Melvyn Ceja parlayed his one season of varsity football into an opportunity to play at the next level.
The Sierra High senior wide receiver made it official Thursday by signing with Clarke University of Dubuque, Iowa.
Ceja previously played football for three years while living in Houston but had taken time off from the gridiron after moving to Manteca midway through his freshman year. He decided to focus on basketball at Sierra, even as a few of his buddies urged him to come out for football.
“One of my friends Kimoni Stanley, the star running back here, said to give it one last shot, so I talked to coach (Chris) Johnson and came to summer practice,” Ceja said. “My friends became teammates, but that turned into a brotherhood and we went on this fantastic run.
He also played outside linebacker for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Timberwolves (11-4). Offensively, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ceja had few chances to make plays as a pass catcher in Sierra’s run-heavy flexbone offense, finishing with 185 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He also had an interception return for a touchdown.
“It’s just a testament to his work ethic,” Johnson said of Ceja’s improvement over his lone high school season. “He never missed a practice, from summer workouts and everything after. It’s his effort and desire, when it comes down to it.”
Ceja is looking forward to helping head coach Miguel Regalado build his fledgling program at Clarke University, which went 2-9 in its inaugural season last fall. The Pride competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I Heart of America Athletic Conference. Ceja was recruited to play wide out.
“It’s a whole new program, and I’m hoping to be the one who sets the records,” Ceja said. “It’s definitely exciting, because it’s a new beginning for me as well. Coming off the section championship, hopefully I can bring some of that to Clarke and help them win championships there.”
Ceja credited the Collegiate Sports of America PrepStar for connecting him with Clarke, which was the only school to offer. He did not know that continuing his playing career was a possibility until the recruiting service contacted him through social media.
“The spark came back to me,” Ceja said. “Since the start of the season, I fully understood why I loved football to begin with and why I continue to do it.”