Mayville State University coach John Haines made the 1,900-mile trip to the Family City equipped with only a simple pitch.
“If you want to play college football,” Haines said during a recruiting visit with the linemen at Manteca High, “there’s a place for you. We’ve watched your tape. We’ve seen your games. You guys can play.”
Two took the bait immediately. Right guard Darrell Clemons and center Chase McKee signed their letters of intent in March.
A third will join them in Mayville, North Dakota.
Right tackle Alex Cardwell signed his letter on Friday afternoon in the Manteca High library.
Cardwell is the seventh offensive lineman from Manteca High to sign with a four-year university in the last two years and the fourth off this fall’s starting line.
Steven Martinez signed his letter of intent to play at Dickinson during a ceremony last week. Mayville and Dickinson compete in the North Star Athletic Association, a NAIA Division II conference.
All seven, including 2013 standouts Billy Sharmoug (University of Mary), Isaac McClain (Mary) and Joe Eavenson (Minot State), will reside in North Dakota.
“That’s a big feather in our hat. We’re known for having linemen and the last couple of years we’ve turned out some really good ones,” Manteca High coach Eric Reis said. “To see them keep playing is fun, and it’s fun for them that they’re playing with
Reis said the volume of college-bound linemen that have come through the program has as much to do with the coaching as it does the talent.
The two go hand-in-hand.
Reis credited offensive line coach Dan Eavenson with preparing the Buffaloes’ green giants as if they were already in the college.
“Our linemen get graded on every little thing,” Reis said. “That will help (them in college), because they’ve been coached the right way.”
For Cardwell, a 6-foot-2, 276-pound giant, Mayville was his only offer from a four-year university. The Comets offered Cardwell partial athletic and academic scholarships.
Cardwell said he had conversations with De Anza Community College and Delta College, and seemed resolute to become one of college football’s journeymen.
“It’s been my dream to play college football,” the soft-spoken Cardwell said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to go out there with a few of my good friends. We talked about it before they signed, about how cool it would be to stay together; to stay close.”
The Manteca-to-North Dakota pipeline was greased by Manteca High assistant Joey Rohles, who coached and played collegiately in the region.
Cardwell says he is grateful for the opportunity to play within the Manteca High program, where the coaching staff has watched over his development as a student-athlete.
“Coach Eavenson has been one of my biggest influences. I’ve known him since Little League days in baseball,” he said. “He’s helped me out a lot through the years.
“I think we have some of the best coaches around. That’s played a big part in helping us get to where we are as athletes.”
The Comets add another promising piece to their stable of offensive linemen. Cardwell has remarkable flexibility for his size, a physical trait that helped the Buffaloes deploy one of the area’s top run offenses.
Manteca High averaged nearly 7 yards per carry and produced 3,331 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns.
Roughly 60 percent of the Buffaloes’ offense came on the ground.
“What he has, for a big kid, he has that ability to bend,” Reis said of Cardwell. “He has really good flexibility and he’s a strong kid. That size is what they look for at the next level, but has some athleticism, too.”