Gene Peterson remembers what it was like to have Paul Wiggin as a blocker.
He would take the handoff and look forward and there would be an inordinate amount of space for him to run – cutting between the tackles getting all of the glory as he carried the ball for Manteca High School in the early 1950s.
He knew that Wiggin was something special when it came to his playing ability.
He just didn’t know that he would go on to Stanford and eventually a 10-year career in the National Football League – giving Peterson and the rest of Wiggin’s Buffalo teammates somebody to follow in the newspapers come Monday morning.
“We were buddies – pals. And he opened up all of the holes and I could just run right through there. He definitely made me look good,” Peterson said. “He had a great career, and it was better knowing he was from right here.”
Wiggin, a Lathrop native, played his high school football at Manteca before going off to Stanford and eventually the Cleveland Browns. In more than 10 seasons wearing an NFL uniform he never missed a game, and returned would eventually return to football as a coach – heading the Stanford University program in the early 1980s and spending a two seasons at the helm of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Former classmate Arnita Montiel championed the cause to get the stadium named after Wiggin – more than half-a-century after the community that they grew up in finally landed its own high school. She successfully lobbied the school board for the honor. He flew in from Minneapolis– where he works in a personnel capacity with the Minnesota Vikings – to be at Friday’s ceremony.
“He was younger than me, but he was the biggest kid that was out there,” said William Myatt, who grew up near Wiggin in Lathrop. “You knew that he was a gifted football player. And he went on to prove it.”
Former Manteca High School Principal Steve Winter championed the stadium dedication when he learned about Montiel’s efforts. He recalled how watching him practice when he came back to town was an event, and how his making it to the next level meant so much to so many local kids at the time.
“They talk about the professional athlete today as a role model, but I see Paul as a role model. I think that kids should be able to look at his name on that stadium and want to emulate him and do what he did – he would be a great person to aspire to become,” Winter said when learning of the stadium naming effort. “My hope is that in 20 or 30 years when somebody asks who Paul Wiggin is that they’ll learn he’s somebody from that community that achieved goals that some people thought were unreachable.
“That it was done. He’s a great, great man.”