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Varnum: Manteca High football changes divisions, but not its goals
MHS football
James Burns/Tower News Mark Varnum guided the Manteca High football team to its eighth Sac-Joaquin Section banner last fall, defeating Valley Oak League rival Oakdale in the Division III final, 35-28.

Tower News

There are 174 high school football teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section and only seven can raise a championship banner at the end of the season.

With a 35-28 victory over Valley Oak League rival Oakdale in the Division III final, Manteca High netted its eighth section banner in school history and cemented its place among the section’s all-time great programs.

Manteca is tied for fourth among the section’s all-time winningest programs with eight titles, all of which hang at the entrance of Gus Schmiedt Field. The Buffaloes trail only Central Catholic (20), Del Oro (11), Escalon (10) and Folsom (10).

The Buffaloes are looking to close the gap this fall. Manteca has reloaded and is ready to run it back this year for a ninth section title. Head coach Mark Varnum, now in his third season as the head coach and ninth overall with the program, is leading the charge. Tower News sat down with Varnum to talk about the Buffaloes jump to Division II, the key returners, and the facets that make this year’s team special.

Tower News: What are some of your main goals this upcoming season?

Mark Varnum: The goal is like it always is – we want win a section title, NorCal and a CIF State title. No matter who we are playing and what the names are, our expectations don’t change. We’ve been working hard all season. We have some three-year vets, some varsity returners and some young sophomores in the mix. We are expecting to do some big things this upcoming season.

TN: How do you feel about moving up into Division II this season?

MV: No matter what division we are in, we are going to play Manteca Buffalo football. We can be D-I, D-II, D-III, or in the NFC West, we are going to do what we do. We are going to win games and bring home blue banners.

TN: How does the VOL prepare you for the playoffs?

MV: It is one of the toughest leagues around with Central Catholic winning it last year; Oakdale, Central Catholic all being in the section title games last year; also, Kimball having an amazing season this year. There aren’t a lot of leagues around here that are tough like the VOL.

TN: You have brought up five sophomores this year: Chris Chavez, Tomasi Sovatabua, Eddie Anthony, Isaiah White and Jose Jimenez. How will this help bring success to your team?

MV: It is the most we have ever brought up. All five of them are all ready to play this season. They know what to do and what their job is. Isaiah White came up as a freshman and played for us last year. They may be young, but they are great athletes and impact players. We are expecting a lot of big things from them.

TN: What is the secret to Manteca’s success?

MV: I think it is our kids. They know the history from all the past teams, especially the past few decades. The standard is we want to compete and win football games. We want to win section titles and more. The seniors teach it to the lower levels, and they know what is expected from them. They are the ones that keep things rolling around here.

TN: How does it feel to have someone like Blake Nichelson, a four-star blue-chip prospect, on your team?

MV: It has been fun to have him on our team. With his talent, it is unbelievable. The attention he has brought to himself and the program has been amazing. I have had some great conversations with some college coaches. It is great for the program and the town. Most importantly, it is good for Blake. He will be such an amazing player for whatever school he chooses, and I am super excited to have him back as a Buffalo for one more season.

TN: What is it like to play under the lights here at Gus Schmiedt?

MV: There is nothing like it … you can feel the energy at the school. You feel it in the air, and you look in the crowd you see all the alumni watching the kids, it’s amazing. There is no show like it in the town or section. We are so lucky to have amazing fans because this place is special. Now it’s time to use that magic and play great Manteca Buffalo football.

TN: What makes this team so special compared to the other ones?

MV: I think it is the mix we have. We have some very talented kids on the team this year. We have three-year starters and all league returners. I think if we find the right mesh in between all of them, we can do something special this year that the school has not done.


Hudson Wyatt is a senior journalist student at Manteca High School. Wyatt is a second year starting quarterback for the Buffalos. He enjoys going out with his friends and playing football. 

Alijah Cota is a senior journalism student at Manteca High School. Cota’s the 2022 Shepard for Manteca’s football team, a leadership position. He plays middle linebacker and fullback, and he enjoys going out with his friends.