STOCKTON — Since taking over his alma mater in 2002, Manteca High head coach Eric Reis has built a winning program steeped in tradition anchored by dominant linemen.
Darrell Clemons is proud to be part of it, and he is one of two — Steven Martinez being the other — Buffalo bigs selected to play in Saturday’s 42nd annual Lions All-Star Football Game at Tracy High. Clemons’ older brother, also a lineman, participated in the event two years ago.
“Me and my brother are always in competition, always trying to one-up each other,” the younger (but bigger) Clemons said. “He was in this game too a couple of years ago.
“I love being out here and I am very blessed to play another game. It’s an opportunity to play high school football again. We’re continuing a tradition. We play in one of the toughest leagues in the Valley and it’s what Manteca is known for. We just want to give Manteca a good name.”
Clemons and Martinez played on both sides of scrimmage for the 2014 Buffaloes that finished 9-3, a strong follow-up to Manteca’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship season that concluded in the program’s first appearance in a CIF State Northern California Regional Championship Bowl Game. Martinez started on the defensive line in 2013 alongside then-senior standouts Billy Sharmoug and Issac McClain, who were both members of the Lions All-Star North team last summer.
Manteca has had 13 linemen selected for the Lions All-Star Football Game in the Reis era, an impressive feat for a medium-sized school that has to compete with talented Division I teams from San Joaquin County for roster spots.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Clemons is elated to go to battle with Martinez one last time, although they won’t be on the field at the same time. Clemons is a right guard for the offense, while Martinez, stout at 5-11, 290, is at nose tackle for the defense. Martinez didn’t make the cut initially, but spots have opened up in recent weeks with players dropping out.
“It’s great that I get to do this with my best friend,” Clemons said.
Chavez head coach John Ward, who is leading the North team, loves Martinez’s enthusiasm and is happy to have him on the squad.
“He’s really going to solidify the inside of that defensive line,” Ward said. “He’s a true lineman in every sense of the word, and I really appreciate him.”
Martinez, of course, appreciates the opportunity to compete with and against the best graduated seniors from San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties along with others from the foothills. Martinez has signed to play for Dickinson State, while Clemons is heading to North Star Athletic Association rival Mayfield State.
North Dakota will be home to seven recent Manteca grads in all: linebacker/center Chase McKee and right tackle Alex Cardwell is joining Clemons at Mayfield State, while 2013 alums Joe Eavenson (Minot State), McClain (University of Mary) and Sharmoug (Mary) are competing for NCAA Division II schools in the state. The North Star Athletic Association is an NAIA Division II conference.
“For four years we’ve played side by side, but he’s also been a good friend since freshman year,” Martinez said of Clemons. “We’re on opposite sides (of the line), but we get to go out as brothers one last time before we’re rivals.”
Martinez gives Clemons another brother to compete with. He’s already got the Mayfield-Dickinson game marked on the calendar.
“We’re playing each other Oct. 31,” Clemons said. “It’s going to be great because we already know each other well. It will be a good matchup.”