With a punishing ground attack and formidable defensive front back from its 2021 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship team, Manteca has been busy shoring up other areas in 7-on-7 competitions.
Quarterback Hudson Wyatt returns to lead the aerial assault and is the Day 1 starter after California Interscholastic Federation transfer rules forced him to sit out the first half of last season. The Buffaloes did fine with then-sophomore Garrison Reis behind center and running back Blake Nichelson carrying the load.
A highly-recruited outside linebacker, Nichelson racked up 2,612 yards and 43 touchdowns from scrimmage and was the state’s leading scorer with 288 points.
“We’re always trying to be balanced, that’s when we’re at our best,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “At our core, we want to run with Blake and the guys we have up front, but we have a pretty darn good quarterback and 3-4 talented receivers.”
On Thursday, the Buffaloes participated in the 18-team Stagg Tournament and reached the semifinals, capping a busy month of 7-on-7s. Manteca also faced off with Lincoln, Edison, McNair and Bear Creek.
The 7-on-7s weren’t just for Wyatt and his receivers, though. It was a chance to test a young secondary that Varnum described as “very athletic.” The Buffaloes graduated their starting defensive backfield, which included BYU signee Zion Allen. Three sophomores have been promoted to the varsity team, and two of them are cornerbacks.
“This is why we do this stuff over the summer, to get them ready,” Varnum said. “Proud of how they’ve progressed.”
Varnum is pleased with the consistent attendance this summer, with more than 40 players turning out at each level. The freshman and JV squads each went 9-1 last year.
“The more Buffaloes the better,” Varnum said. “We definitely want to recharge the next three weeks and by July 24 we want to hit the ground running.”
The SJS Preseason Dead Period begins next week, and official practices start July 25.
Manteca has ramped up its non-league schedule, replacing Downey with Vista del Lago of Folsom (Aug. 19 at home) while adding a road trip to Reno for a date with Nevada powerhouse Damonte Ranch (Sept. 17). Between those two showdowns are rematches against Patterson (Aug. 26 away), Cosumnes Oaks (Sept. 2 home) and Turlock (Sept. 9 home).
The Buffs open Valley Oak League play Sept. 30 at Kimball.
“With our schedule, we wanted to see as much speed as we could find (in 7-on-7s),” Varnum said. “We’ll see teams that run those wide-open spread offenses, and those are the types of teams we’ll see in the playoffs. And we gotta get ready for the VOL schedule. Year in and year out, these are all high-caliber teams, so we’ll be battle tested by the playoffs.”