Kyle Reis was 1 when his father, Eric, took over as head coach of the Manteca High football team.
Little Reis spent many Friday nights on the home sideline of Guss Schmiedt Field, serving as a ball boy, a waterboy and, above all, the team’s biggest fan. They can still be seen together on the sidelines these days, only Little Reis isn’t so little anymore.
Kyle, one of the biggest players on the team at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, is one of four sophomore starters who have contributed to the Buffaloes’ 5-0 start. They put their perfect record on the line Friday when they head across town to face rival Sierra.
“Football season has always been the best time of the year for me,” Reis said. “On Friday nights I already knew what I was going to be doing and I knew I was going to have a blast. I knew I got to watch one of the best teams in the area, and it was always cool being so close to the players and getting to know them personally. I learned through them what I should be as a Buffalo.”
It also helps living with a Buffalo. Eric Reis was a two-way lineman for Manteca in the mid-1980s and is the winngest coach in program history.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Eric said. “I haven’t really been able to think about it too much, but it’s been a long road for him to be a part of it. He’s been to a lot of games, for sure.”
Quarterback/safety Gino Campiotti, defensive lineman Justin Kakala and inside linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua join Kyle Reis on the varsity squad. Coach Reis said that other players from the sophomore squad were considered, but the four who were brought up filled immediate needs.
“We have a pretty special JV team,” Reis said, “We needed these four to fit what we have, and every single one of them has obviously made a big contribution to what we are today.”
Campiotti has been the biggest surprise so far and certainly the most versatile. He has seven tackles, four pass deflections and a fumble recovery on defense and kicks off for the special-teams unit.
“It can get tiring, but the more football the better,” the 6-2, 175-pound Campiotti said.
His coaches have big expectations for him at quarterback, but it wasn’t intended for him to see as much time behind center as he has. He has completed 19 of 28 passes for 374 yards, eight touchdowns and an interception as the back-up to senior Dakarai Charles.
“Our thought going into the season was that he was going to get a taste of it throughout the year,” Reis said. “Once he got his taste he did so well that we gave him a little bit more every week, that’s kind of how that evolved. It also depends on who we’re playing and how things match up. It has freed up DC (Charles) to be more of a playmaker, which has made us better.”
With Campiotti at QB, Charles can line up at receiver and has even had opportunities as a kick returner. Charles jump started Manteca’s 62-0 homecoming beatdown of Kimball with a 99-yard kickoff return. He’ll remain the focus of the offense, though, which is all good with Campiotti.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Competition will only make me better, it makes him better and it makes everyone better. At Manteca we strive for the competition.”
Kakala and Manuleleua have been key to Manteca’s stout defense, which has given up just 12 points this season. Manuleleua is the Buffaloes’ leading tackler with 36, and five have gone for losses.
“I’m where I was hoping to be at the beginning of the year, but I can always improve,” Manuleleua said. “At first I felt a little pressure playing on the varsity team, but the senior leaders have really helped me feel more comfortable with things.”
The 6-4, 250-pound Kakala is flanked by seniors Darrion Kitson and Daniel Brand on Manteca’s stout defensive line. He has 15 tackles so far.
“Our defense is really good,” Kakala said. “I’ve never been part of one like this before.”
Kyle Reis towers over his fellow linemen on the offensive side where he starts at left tackle. The Buffaloes have traditionally been known for their hulking linemen, but this year’s group doesn’t fit the mold. Next to Reis on the line is 5-9, 190-pound guard Francisco Cebreros, and junior Tyler Welch (5-8, 170) is at center. Will Maddox (5-9, 240) and Sam Rohovit (5-9, 200) split time at right guard, and Elijah Root Sanchez (5-10, 260) is at the other tackle spot.
“It’s probably the smallest O-line I remember Manteca High ever having, but we are tenacious,” Reis said. “We’re going to give everything we have on every down.”
It’s the mentality the entire team has taken on this season. Just two years after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title, the Buffaloes have been overshadowed by fellow Valley Oak League powers Central Catholic and Oakdale.
“We’ve been an underrated team,” Reis said. “We’re looking forward to leaving our mark, not just now but for the next three years.”