The postseason awards are likely to be bountiful for Blake Nichelson, Manteca’s multi-position star who is headed to Florida State.
It starts with his garnering of the Valley Oak League’s Most Valuable Player award. Last year, he was named Outstanding Defensive Player but could have earned any of the VOL’s major awards with his all-around contributions.
Fellow Buffalo Alijah Cota is Co-Outstanding Defensive Player with Central Catholic lineman Roman Foumai. East Union’s Dylan Lee shares Utility Player of the Year honors with Mick Merzon of Oakdale. Central Catholic quarterback Tyler Wentworth and running back Tyler Jacklich are Co-Outstanding Offensive Players. Central Catholic’s Roger Canepa is Coach of the Year.
There was no denying Nichelson’s impact on games, and he did it in every facet for Manteca (4-1, 11-2 overall), which finished as the runner-up to Central Catholic (5-0, 8-5). The Buffs went on to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, the ninth overall in program history. Their season ended in the California Interscholastic Federation Division I-A Northern Regional Bowl Game at Pittsburg.
Nichelson did all he could in the 56-49 loss to Central Catholic, shattering Manteca’s single-game rushing record with 400 yards to go with a program-tying seven touchdowns.
For the season, he racked up 1,719 yards (8.2 per carry) and 27 touchdowns rushing, but was also the Buffaloes’ top receiver with 703 yards and 14 scores on 29 catches.
In back-to-back weeks against in-city rivals Sierra and East Union, Nichelson showcased his abilities on special teams with 60- and 59-yard punt returns for scores, bringing his overall TD total to 43. With eight two-point conversions, his 266 points is the second most in the state this season, according to MaxPreps, and that’s with Manteca having a regular-season game get called off by an opponent and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Nichelson was California’s top scorer last year.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Nichelson proved to be just as versatile defensively. Recruited as a middle linebacker by Florida State, he played at edge rusher, cornerback and safety for the Buffs. He registered 44 tackles, 4 ½ sacks one interception and a forced fumble in the regular season.
The 6-3, 235-pound Cota was a force for Manteca’s stout defensive front. He accumulated 54 tackles (regular season only), 10 tackles for losses and two interceptions.
East Union’s Lee did it all for East Union, lining up at quarterback, receiver, running back, linebacker, defensive back and punter. Offensively, he completed 93 of 180 passes for 1,161 yards, 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions; rushed for 719 yards (5.8 per carry) and eight touchdowns; and caught 21 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He the Lancers (1-4, 4-7) to a second straight berth to the SJS playoffs.
Manteca led Manteca Unified schools with the most all-league selections with eight, two of whom made the first-team offense and first-team defense.
Running back/outside linebacker Bryson Davis had a breakout junior campaign with 1,202 rushing yards (8.6 per carry) and 16 touchdowns to go with 39 tackles, 3 ½ sacks and two forced fumbles.
The 6-foot, 250-pound Gibson repeats as an all-league first-team defensive lineman, and he’s on the first-team offensive line with 6-3, 285-pound tackle Dylan Gulseth. Sophomore defensive lineman Isaiah White (59 tackles, three forced fumbles) followed up on his brief, yet impressive, varsity stint as a freshman and was named to the first-team defense.
Sophomore cornerback Eddie Anthony (45 tackles, two tackles, nine pass break-ups, three fumble recoveries) round out Manteca’s first-team selections. Right tackle Bryson McMichael made the second-team offense.
East Union junior inside linebacker Carson Sanders made the first-team defense after he was named to the second team a year ago. Lee earned a spot on the second-team offense at quarterback. Other Lancers making the second-team list: senior tight end Nick Luna, junior tackle Leland Crabb and senior defensive lineman Diego Gonzales.
Second-team running back Anthony Grady was the lone all-league selection for Sierra (0-5, 1-9) after accounting for more than half of the Timberwolves’ offensive production with 840 rushing yards, 405 receiving and 15 total touchdowns.
Getting honorable mention: tight end Garrison Reis, linebacker Tommy Perea, quarterback Hudson Wyatt and linebacker Ayden Marshall for Manteca; linemen Cayden Canada and Tony Agueda for East Union; and lineman Jax Ballard and wide receiver Joey Mendez for Sierra.