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Buffaloes take flight
Passing game coming along for Manteca
Manteca Highs new starting quarterback Alex Martinez prepares to fire it downfield during a 7-on-7 scrimmage with visiting Turlock Wednesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Coaches put little stock on 7-on-7 passing scrimmages, and for good reason.

Quarterbacks aren’t worried about blood-thirsty linebackers breathing down their necks, and there aren’t big bodies in front of them blocking their view downfield.

But you obviously don’t want your quarterback to look bad under such low-pressure situations.

Manteca High’s varsity squad hasn’t had that problem this summer.

Senior Alex Martinez has taken the reins after serving as the understudy for standout Matt Burrows, the Valley Oak League’s Offensive Player of the Year. Burrows led Manteca to a share of the league title and a 9-2 record.

Big cleats to fill for sure, but Martinez has impressed his coaches in passing scrimmages, and he continued to do so on Wednesday when the Buffaloes hosted Division-I power Turlock.

“By the end of these 7-on-7s we just want to be better than how we started,” Martinez said. “We just want to improve on the little things.”

And improve he did Wednesday.

In Manteca’s first offensive series he threw an interception, but that would be his last. On his third and final run, he completed his first six passes and was 8-of-10 with two touchdowns to no picks.

His favorite target throughout was Eric Ceja, who had three completions go for scores. Danny Gouveia was on the receiving end of two TD tosses, as Martinez finished with six total.

“So far, Alex has really progressed well at quarterback,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said. “The thing about Alex is that he’s such a great kid and a real smart kid, and good things happen to those types of people.

“We’re looking forward to some great things out of him.”

Manteca has also had 7-on-7 sessions with Lincoln and St. Mary’s, two storied programs out of Stockton.

In mid-June, the Buffaloes won the Delta College Passing Tournament and beat Monterey Trail of Elk Grove twice for the title. Monterey Trail is coming off two straight championship-round appearances in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-I playoffs.

Reis was surprised that the team was able to do so. He became Manteca’s all-time winningest coach last year, his eighth, and most of his teams have featured run-first offenses.

“I still wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’” he said of winning the passing tournament. “But that’s why we do the 7-on-7s. We do things that are so much against who we are that it’s actually helping us.”

Next week, Manteca’s linemen will get a chance to shine along with the rest of the team as the summer schedule draws to an end. The “dead period” for fall sports in the Sac-Joaquin Section begins July 18, with first official football practices scheduled for Aug. 10.

Breaking from tradition, Reis will take the entire squad for a full-contact camp hosted by West High of Tracy July 12-14. The camp also includes VOL rival Lathrop, Ripon and Pacheco, the new school out of Los Banos.

In past summers, Manteca’s linemen and linebackers attended separate camps. The West camp gives the coaching staff a good look at the squad with its full complement of players clashing with other teams.

It also gives the players a chance to shine and ultimately fill in at key spots vacated by a talented senior class that included Burrows and running back/line backer Robert Ladiges, the 2010 VOL MVP.

“Every year you try to find out what you have and what don’t have,” Reis said. “I’m happy with this group, I like the cohesion of the guys.”