Tyler Welch raised his arms above his head with palms facing down.
“Everyone is up here then it goes …,” he said while slowly lowering his arms until his hands met near the center of his chest.
Welch was describing the tackle-to-tackle size of Manteca’s offensive line with the gesture, doing so in a joking fashion. It was perhaps fitting that he ended it with his hands near his heart.
“It’s all heart for him,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said while pointing at his own chest. “He’s got a heart like a lion and he just loves to battle. He’s tenacious.”
The Buffaloes (10-1) needed that type of tenacity to overcome a sluggish start and ultimately stomp visiting Los Banos 52-0 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals last Friday. Manteca is making its section-finals appearance and seeks a fifth banner this Saturday at Lincoln High of Stockton.
Manteca is traditionally known for its smash-mouth style and hulking linemen, but Welch manages to stand out in the trenches because of his lack of size.
At 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, the senior center is dwarfed by the likes of Kyle Reis (6-2, 270) and Justin Kakala (6-4, 270) to his left and Will Maddox (5-11, 245) and Mateo Fernandez (6-1, 240) to the right.
“I’ve always been the little dude since I was younger,” Welch said.
The little guy commands big respect from his teammates. He attributes his success to the tutelage of lines coach Dan Eavenson as well as his wrestling experience. Welch was the Valley Oak League’s 170-pound champion a year ago and placed third in the SJS Division III Tournament. On the mat he’s grown accustomed to grappling with rangier athletes boasting longer wing spans.
“I honestly think he’s a wrestler first, that’s where he gets his heart,” Kyle Reis said. “No one is going to try harder than him. He’s nasty and he’s going to stay on his block. He’s going to give you everything he has every time.
“It starts and ends with him,” Reis added. “When he plays well we play well. When he does his job we dominate up front.”
Coach Reis, Kyle’s father, echoed his assessment.
“His ability to be able to block against an odd front against the nose allows the other guys to do what they do,” Eric Reis said. “If he can’t handle that guy we’d have to double team and lose a lot of effectiveness.”
Although he played some center during his early years with the Manteca Chargers, he shifted to different positions as he got older. Welch was a strong safety and fullback for the Manteca Jr. Buffaloes his eighth grade year and figured that’s where he’d play at the high school level.
“I came out freshman year and told coach (Brian) Rohles that I’m a strong safety,” Welch said. “He said, ‘You’re a lineman.’ I was like, ‘But I play strong safety and fullback,’ and he said, ‘You’re a lineman.’”
A starting lineman for what could be a section championship team.
Manteca is heavily favored against second-seeded Placer (7-5) on Saturday. A win for the Buffaloes advances them to a CIF State Northern California Regional Bowl Game.
After Friday’s win over Los Banos, Welch shared a sentimental moment with outside linebacker Devyn Gonzales. The two were teammates for the Manteca Chargers when they were 7.
“I said, ‘Man we’ve been dreaming about this since we were 7 years old,’” Welch said. ‘We didn’t know what that was at the time but we wanted to play football for as long as we can.
“I’m not going to go play college football anywhere, so hopefully we can keep it going.”