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Manteca’s Nichelson earns VOL defensive player award
East Union’s record-breaking QB-WR duo makes 1st team
All-VOL football
Manteca linebacker Blake Nichelson gets ready to tackle Kimball receiver Willie Clifton in a Valley Oak League game at Guss Schmiedt Field. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Blake Nichelson posted some astronomical numbers this season as Manteca’s go-to offensive weapon, but it’s on defense where he gets his biggest accolade on the All-Valley Oak League team.

He was voted as the Outstanding Defensive Player, joining the likes of Central Catholic running back/linebacker Aiden Taylor, Kimball quarterback Nicholas Coronado and Namir Brown-Sanger of Weston Ranch as the top award winners in one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most competitive leagues.

A 6-foot-3, 205-pound playmaker on both sides of scrimmage, Nichelson is a being recruited as an outside linebacker. He currently has offers from Arizona, Boston College, Fresno State and Oregon State. The junior graded out as Manteca’s top defensive player despite being limited on that side of the ball with a late-season ankle sprain. He finished with 52 total tackles with team-highs in tackles for losses (16), sacks (7 ½) and forced fumbles (three).

Perhaps his most memorable highlight came on homecoming night against rival East Union. After leading a fourth-quarter comeback to tie it, Nichelson capped the dramatic 40-34 win on the second-play of overtime, tipping a pass and coming down with it for an interception near the 50-yard line. The resulting pick-six is one of his state-leading 44 touchdowns on the season. 

Offensively, he earned a first-team spot at running back. His 288 points are the most scored by a single player in the state this season, according to MaxPreps. He rushed for 2,231 yards (10.7 per carry) and 36 touchdowns and was also the Buffaloes’ top receiver with 19 catches, 381 yards and seven scores.

Manteca (3-3, 10-4 overall) finished fourth in the VOL after dropping its final three in the regular season but went on to avenge one of those losses with a 35-28 win over Oakdale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game.

Central Catholic (13-2) is the SJS Division II champ and lost in the California Interscholastic Federation Division II-AA State Bowl Game on Friday 34-25 to undefeated Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista. Taylor, the VOL MVP, eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the state final and finishes with 38 touchdowns.

Runner-up Kimball (5-1, 10-2) boasted the state’s most explosive passing attack led by Coronado (4,315 yards, 56 TDs, five INTs), the VOL’s Outstanding Offensive Player.

Sanger-Brown is Utility Player of the Year, as he played quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, kicker and punter for Weston Ranch (0-6, 1-9).

Other notable All-VOL first-team selections include the quarterback-receiving tandem of Luke Weaver and Dylan Lee. Both shattered single-season school records at East Union (2-4, 6-6) and led the Lancers to their first postseason win since 1992.

Weaver ranked second behind Coronado in the SJS with 3,173 yards to go with 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He was also one of the Section’s top dual-threat QBs, rushing for 715 yards and 17 TDs.

Lee ranked among the Section’s best with 69 receptions, 1,350 yards and 17 TDs.

Manteca offensive lineman Justin Beglau rounds out All-VOL first-team offense selections from area schools. The Buffs had two first-team picks on defense in inside linebacker Alijah Cota (120 tackles, 10 for losses) and lineman Mason Gibson (62 tackles, 10 for losses). East Union inside linebacker Adam Jimenez joins them on the first-team defense.

Sierra (1-5, 1-9) is the only school tonot  have any players on the All-VOL team. Second-team selections from area schools:

·        Manteca — tight end Garrison Reis, offensive lineman Jose Rios, offensive lineman Dylan Gulseth, outside linebacker Ayden Marshall and defensive back Trey Moreland;

·        East Union — offensive lineman Nikko Nunes, offensive lineman Aaron Velasquez, inside linebacker Carson Sanders and cornerback Kainoa Ontai;

·        Weston Ranch — wide receiver/defensive back Christopher Buttram, inside linebacker Zyale Brown-Sanger and defensive lineman Alex Walker.