By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
PREVIEW: Manteca's return to championship form
Led by 3-year starters, Buffs want to compete for another SJS title
Bulletin football 2019
Returning quarterback Ryan Ward scans the field for receivers as Manteca head coach Mark Varnum looks on. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Manteca had a 2018 season that most would consider to be successful.
Not for these Buffaloes.
Eight wins, a runner-up finish in the cutthroat Valley Oak League and second-round appearance in a tough Sac-Joaquin Section Division III bracket were not what Jacob DeJesus had in mind. He was one of a handful of talented sophomores who started 2017 on the varsity squad that went 12-3, claimed a sixth section banner and qualified for a second straight CIF State NorCal Bowl Game.
The 2018 run was ended by a 20-8 loss at Antelope, where lost opportunities and crucial mistakes ruined Manteca’s chance at earning a third consecutive SJS crown.
“That definitely struck us in the heart,” DeJesus said. “Our goals were way higher than where we finished last year. A lot of the seniors regretted that and took it really hard.
“Sometimes in life and football things don’t go your way, so you just train a little bit harder. Can’t dwell on it, we just have to get ready and get better for the next season.”
With a good mixture of senior experience and promising juniors elevated from the 10-0 JV team, Manteca expects to do better in Mark Varnum’s second year as head coach.
The Buffs return All-VOL first-team selections Trabron Russell (1,320 rushing yards, 18 TDs) and outside linebacker Garren Genilla (58 tackles. 6.5 assists). DeJesus is the VOL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year after amassing 843 receiving yards, 542 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Like DeJesus, Russell is a third-year starter.
“They’ve been there as sophomores and took on leadership roles last year as juniors,” Varnum said. “They want to get back to the mountaintop. They’ve worked harder than anybody in the offseason and they definitely want to show out this year.”
Quarterback Ryan Ward (1,907 yards, 22 TDs, 11 INTs), cornerback Isaac Searcy (54 tackles, four picks) and outside linebacker Marc Buenrostro (5.5 sacks) are other seniors of note. All three made the all-league second team.
Varnum anticipates a big season out of the strong-armed Ward, a pitcher who has committed to Pacific’s baseball team.
“He has matured a lot as a football player,” Varnum said. “He had a crazy summer between football and baseball. After his last baseball tournament he started back up with football and was dialed in right away.”
Manteca did lose four All-VOL first-team selections in two-way lineman Chandler Snyder, guard/middle linebacker Tyler Brintley (87 tackles), wide receiver Jorge Cedano (57 receptions, 805 yards, 10 TDs), and safety Jorge Ceja (99 tackles).
The current Buffaloes are stocked with talent at the skill positions and stout on the defensive line with 300-pound senior Joseph Saylor back from a knee injury, but the offensive line remains a work in progress. Senior left guard Jacob Sanchez stood out in camp.
“If anything (is of concern), our experience up front,” Varnum said. “Losing guys like Snyder and Brintley hurts, but we have some young, hungry guys fighting for spots. Manteca High is known for that offensive line, and when it comes together we have the weapons to do some damage.”
One of those weapons is junior Aiden Nicolas, a DeJesus clone who produced 1,048 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns for the junior varsity Buffs last year. He was also the team’s leading receiver with 273 yards and five scores.
“Some say we look like twins,” DeJesus said. “We play similar positions and have similar styles. A lot of players from the JV last year are great athletes and they mesh together well with us. They’ve experienced winning being 10-0 last year after going 5-5 as freshmen. I see them getting even better.”
Angel Garay, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound fullback and linebacker, is making a comeback after not playing as a junior. He was among the sophomore sensations pulled up to the varsity two years ago.
“This guy is a beast,” DeJesus said. “Not having him last year was really tough for us, but we’re all looking forward to having him back out there. He’s going to be a huge part of our defense this year.”
Two other senior additions looking to make an immediate impact are Leonardo Bonilla and Quincy Robinson, both transfers.
Bonilla gives Manteca added depth at fullback and linebacker. He comes from rival from East Union, where he rushed for 419 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season.
Robinson is a two-year varsity starter arriving from San Jose. The wiry 5-10 receiver/cornerback played a key role in Overfelt’s 9-3 campaign, collecting six interceptions on defense while leading the offense with 27 catches, 583 yards and four touchdowns.
“’Q’ showed up at the end of the year and we are glad that he did,” Varnum said. “He is an absolute ball hawk.”
Manteca kicks off the season with Manteca Unified counterpart Lathrop at home, but its next three are on the road against stiff competition. The Buffaloes will look to avenge losses to Downey and Granada, and old-school rival Tracy is sure to want payback after suffering a surprising 54-18 defeat at Manteca.
Then the real fun begins, as they return home to face defending VOL champion Central Catholic and head to Oakdale two weeks after.
“We set our goals super high,” Varnum said. “We have a lot of experience, but the big thing for us is we have to be ready from the get-go. We’re going to be road warriors after Lathrop and then see Central Catholic right after that, so we get the gauntlet right away.”