By JONAMAR JACINTO
Known for its punishing power-I offense in recent years, Manteca is changing gears for 2015.
The Buffaloes will unveil their new-look attack tonight when they play host Buhach Colony of Atwater. Offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald has remolded the offense to suit the versatile skills of senior quarterback Dakarai Charles, but he doesn’t want his latest creation to be pigeonholed as a “spread.” The emphasis on ball control and physicality are still there, but they’re just going about things differently.
“Our offensive philosophy every year is pretty much the same,” MacDannald said. “I’d categorize us as a multiple-set type of offense. This is my 15th year as offensive coordinator and 16th year overall. Every single year we’ve had spread formations as part of our offense, so it’s not necessarily a new thing for us. I wouldn’t categorize us as a spread team. We still hang our hat on hard-nosed football.”
Yes, the Buffaloes have operated out of the spread in the past. In 2010, gunslinging Matt Burrows set several single-season passing records in leading team to a share of the Valley Oak League championship.
But Charles is a different breed of athlete that MacDannald has had the chance to tutor for the Buffs. He’s essentially a quarterback in a slot receiver’s body, but his skills as a passer have improved immensely since he began playing the position two years ago.
The raw talent was evident to MacDannald and the varsity coaches. Charles helped lead the Manteca sophomore team to a perfect 10-0 finish in 2013. He completed 26 of 42 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns, but it was his threat as a runner that made him effective. He was the third leading rusher with 619 yards and nine touchdowns.
Dominic Pisano seemed like a candidate to start at quarterback last season based on his prior experience at the position, but he was too important to the defense as a free safety. Manteca took a chance on the 5-foot-8 Charles and it paid dividends.
Although he didn’t throw much, Charles routinely made big plays with his arm and legs. He completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns against three touchdowns. Charles also rushed for 347 yards and eight scores.
Expect him to do a little more passing and running this year.
He flashed his game-breaking ability in Manteca’s first-round playoff win over Vanden, needing just 10 attempts to throw for 201 yards and a touchdown while running in two more scores.
“He is in fact a very athletic player who has the ability to stretch the field and runs the ball really well,” MacDannald said. “He’s a very good passer. His arm strength is above average and his accuracy is good. His knowledge of reading the defense has gotten better from Day 1. He gives us the option of making teams account for all 11 of our players, as opposed to in years past they didn’t have to worry about that many.”
For a second straight year, Manteca will have an entirely new offensive line with Elijah Root-Sanchez being the only returning player to have experience at the varsity level. The Buffaloes will rely more on their skill players, of which there are plenty.
Senior wide out Ronaldo Tijero (320 yards, seven touchdowns) was Charles’ top red-zone target last season. Six-foot-1 senior Jake Menasco and 5-11 junior Jose Garcia are other receivers to look out for, while 6-1, 214-pound Eddie Santos starts at tight end — and Manteca historically has made good use of its tight ends. And starring in the backfield is 6-3, 240-pound Darrion Kitson.
“We try to get the best out of each team without compromising our philosophy of protecting the football and taking what the defense gives us,” MacDannald said. “We’ve never been one to fit a square peg into a round hole. We’re not going to make DC, all 5-8 of him, stand in the pocket. We’re going to do things that best suit the talent and skills our players have.”