINTO
against Sacramento. “KP” is likely to get more reps at slot receiver this season because of the Buffaloes’ backfield depth, but his main responsibility will be on defense where he leads a young but talented secondary as free safety.
1. BLAKE NICHELSON Manteca, RB/OLB, Sr. One of the top-rated linebacker prospects in California is also one of its most prolific offensive weapons. Nichelson set a new program record with 2,231 rushing yards (2,612 in total) and led the state in scoring (288 points, 44 TDs), even after missing the Buffaloes’ Week 10 game at Oakdale with an ankle injury. As unstoppable as he was on that side of scrimmage, it was on defense where he earned his biggest accolades. The Valley Oak League’s reigning Outstanding Defensive Player is now on the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Preseason first-team defense. Nichelson racked up 52 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, 16 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and an astonishing walk-off, pick-six that sent the Buffs to a 40-34 overtime win over rival East Union on what was an all-around superhuman homecoming performance from “Thor.” Whether it’s on offense or defense, all eyes will be on No. 20 on Friday nights. MaxPreps named him All-Sac-Joaquin Section Junior Player of the Year, and Cal-Hi Sports identified Nichelson as one of 12 Mr. Football State Player of the Year candidates. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has a four-star rating from 247Sports, which also ranks him as the 11th best overall player from the class of ’23 in the Golden State. Nichelson holds 19 offers from NCAA Division I schools. Florida State, Oregon and UCLA are among the favorites to land the Manteca area’s most soughtafter prospect. He has been invited to participate in the AllAmerican Bowl and Polynesian Bowl. 2. DYLAN LEE East Union, QB/LB, Sr. Like Nichelson, East Union’s two-way star posted impressive numbers on offense but is being recruited for defense. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Lee is a three-star rated linebacker who was among the top wide receivers in the state last year. His 1,350 receiving yards was second most in the SJS and 13th in the state. He also caught 69 passes and scored 17 touchdowns. Now, he’s more of a threat in coach Mike Kuhnlenz’s spread offense. He’ll have touches on every play as the Lancers’ quarterback. Lee is a multi-sport standout at East Union having played varsity basketball since his freshman year. He’s also a pitcher and infielder for the baseball team. So far, he has offers from Arizona, Columbia, San Diego State and San Jose State. 3. ALIJAH COTA Manteca, FB/TE/LB/DE/P, Sr. The Buffaloes’ 2022 “shepherd” — an honor passed down from one unquestioned team leader to the next — is primed for a big season, and it could happen at several different positions. Cota, a hulking 6-3, 230pound specimen, has no offers
spartans FROM PAGE 5 versatile Tisdell, who can play outside linebacker and strong safety, is the on-field general for the defense. On the rise: Senior quarterback Jerico Santillan has returned to the program after taking a break from football last year. He was a key player on the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship
lancers FROM PAGE 3 Downey. It’s going to be tough, but we want to prepare ourselves for later in the season.
14. GRIFFIN DE ABREU Ripon Christian, WR/OLB, Sr. Lining up across from a 6-9 tight end is enough of a worry for opposing defensive backfields. They’ll also have to key on the 6-5 de Abreu, a basketball and volleyball standout who is a threat on deep throws and jump-ball tossups. He was Fasani’s top target last year, finishing with 22 catches, 350 yards and two touchdowns. 15. ROMAN GIORDANO Lathrop, RB/DB, Sr. Giordano showed glimpse of what he can do as the featured tailback in the Spartans’ WingT late last season, grinding out 218 yards on 38 carries in starts against Los Banos and Mountain House. He had just five touches going into Week 9. 16. KAMERON JONES Lathrop, WB/CB, Sr. The top sprinter on the school’s track team will have more chances to put his breakaway speed to use after he had just 14 touches on offense last year. Defensively he was a ball-hawk, breaking up 11 passes and intercepting one.
Photo by SEAN KAHLER
Manteca’s Blake Nichelson rambles into the open field in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal at Lincoln.
yet but is certainly on the radar as a three-star linebacker. He was named to the All-VOL first team at inside linebacker, finishing with a team-high 111 tackles. With Manteca facing so many spread offenses this season, coach Mark Varnum said Cota is lining up more at the line of scrimmage as an edge rusher. Nichelson on one side and Cota on the other? Yikes! Offensively, he splits time between fullback (359 yards, 6.2 per carry, four TDs) and tight end (eight receptions, 82 yards, TD). Cota proved late last season that he can be the lead back, when needed. After both starting running backs, Lyon Colon and Nichelson, went down with injuries against Kimball, Cota exploded for 144 yards and two touchdowns. 4. TREY FASANI Ripon Christian, QB, Sr. The son of former Ripon Christian head coach Randy Fasani, who was not too shabby of a QB in his day, Trey is primed for a breakout season with the Knights’ surrounding talent also returning. More on them later. Coach Phil Grams has expanded the playbook of his fly offense to capitalize on the talents of the quarterback, who can make plays from in and out of the pocket. Fasani completed 50% of his passes for 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns against three interceptions last season while rushing
for 259 yards (6.2 per carry). The 6-2, 200-pound signal caller has earned a three-star designation from 247Sports and has been offered roster spots from multiple NCAA Division III schools. 5. THYS VAN DER HOEK Ripon Christian, TE/DE, Sr. One of Fasani’s targets is this 6-9, 240-pound giant, who has drawn interest from Division I programs as a defensive end. Van Der Hoek, however, is eager to showcase his abilities on offense and should get the opportunity with coach Grams planning to open up the attack. An All-Southern Athletic League first-team selection at tight end, he tallied 234 yards, and five of his 15 receptions went for touchdowns. 6. DYLAN GULSETH Manteca, OL/DL, Sr. Gulseth is one of three thirdyear varsity starters for the Buffaloes, along with Cota and Nichelson. The 6-3, 285-pound left tackle made the All-VOL second team and has earned an invitation to the National Preps/Champion Combine held Feb. 3-6 during the NFL’s Pro Bowl week in Las Vegas. He is also the VOL’s reigning shot put champion in track. 7. HUDSON WYATT Manteca, QB, Sr. Coach Varnum was most impressed with the improvements made by his signal caller
during the offseason. Wyatt played just half the season in 2021, because of SJS transfer rules, but arrived in time to be involved with some of the team’s biggest plays. He helped the Buffs win the SJS Division III championship against Oakdale with a last-minute drive capped by a 59-yard touchdown pass play with Zion Allen.
10. JACOB KOWES Ripon Christian, OL/DL, Sr. The Knights are leaning on their strapping 6-2, 220-pound leader after losing size and experience to graduation. He made the All-SAL second team as an offensive lineman but was also productive on defense (44 tackles, five TFL, four sacks).
8. MASON GIBSON Manteca, OL/DL, Sr. A standout on defense last year, Gibson will line up at offensive guard next to Gulseth, giving Manteca an imposing left-side duo. The 6-0, 250-pound defensive lineman was named to the All-VOL first team after contributing 50 tackles, nine for losses.
11. GARRISON REIS Manteca, TE/QB/LB, Jr. Reis started his sophomore year behind center as Wyatt served his sit-out period and performed admirably (58.3% completion, 353 yards, seven TDs). He made the All-VOL second team as a tight end (seven receptions, 96 yards, two TDs) and will play a bigger role defensively at linebacker this year.
9. GRANT SONKE Ripon Christian, RB/ILB/K, Jr. Sonke was an All-SAL firstteam selection in three sports (soccer, baseball) as a sophomore. He shows off his athletic versatility on Friday nights as an every-down contributor. Sonke was the Knights’ leading rusher last year with 774 yards (7.0 per carry) to go with 182 receiving. With 13 total touchdowns and 42 pointafter kicks, he was also the top scorer on the team with 120 points. Defensively, he chipped in 41 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal.
boys volleyball team. Teicheira is excited to capitalize on Santillan’s natural talents as a passer and playmaker. The Spartans averaged just eight passes per game last year. They’ll remain true to their identity as a run-first offense, but Teicheira will be more confident in opening up the playbook when needed. “We’re still going to be a run-heavy team,” Teicheira said. “If we don’t have to (throw), we have no problem
just pounding the rock.” Defensively, Santillan joins Anthony Cuellar and Tisdell on a strong linebacking corps. Fellow senior Jeremiah Green will be another important two-way contributor at wide receiver and cornerback. Dominic Corral (6-1, 260) is a promising junior left tackle who provides additional bulk to the physical offensive line. “We have an up-and-coming left tackle who came up
for our last game,” Albano said. “He did pretty darn good for practicing with us for just one week. He can fill those shoes for Buck at left tackle. He’s a monster.”
“They went 9-2 last year and their quarterback is returning. If you want to play a program that is good year in and year out, Downey should definitely be on the list.” The Lancers wrap up their
pre-league schedule with another stiff test in Lincoln of Stockton after road games at McNair and Atwater.
and one of the teams they beat has moved to another league. They’ve even strengthen their non-league schedule with the additions of Downey and Lincoln. It’s not an easy road back to
Outlook: The Lancers went 2-4 in the VOL last season,
Schedule: Lathrop kicks off against one of the top small-school teams out of the Sacramento area. Bradshaw Christian went 10-2 in 2021 and reached the SJS Division VI semifinals. The Pride also operate out of the Wing-T, so the Spartans have set up
12. CARSON SANDERS East Union, LB/RB, Jr. Sanders played bigger than his size (5-9, 144) as a sophomore and the rest of the league took notice, tabbing him as an All-VOL second-team inside linebacker. He’ll get to contribute on the offensive end this year as a running back. 13. KADEN MACDANNALD Manteca, RB/WR/S, Jr. How about this for a varsity debut: 16 rushes, 157 yards and two touchdowns in a second-round playoff game
a potential slugfest out the gate. Their next four are on the road. Lathrop travels to Concord to meet Mt. Diablo and ends the pre-league schedule with Battle of I-5 rival Weston Ranch. The Spartans get tested in their WAC opener two weeks later at Ceres.
17. TRENT VINK Ripon, QB/WR/S, Sr. A golf standout in the spring, Vink is making up for lost time on the gridiron after opting not to play football during the pandemic-shortened 2021 spring season. He was also limited by injuries last year but flashed some of his big-play potential as a thrower, runner, receiver and defender in his few opportunities. If he can stay healthy, Vink could thrive in a utility role for the Indians. 18. DAVID FLORES East Union, RB, Sr. Flores split carries with two other backs last season, and then-QB Luke Weaver carried much of the load for the offense as a dual-threat producer. Flores was efficient with his few touches (344 yards, 7.5 per carry, nine TDs) and was instrumental in the passing game as a blocker. 19. ANTHONY GRADY Sierra, RB, Jr. Grady turned in an attentiongrabbing performance (270 yards, three TDs) in an early defeat at Stagg and continued to carry the load for Sierra’s limited offense last year. Now a junior, he remains the workhorse back as the T’wolves transition back to the spread from the more run-heavy flexbone offense. 20. ISAIAH WHITE Manteca, DL, So. Promoted from the JV squad in Week 9, White made an immediate impact as a freshman on Manteca’s defensive line. He was in on 39 tackles and three for losses in just fourplus games. His postseason run was cut short by a knee injury in the SJS Division III final.
Outlook: Now fully transitioned from the spread offense, the Spartans have a better grasp of the Wing-T
and may be better equipped to execute its plays. Many defensive roles were left unsettled after summer workouts because of the depth and versatility at several spots. In what is set up to be another wide-open race in the WAC, the Spartans expect to be in the mix once again. “We’re still hungry,” Tisdell said. “We all want to make it to the playoffs. I feel like we have enough pieces on the team that work well together and make it there.”
the postseason, but these Lancers have already gotten taste of what it takes to get there, even through the week-to-week grind of the VOL. With Lee at quarterback, they may have the ultimate equalizer against their
strongest opponents. “We’re excited, but we understand that you have to give your best every single day,” Kuhnlenz said. “If you don’t on Friday nights in this league, you will be embarrassed.”