Gino Campiotti’s big gamble appears to be paying off.
The 2018 Manteca High graduate scrapped a full-ride scholarship to an NCAA Division-I school to return home and play quarterback for Modesto Junior College. He has been named All-Valley League Offensive MVP after leading the Pirates (4-1, 7-3 overall) to a co-championship and No. 8 rankings in the California Community College Sports Information Association and JC Athletic Bureau coaches final regular-season state polls.
“Honestly, at the time I didn’t really know how to take it, but it was kind of overwhelming,” Campiotti said of his reaction to learning about the latest honor. Head coach Rusty Stivers announced all-league results to the team after practice on Monday.
“I just know how many hours I’ve put in and it felt really good to know that it was for a reason. It’s not just about getting the recognition.”
MJC wraps up its season Dec. 4 against visiting Diablo Valley (6-4) in the Grizzly Bowl. It’s Campiotti’s last chance to prove himself capable of playing quarterback at the Division-I level.
In recent weeks, he has received offers from D-II schools Adams State, Davenport University, Northwood University and University of Texas Permian Basin. The focus, for now, is on finishing
out his lone JUCO campaign before weighing options on the future.
“Right now, I’m just taking it day by day,” Campiotti said. “There’s nothing more I can really do. I still have a couple more weeks and another game to prepare for.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound dual-threat QB has completed 56% of his passes for 1,702 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions and is also the Pirates’ leading rusher with 802 yards (6.9 per carry) and eight TDs. He has compiled an impressive highlight reel that includes pinpoint completions on deep passes and game-breaking elusiveness as a ball carrier.
It turns out MJC and Stivers’ spread offense were a perfect fit for him to showcase his abilities.
“Despite not playing quarterback in a long time and having shoulder surgery on my throwing arm, they were still very open to giving me an opportunity,” Campiotti said. “It was a competition from Day 1 and I came in just watching and slowly taking reps here and there. It was a long process and I had to earn the No. 1 spot over here. But they were very open to giving me a chance to prove myself, which I thought was awesome.”
Campiotti left Manteca as its all-time leading passer, a two-time Sac-Joaquin Section champion and was named All-Valley Oak League Outstanding Offensive Player (2016) and MVP (2017). He signed with Northern Arizona University after his stellar senior season.
His time at NAU did not go as expected, however. Campiotti red-shirted his freshman year but did have two starts behind center, completing 24 for 47 passes for 192 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions.
Injuries and a position change the following year led to his departure. Campiotti was able to get more playing time as a versatile tight end but was limited by a broken shoulder and a concussion. He featured in nine games and started three of them, producing 14 receptions, 137 yards and a touchdown.
“I came back because I didn’t want to be playing just 20-25 snaps a game over there,” Campiotti said. “They were playing me as a utility player and I couldn’t get used to not being an every-down guy. I thought I can come home and give myself another shot to be a quarterback again. I bet on myself and thought it would be the best opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong and hopefully get a scholarship to play quarterback somewhere else.
“I’m really lucky to be in this situation, with family and parents who are so supportive and letting me come back home to live with them and make it possible to play at MJC.”
As for his new football family, he was welcomed by Coach Stivers and many familiar faces. Wide receiver and special-teams ace Jacob De Jesus was a sophomore at Manteca when he last teamed with Campiotti. Not surprisingly, De Jesus — who followed Campiotti as Outstanding Offensive Player and MVP of the VOL in 2018 and 2019 — is the Pirates’ leading receiver (39 catches, 445 yards, two touchdowns), fourth leading rusher (197 yards, two TDs) and their top returner for punts and kickoffs. He joins Campiotti on the All-Valley League team as All-Purpose Player of the Year.
Other local products earning all-league are defensive end Josh Valdez (Sierra) and offensive lineman Josh Grabowski (East Union).
“Jacob is one of the most electric players I have ever played with, if not the most,” Campiotti said. “Any time I have chance to throw the ball to him I will. It was a really exciting (moment) when he reached out after finding out I was coming back home.
“Getting to play with guys I’ve played with and against in high school has been a lot of fun. There are probably only 15 guys on the whole team I did not know when I first got here. It’s pretty cool. It’s like we’ve put together an all-star team. It’s a great group of guys.”
One reunion he missed was with one of his best friends, Ferrin Manuleleua. He starred at inside linebacker for the 2017-19 Manteca teams but was an overlooked prospect while in high school. After two years at MJC, landed a scholarship to Missouri State. Campiotti was inspired by his fellow Buffaloes’ path to Division I and further convinced that MJC would be the perfect launching pad to help get him back to that level.
“He said he loved the staff and had nothing but great times at MJC, and I couldn’t agree more,” Campiotti said. “This has been the most fun I’ve had playing football since senior year (of high school). I couldn’t ask for a better experience.”