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Manteca’s ‘old dogs’ relying on youth

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POSTED November 2, 2013 1:52 a.m.

The gray in his stubble gives him away. Still, Manteca High defensive coordinator Rick James admits …

“I’m an old dog,” he said in the days leading up to Friday’s 35-14 victory at Sierra, a triumph that clinched the program’s first Valley Oak League title since 2010.

An old dog who isn’t opposed to new tricks – or fresh blood on his staff.

Walk the Manteca sideline. There, you’ll find familiar names and faces, barking familiar calls. There’s head coach Eric Reis, now in his 12th season. Offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald. And of course, James.

Sprinkled throughout the group are the newest branches on the Buffalo coaching tree — fresh and energetic, but no less invested in the Mean Green Machine.

There’s Gilbert Martinez, a fantastic two-way player who helped trigger Manteca’s success in the early 2000s. He now coaches the wide receivers.

Brian Rohles, a former All-American lineman turned special teams coach. Ronald Hodge, was in the same backfield with Martinez in the Buffaloes’ improbable run to the 2002 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title game.

And the one with the shiniest credentials (and a ring, to boot): Beau Fryer, only a year removed from patrolling the skies at Fresno State.

The infusion of young talent has kept an old-world system – Read: power run game and 3-4 defense – hipper than a pair of Chucks.

The impact and influence is captured best in the relationship between Fryer and an underrated secondary.

With his father, Bobby, in the booth, Beau works the sideline, moving DBs likes pieces around a chess board.

On Friday, they forced Sierra and record-setting quarterback Jake Pruitt into a no-win situation.

Check mate, as punctuated by a leaping chest bump by Fryer and safety Dom Pisano late in the fourth quarter.

“Anytime you can bring back some of the finest players to ever come through the program and have the gets hands-on, it’s huge,” James said. “They’re young and they relate well to these kids. Sometimes us older guys get …

“They just have a way of relating better.”

On Friday, the Buffaloes’ secondary played like mini-Beau Fryers. They forced  three turnovers, two of which tilted the score in Manteca’s favor. 

Pruitt was picked off twice, and wide receiver Bryson Sanders had the ball punched out of his paws during a 21-point swing in the first half.

Brandon Dabney collected his third interception of the season in the second quarter, stepping in front of Hunter Johnson along the boundary.

Eight plays later, Alex Laurel cut the field in half with a 31-yard draw on fourth-and-16 to make it 14-7.

And away the Buffaloes went, spurred on by a defense with a chip on its shoulder. At the West High camp over the summer, Reis pinned Manteca’s championship hopes on the defense.

“How good will we be?” was the challenge.

Well…

“We disguised our coverages tonight,” Bobby Fryer said, “and I think it threw Sierra off a bit. The kids are smart and they’re eager to learn. They were up to the challenge. They knew Sierra would be good; they knew they’d bring their ‘A’ game.”

Afterwards, Bobby Fryer handed out his own grades.

Safety Elijah Cooper also had an interception and Hector Soto had a third negated by a questionable pass interference call.

Pruitt misfired on just six passes all evening but Sierra’s vaunted spread offense produced only two plays of 20 or more yards.

“I’d give them all an ‘A’,” the older Fryer said.

Dabney has worked hard for the praise. He credits his growing reputation as a shut-down corner to his bond with Beau Fryer. Be it in practice or the field on Friday nights, the two are constantly communicating.

Fryer nit-picks Dabney’s technique – from his backpedal to his ability to read the quarterback– knowing that attention to detail defines a Division I cornerback.

“He’s not a coach. He’s like my brother,” Dabney said. “He motivates us … teaches us. He lets us know what it takes and how things should be.”

Credit the “old dogs” with devising a winning plan on Friday evening. Reis’ Gatorade bath was well-deserved, as were the hugs and high-fives reserved for James and MacDannald .

But give the “new dogs” some love, too, especially the Bulldog.

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