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MEANT TO BE HERE

Manteca LB took the long, sometimes hard road to today’s section final

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MEANT TO BE HERE

Manteca High’s Jacob LeDon (34) signals to the crowd to fire up the stands during a recent game against crosstown rival Sierra High.

HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin/


POSTED December 6, 2013 12:19 a.m.

Jacob LeDon is arguably the best player that few outside of Manteca High’s football team know about.

He does a lot of the little things, and for this championship-caliber team that means a lot. Tonight, he and the second-seeded Buffaloes (12-1) will be at Stockton’s Lincoln High battling with No.5 Sacramento (11-2) for the program’s fourth Sac-Joaquin Section title.

It’s not where he expected to be when he moved to Manteca from Morgan Hill two years ago. In his mind, he was a nobody going nowhere.

“At that time I didn’t want to be here,” LeDon said. “I didn’t play high school football freshman year because I had bad grades.”

Now, the hard-hitting fullback/linebacker is somebody with nowhere to go but up. He is a 3.0 student with a new extended family that starts with father figure Eric Reis, Manteca’s 12-year head coach.

“He was a kid who was not sure about which way he wanted to go in life,” Reis said. “Football definitely provided him with some direction and a positive self-esteem. It’s been fun to see.”

The strapping 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was in Reis’ body conditioning class during his sophomore year. His physique and strength caught Reis’ attention.

“I was like, ‘Why aren’t you playing football?’” Reis recalled.

The 2012 season was LeDon’s first year of high school ball, but he’s no stranger to the grid iron. He grew up playing for the Morgan Hill Raiders. Since he was ineligible to play for his high school squad as a freshman, he helped the Raiders’ varsity squad earn an invitation to play for a national title in Florida.

LeDon figured that was going to be the end of his football career.

“I moved here to be with my dad, and I didn’t plan on playing football because I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay,” LeDon said.

He is glad he did.

“I was meant to be here,” he added.

LeDon played mainly at outside linebacker his junior year and finished with 53 tackles and 3.5 sacks as the Buffaloes finished 6-5.

His role has since expanded.

“He brings that nastiness on both sides of the ball,” Reis said. “He has great hands and is very athletic. He’s been a great leader.”

Defensively, LeDon has 69 tackles and four sacks. On offense, he has found ways to get noticed despite little touches. He broke his left hand during Manteca’s Valley Oak League opener against Sonora and has since played with it protected by a cast.

That’s too bad, because he showed promise as a ball carrier and pass catcher out of the backfield in the Buffaloes’ nonleague finale at Los Banos just two weeks prior, racking up 93 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.

LeDon still draws “oohs and ahs” with his thunderous hits as a lead blocker. He plays a key part in Manteca’s power running game anchored by a heralded offensive line. They have helped leading rusher Alex Laurel (1,630 yards, 32 touchdowns) set a new program record with 45 total touchdowns.

“I just have to do my role to the best of my ability,” he said. “If it means I have to open up holes for another running back I’m just as happy doing that. Basically, they just tell me which way the play is going and I try and hit someone as hard as I can.”

In last week’s semifinal win over Inderkum, LeDon blasted a defender with a downfield block that helped Laurel bust an important 31-yard touchdown run. That widened Manteca’s lead to 45-20 with 6:22 remaining. Inderkum threatened to comeback but fell short, 45-36.

“Some of the hits he had in that game, he was just annihilating guys,” Reis said. “And these aren’t little guys, this is Inderkum, one of the top Sacramento teams, and he’s just blowing them away. He has an uncanny ability to just uncoil on people.”

Earlier in the game he delivered a tone-setting blow with the ball tucked in his arms. It was on Manteca’s opening drive after Inderkum had scored. LeDon took a short pass from quarterback Joe Menzel and had one defender — Arizona State-bound safety Jordan Thomas — in front of him as he made his way toward the red zone.

LeDon didn’t bother getting cute.

Boom!

Two plays later, Laurel scored the first of his five touchdowns.

“I just want to run people over,” LeDon said. “I don’t want to risk fumbling the ball by trying to juke anyone. I don’t mind getting tackled as long as I’m delivering the pain.”

Surely he isn’t trying to seriously injure an opponent.

“We got pads on,” he quipped.

It is plays like that that don’t make the headlines and show up on the stat sheet. But they do not go unnoticed.

“That’s the guy that makes (opposing) coaches go, ‘Oh man, that LeDon guy is good,’” Reis said. “Obviously when you’re earning the respect of other coaches that’s when you know you’re doing something right.”

These days, LeDon is doing plenty right.

“He’s definitely one of my projects that panned out in a lot of ways,” Reis said. “He has truly blossomed, not just in football; he is a great kid, too. There’s no doubt he’s going to play college football. His whole life trajectory changed because of football.”

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