Jacob De Jesus doesn’t let his lack of size prevent him from doing big things on the football field.
Valley Oak League coaches recognized the Manteca receiver’s many talents, anointing him MVP.
“My linemen, my quarterback, everybody on the team played a role in helping me get this,” De Jesus said. “It has always been my dream to receive an award like this. I was surprised, honestly. It’s not every day someone 5-7, 150 pounds gets this award. I’m just thankful.”
He is one of 10 Buffaloes to make the all-league first team and one of four area players to garner top honors. He was selected Outstanding Offensive Player last season.
Manteca quarterback Ryan Ward takes over as Outstanding Offensive Player, while Sierra slotback/linebacker Matt Dunham and Weston Ranch running back/defensive back Aaron Vickers Jr. split the Utility Player of the Year award. Oakdale defensive end Peyton Bradford was awarded Outstanding Defensive Player. Sierra’s Chris Johnson earned Coach of the Year.
De Jesus did it all for the tri-champion Buffaloes (5-1 VOL, 11-3 overall), leading them to an area-high seventh overall Sac-Joaquin Section championship. He secured 64 catches for 1,139 yards and 16 touchdowns, both single-season program records. In three varsity seasons, he accumulated 166 receptions, 2,693 yards and 36 touchdowns in 41 games.
In addition to his gaudy production as a receiver this season, De Jesus rushed for 590 yards (10 per carry) and seven touchdowns, completed two passes for 76 yards and a touchdown and returned a punt for another touchdown.
De Jesus played cornerback on defense, finishing with 44 tackles
“I love being all over the field, playing defense, returning punts and playing multiple positions on offense,” De Jesus said. “I think it’s a big part of what helped me get this award. Being a versatile player is what sets me apart.”
Fellow Manteca wide out Sunny Dozier enjoyed a breakout season, finishing with nearly 800 yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back Trabron Russell (233 rushes, 1,636 yards, 25 TDs) made all-league for a second straight year, and offensive guard Jacob Sanchez joins them on the list.
Ward passed for 2,155 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Ryan just came up big time this year,” De Jesus said. “This being his fourth year playing football, to get the award he got is crazy because I remember when he first played in eighth grade — he was a receiver and barely got to play. We got to see him develop as a quarterback and he really excelled in that role.”
Pass rusher Garren Genilla (93 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles) is another two-time all-league selection for the Buffs. Defensive linemen Dominic Neuharth (85 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Evans Nicolas (80 tackles, 3 sacks, three forced fumbles), inside linebacker Leo Bonilla (97 tackles, 3 sacks) and defensive back Isaac Searcy (79 tackles, two interceptions) round out Manteca’s first-team members.
Manteca shared the VOL title with Central Catholic (5-1, 6-6) and Oakdale (5-1, 9-4). Sierra (3-3, 11-4) placed fourth before going on its run to the SJS Division IV championship, avenging its regular-season defeat to Oakdale in the final.
It did not take long for Johnson, formerly a longtime head coach for alma mater Ripon, to lead Sierra back into prominence. He led the Timberwolves to two wins in his first season and a postseason appearance in Year 2. His third campaign includes the program’s second SJS banner.
“(Coach of the Year is) voted on by your peers, and that makes it more meaningful,” Johnson said. “It is an honor and humbling, especially for a third-year guy, to be recognized by coaches who have had the success they’ve had in the profession. In the (Trans-Valley League) it was cut and dry, whoever won league was Coach of the Year.”
Second-year junior Kimoni Stanley set a new single-season rushing record for Sierra and is another two-time all-league player. He finished with 218 carries, 2,112 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Dunham was Sierra’s second-leading rusher (679 yards, eight TDs), second-leading receiver (189 yards, three TDs) and one of the top players of a defense that surrendered 16 points per game. Six-foot-1, 280-pound lineman Omar Maxwell, defensive end Christian Threadgill, inside linebacker Holden Fishburn, outside linebacker Nyco Mendoza and safety Shane Johnson are Sierra’s other all-leaguers.
Vickers was a bright spot for rebuilding Weston Ranch (0-6, 1-8), producing some of the most electric touchdowns this season. He totaled six TDs from scrimmage and added three more on special teams and rushed for about 600 yards.
East Union (1-5, 4-6) had five second-team selections. Josh Grabowski made it for both offense and defense as tackle and outside linebacker. The Lancers’ other awardees are offensive lineman Alex Young, offensive lineman Joey Aguirre, inside linebacker Josh Jimenez and outside linebacker Lane Cefalu.
Manteca cornerback Quincy Robinson and Sierra cornerback Henry Palacios also made the All-VOL second team.
Area standouts earning honorable mention: Sierra’s David Higares, Josh Valdez and Trey Moorehead; Manteca’s Angel Garay, Gurjot Dhaliwal and Dom Rea; East Union’s Anthony Vargas, Tyler Diaz, Ryland Toves, Matthew Slight and Cameron Torres.