Three Buffalo greats will soon be roaming the Great Plains.
Manteca High’s standout 300-pound linemen Joe Eavenson, Isaac McClain and Billy Sharmoug signed their letters of intent last week to play for NCAA Division II schools in North Dakota. The 6-foot-5 Eavenson will play for Minot State, while the others are heading to rival University of Mary based in Bismarck.
The two campuses are only separated by 117 miles. All three are receiving athletic scholarships that will cover the majority of their tuitions.
Sharmoug anchored both the offensive and defensive lines for Manteca (13-2) last fall, leading the team to its fourth Sac-Joaquin Section championship and first-ever appearance in a CIF Regional Bowl Game. He will play at nose guard for the Marauders, meaning he may go head-to-head with Eavenson — the Buffaloes’ stout right tackle this past fall — in the future.
Just like old times.
“I went to preschool with Joe, and his parents told me we used to get into fights all the time,” Sharmoug said. “It’s funny because he’s become one of my best friends.
“I’m actually really excited he’s going to be only a couple of hours away from us because we’ll still get to kick it. Of course we have the rivalry thing going and we have already begun trash talking a little bit, but it’s going to be fun.”
Sharmoug is the most decorated of the 2013 Buffaloes. After he was named the Bulletin’s Co-MVP, the 6-1, 300-pounder earned a spot on the All-SJS team and various All-State honors from MaxPreps and Cal-Hi Sports. He feels slighted by Division I programs that passed on him and is fueled by it.
“We’re playing with chips on our shoulders,” Sharmoug said. “I think I’m a Division I caliber player and I think Isaac is, too.”
Sharmoug and McClain are lifelong friends. McClain was the first of the three to sign, doing so on National Signing Day last Wednesday, Feb. 5. Sharmoug entertained the idea of walking on at Sacramento State but decided to follow McClain to U-Mary the next day.
“I was happy,” said McClain, who lined up alongside Sharmoug at left tackle in their four years at Manteca. “I get to go to college with my best friend.”
Eavenson had the chance to join them. Both he and Sharmoug received offers from U-Mary and Minot State. Eavenson decided the Beavers were the best fit for him.
“I just felt more comfortable at Minot and I think I’ll have a better chance of playing there,” he said.
The opportunity to play at the next level was one he never thought he could get. While the more-heralded McClain and Sharmoug got a head start at the varsity level as sophomores, Eavenson was having a difficult time staying motivated to play. He rarely played as a junior, but something finally clicked.
“I was out of shape and wasn’t all that determined to play,” he said. “But over the winter and summer last year I put in a lot of work in the weight room and pretty much transformed my body.
“At one point I didn’t think I was going to play after my senior year. Now that I actually have the chance I’m really looking forward to it.”
McClain said he will play “pretty much anywhere on the offensive line” for U-Mary. Southern Oregon was also in consideration for McClain, but in the end the choice was easy.
“It came down to Mary being an NCAA D2 school vs. them being NAIA,” he said. “It’s just a better level to compete at, but also it’s a good private school where I can get a good education.”
The trio is thankful to have coaches who helped them get scholarships to the North Dakota schools. Offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald played at U-Mary in the mid-90s and set several receiving records there. Special teams coordinator Brian Rohles, a member of Manteca’s 2005 section championship squad, was an All-American at Minot State.
U-Mary and Minot State are members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division. Mary defeated Minot 45-10 in the inaugural Battle of the Big Lake while on its way to a 6-5 finish last season.
Both programs are in the middle of coaching changes.
Josh Kotelnicki (previously the defensive coordinator at Division I North Dakota) replaces Myron Schulz, U-Mary’s all-time winningest coach at 103-60 in 135 seasons. Minot State, meanwhile, looks for a quick turnaround under Todd Hoffner after going 2-9 a season ago. Hoffner was at Minnesota State the past four years and led the Mavericks to the NSIC championship in 2013.