It turns out there will be a few more Buffaloes roaming the turf at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium this Saturday.
Manteca High standouts Joe Eavenson and Jake LaDon are reuniting with former classmates Alex Laurel, Isaac McClain and Billy Sharmoug on the North team for the 41st Annual Lions All-Star Football Game.
“It worked out great for us,” North head coach Louis Franklin said following the team’s midday practice held at Stagg High in Stockton on Wednesday. “Guys like that, they’re going to make you look good as a coach.”
The former Weston Ranch offensive coordinator has good reason to be excited. He gets to work with five players who helped Manteca (13-2) earn Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championships as well as an invite to the CIF Regional Division II State Bowl Game.
Manteca has the largest representation among North schools. Players from the North hail from San Joaquin County and the foothills. The South is made up of athletes from Stanislaus and Merced counties.
The North owns a 24-15-1 lead in the series and has won eight of the last 10 games, but the South won last year’s game, 17-14.
Sierra graduate Lucas Widmer joins the Manteca quintet on the North squad, but he is questionable for the game after sustaining a non-contact injury to a knee during practice. The speedy 6-foot-4 wide out amassed 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall, both school records.
“He was looking real good and was going to start for us at receiver,” said Franklin, now the head football coach and athletic director at Tokay of Lodi, his alma mater.
A maximum of three players per school are allowed on each team, but more can be added as original invitees drop out. Illnesses and injuries opened up spots for 6-foot-5 right tackle Eavenson and hard-hitting outside linebacker LeDon this week.
“I was mad I didn’t make it to begin with, so when I got the call I was like, ‘heck yeah,’” said LeDon, the VOL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Eavenson beefs up an already-massive offensive line that includes McClain (6-3, 299) and Sharmoug (6-1, 300) at left tackle and left guard, respectively. All three are heading to NCAA Division II schools; McClain and Sharmoug will play for University of Mary in North Dakota, while Eavenson suits up for in-state rival Minot State.
Laurel (Butte College) and LeDon (Delta) are going the JUCO route.
“These Manteca kids bring a level of physicalness that you just don’t see too often in the Valley,” Franklin said. “When you splash their physical mentality with the speed of the Stockton schools I think that’s a good recipe for success.”
Franklin said that that the North coaching staff had four Manteca players ranked No. 1 in their positions based on tryouts. Center Valenti Saavedra was one of them. He initially made the team but had since been replaced by Laurel, the Buffaloes’ playmaking running back who broke a single-season school record with 49 touchdowns scored.
“It’s the last time we’ll get to play together so I’m just cherishing the moment,” Laurel said.
The all-stars are getting a taste of college life as a next-level athlete. Players from the North are bunking and dining on the University of the Pacific campus. They practice three times a day this week with meals between sessions. They definitely won’t miss the mile-long walks to and from practice, though.
“It was kind of shocking at first having that many practices in one day, but it’s cool,” Sharmoug said. “We were out of shape before we came in, but we’ll be in shape by the time Sunday rolls around.”
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