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PREVIEW: Bigger, badder Buffaloes
Manteca reloads for another shot at state berth after promising spring
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Manteca linebacker Alijah Cota gets ready to tackle the ball carrier as defensive coordinator Rick James leads the drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

For a team that returned just one starting player from the 2019 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship team, fourth-year head coach Mark Varnum thought Manteca’s pandemic-shortened spring season was a resounding success.

His young and unproven Buffaloes, including three two-way sophomores and incoming transfers at key positions, were tested weekly en route to a 4-1 finish culminating in a 34-14 loss to Oakland juggernaut McClymonds.

Bulletin sports fall 2021
Lyon Colon seeks out the a ball carrier during a tackling drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
“The whole (spring) was about finding a way to take the next step, and we feel real good about the experience and talent coming back,” Varnum said. “It was better for us to have to battle back and come from behind for three of our wins, and finishing the year with a team like McClymonds — you learn more from those types of games than from blowouts and runaways. The way the spring season set up, we showed a lot of character and showed that they know how to fight. Hopefully, we can take it to the next level.”

Seven starters return on offense and eight on defense. Lyon Colon is expected once again to be impactful on both sides of scrimmage. Coming from Central Catholic, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound running back/cornerback flashed his game-breaking ability in the spring and led the Buffs with 726 rushing yards (9.9 per carry) and 11 touchdowns.

“I can’t wait to see what he can do in a full season,” Varnum said. “He’s one of the most explosive athletes we’ve had on campus. With a full summer to get ready and a full slate of games, the sky is the limit for that kid. The thing about us is it’s not just him, we have a lot of weapons that will make us tough do defend.”

Manteca has enough talent to make up for the loss of Khalid Robinson, the team’s second-leading rusher who has transferred to James Logan in Union City. Other two-way standouts such as second-year juniors Alijah Cota and Blake Nichelson are fit to break out along with receivers Trey Moreland and Zion Allen, the Valley Oak League’s reigning track and field champion in the sprint events.

At 6-3, 240 pounds, Cota is bigger than most linemen his age but has played out of the backfield as a fullback. This season, he’ll also be used at tight end.

“We have a good offense that can run the ball or pass the ball,” Cota said. “There’s really nothing we can’t do. Coach (offensive coordinator Brian) Rohles has a good scheme for us.”

With a large and experience offensive line, the pieces are in place for the Buffs to run their plowing Power-I. Seniors Justin Beglau (6-2, 275) and Jose Rios (6-0, 245) are paving the way along with junior Dylan Gulseth (6-2, 290), Jordan Dorsey (6-2, 320) and center Robert LeRoy (5-6, 190).

“We have some big boys, and they understand that we go as far as the line takes us,” Varnum said. “This group in particular has a chance to be real, real special.”

Manteca will be able to chuck it around the field, too. Junior quarterback Hudson Wyatt has transferred in from Downey where he split time behind

Bulletin sports fall 2021
Quarterback Hudson Wyatt looks to throw under pressure provided by assistant coach Jason Dukes. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
center in the spring. His ability to deliver deep balls from the pocket unlocks another dimension to Manteca’s attack.

“Hudson being back there is going to help a lot, especially on deep balls,” Nichelson said. “It just overall changes how our team works. That has basically been the missing piece.”

As of press time, he had not yet been cleared by the Section to compete for Manteca following his transfer. If Wyatt can’t start for the opener, sophomore Garrison Reis — son of former head coach Eric Reis — will get the nod. Reis (6-1, 220) would otherwise get reps at tight end.

“Whoever is behind center, we’ll be ready,” Varnum said.

The 6-3, 205-pound Nichelson will get his share of touches with his size and 4.5-second, 40-yard speed, but it’s on defense where he is getting attention from NCAA Division I programs. Rated a three-star linebacker by 247Sports, he earned scholarship offers from Fresno State and Oregon State following strong camp showings over the summer.

Overall, the 3-4 front has a stout rotation of 300-pound linemen with a fearsome linebacking corps headed by Cota, who captains the defense.

“We have playmakers all over the defense,” Cota said. “We have a lot of big hitters and our linemen are massive.”

If there is a concern for the Buffaloes, it’s that their standouts are going to play almost every snap from scrimmage, as long as they’re healthy. Allen and Moreland are among the iron-man contributors, joining Colon in the ball-hawking defensive backfield.

Avoiding the injury bug will be key as they navigate a challenging schedule that the Buffaloes hope prepare them for a run to an eighth SJS title and an elusive berth to a California Interscholastic Federation State Bowl Game. Manteca is 0-4 in NorCal Regional Bowls.

“We have the talent to go to Sections, but we won’t be satisfied with Sections this year,” Cota said. “We want to go all the way to State.”



HEAD COACH: Mark Varnum (fourth year)


STAFF: Rick James (DC), Brian Rohles (OC), Dan Eavenson (OL), Ken Menasco (DL), Jason Dukes (QB), Paul Camara (DB), Daniel Johnson (LB/RB), Roman Penerian (WR/DB), Joe Eavenson (OL), Todd Feliz (QC)


KEY RETURNERS: RB/DB Lyon Colon (12), S/WR Trey Moreland (12), FB/LB Alijah Cota (11), WR/OLB Blake Nicholsen (11), OL/DL Jose Rios (12), OL/DL Justin Beglau (12).


KEY NEWCOMERS: QB Hudson Wyatt (11), DB/WR James Dennis (11), LB/FB Tommy Perea (10), QB/TE Garrison Reis (10). 


Aug. 20 vs. Downey

Aug. 27 vs. Patterson

Sept. 3 vs. Cosumnes Oaks

Sept. 10 at Turlock

Sept. 17 at Sierra

Sept. 24 BYE

Oct. 1 vs. East Union

Oct. 8 vs. W. Ranch

Oct. 15 at C. Catholic

Oct. 22 vs. Kimball

Oct. 29 at Oakdale