The Valley Oak League’s Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year is also the new single-season record holder for rushing yards at Manteca High and the 2021 scoring leader in the Golden State.
Is there a more obvious choice for Manteca Bulletin All-Area Football MVP?
Blake Nichelson may go down as the best to come out of Manteca’s tradition-rich program, and he still has another year to go for the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion. Many NCAA Division-I schools have their eyes on the 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect, mainly for defense.
An outside linebacker for the Buffaloes defense, Nichelson compiled 52 tackles along with team-highs 16 tackles for losses, 7 ½ sacks and three forced fumbles. So far, he has landed offers from Arizona, Boston College, Fresno State and Oregon State.
Offensively, he blew past Alex Laurel’s 2013 record numbers for rushing (1,876) and total yards (2,316) from scrimmage and did so with less games. Like Laurel in his day, Nichelson has the versatility to line up at tailback and wide receiver.
Nichelson finished with 2,231 rushing yards and 2,612 total in12 ½ games compared to 15 for Laurel. A late-season ankle sprain sidelined Nichelson for the second half of the Buffs’ Week 9 loss to Kimball and the entirely of their defeat at Oakdale the following week. Manteca was also awarded a first-round bye in what is now a 12-team bracket, while the 2013 Buffaloes played four Section playoff games in a 16-team field.
Laurel’s single-season scoring records (49 touchdowns, 294 points) remain intact, perhaps for now. Nichelson totaled 44 touchdowns, 11 two-point conversion runs and a safety for a state-leading 288 points.
Although the ankle never fully healed by the end of his remarkable junior campaign and limited his reps defensively, that did not stop him from putting up ridiculous numbers in the postseason. Most notable are his 31 carries, 344 yards and three touchdowns at Wilcox of Santa Clara in the California Interscholastic Federation Division II-A NorCal Regional Bowl Game. Manteca lost 35-21 despite his superhuman effort.
Other season highlights:
· A two-way masterpiece at Turlock, where Manteca escaped with a non-league 44-36 victory. He had 239 yards rushing, 41 receiving and five total touchdowns. Defensively, he had a sack, and four tackles for losses.
· The following week at Sierra, he amassed 184 yards and four more TDs with only six carries. Nichelson had another three tackles for losses in limited action. The Buffs rolled in the VOL opener, 65-0.
· And there’s the unforgettable homecoming classic against the other cross-town rival, East Union. Nichelson helped lead the Buffs back from a late two-score deficit to win 40-34 in overtime. It was his interception return for a touchdown on the second play of OT that decided it. He had his best defensive game of the season against one of the top offenses in the region, tallying 12 tackles (two for losses), three sacks and a forced fumble. On offense, he had 138 rushing yards and two TDs and four catches for 86 yards and two more scores.
· He took it easy the next week in a blowout against Weston Ranch, making the most of his three touches by scoring all three times for 62 yards.
· Nichelson returned from the sprained ankle in the second round of the SJS playoffs, torching Sacramento for 204 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries.
· In the Section championship against VOL foe Oakdale, he ground out 210 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Luke Weaver, East Union, Senior
The 6-3, 185-pound dual-threat quarterback posted some eye-popping numbers, many of which ranked him among the best in the SJS and now stand as school records. He completed 67% of his passes (215 of 323) for 3,173 yards, 31 TDs and 10 interceptions and was also the Lancers’ leading rusher with 715 yards and 17 TDs.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Ethan Day, Ripon, Senior
The Trans-Valley League’s Outstanding Defensive Player enjoyed a breakout senior year after having to sit out the pandemic-shortened spring with a knee injury. A 6-3, 220-pound edge rusher, Day holds multiple offers from NAIA schools after leading Ripon’s stout defensive front with 70 tackles, five sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles and five pass deflections.
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR
Jeremy Buck, Lathrop, Senior
Eighty percent of the Spartans’ offensive production came on the ground in the first year under head coach Ryan Teicheira, who introduced the run-based Wing-T to the program. It certainly helped having a sturdy tackle such as Buck, who did it on both sides of scrimmage. He was named the top O-lineman in the Western Athletic Conference and earned first-team defense honors.
UTILITY PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Namir Brown-Sanger, Weston Ranch, Junior
Brown-Sanger nearly did it all for the Cougars, splitting time at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, placekicker and punter. He accounted for a big chunk of the offense with 377 passing yards and 482 rushing. Defensively, he led the team with 62 tackles (12 for losses) and six sacks.
OFFENSE: OL Emiliano Acosta, Ripon, Jr.; OL Justin Beglau, Manteca, Sr.; OL Dylan Gulseth, Manteca, Jr.; OL Jay Hoekstra, Ripon Christian, Sr.; OL Jose Rios, Manteca, Sr.; TE Thys Van Der Hoek, Ripon Christian, Jr.; WR Dylan Lee, East Union, Jr.; WR Jacob Toste, East Union, Sr.; WR Nolan Young, Ripon, Sr.; RB Lyon Colon, Manteca, Sr.; QB/TE Garrison Reis, Manteca, So.
DEFENSE: DL Zach Brouwer, Ripon Christian, Sr.; DL Harold Gary, Lathrop, Sr.; DL Mason Gibson, Manteca, Jr.; DL Colin Speed, Ripon, Sr.; ILB Alijah Cota, Manteca, Jr.; ILB Caleb Johnston, Ripon, Sr. ILB Adam Jimenez, East Union, Sr.; OLB Noah Martinez, Lathrop, Sr.; CB Kainoa Ontai, East Union, Sr.; SS Dominic Alvarez, Manteca, Sr.; FS, Dylan DePrater, Manteca, Sr.
UTILITY: Grant Sonke, Ripon Christian, So.