The exchange between center and quarterback can be precarious and fraught with danger, especially in the Trans-Valley League.
There, in the land of the small-school giants, lived a nose guard with a disruptive set of skills. He possessed the requisite strength to battle in the trenches, but his size and speed made him a tricky matchup for opposing offensive linemen.
Cameron Gamino picked on centers, often rocking them back onto their heels and into the quarterback. Along the way, the football typically squirted out, spurring the Ripon football team's late-season dash.
“He was a beast at nose guard,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said of the 230-pound Lions All-Star selection. “He has a unique combination of strength and quickness for a guy his size. In a league like ours, we don’t have many kids like that. … He’d knock the center into the quarterback; (the quarterback would) have a hard time with the exchange, and he was there to take it away.”
Seven times this scenario played out as the Indians roared to a share of the Trans-Valley League title and a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.
Gamino was a driving force, shedding his reputation as an oft-injured yet talented lineman. He registered 35 tackles, 7.5 sacks and forced seven fumbles.
"We knew what he could be,” Musseman said. "He had a tendency to be injured at important times in the past, so we were hesitant. As the season progressed, we realized he was here to play this year."
Gamino's season spiked during a pivotal 32-14 victory over Escalon on Oct. 20. Gamino blocked a field goal, recovered a fumble and sacked the QB in his first game at nose guard.
Musseman and his staff started the season with Gamino at tackle but moved him over the center for a rivalry clash with the Cougars.
Genius. Ripon won its next four games, carving out a split of the TVL championship and fueling a run to the SJS semifinals.
“The coaches did a great job of putting me in best position to succeed,” said Gamino, who may attempt to walk-on at Sacramento State, where he’s been accepted as a student. "The coach gave me a job and performed my best at it.”
Gamino was named the Trans-Valley League’s defensive MVP and will anchor the North’s defensive line in Saturday’s 45th annual Lions All-Star Football Classic at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The North is represented by players from Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, Tracy, Stockton, Lodi and the Mother Lode. The South draws its talent from Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Merced and the West Side communities.
The South has dominated the last two meetings, but there’s hope for the North.
Gamino will square off against the TVL’s other all-stars. Modesto Christian lineman Nate Norton, Hughson linebacker Cameron Ellak and Hilmar defensive back Chris Flores were selected to the South, which will be coached by Hilmar’s Frank Marques.
Gamino’s Indians were 8-2 with one TVL title in two seasons against the TVL.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Gamino said. "You can’t be over-confident or under-confident. You just have to be good minded, you have to humble about it and do what the coaches ask.”
He credited defensive line and wrestling coach Glen White for his ascension to MVP and all-star. The combination of speed and strength wasn’t organic; it was coached into him by White.
“The coaches have taught me to be quick off the ball. It’s all about instincts,” Gamino said. "They did a great job, especially coach Glen White. He was a great D-line coach. I owe all my success to him. He really taught me my techniques and skills, and how to use them better.”
James Burns is a freelance reporter with more than 20 years of covering high school and collegiate sports in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @jburns1980.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Lions All-Star Football Classic
WHEN: Saturday, June 16
KICKOFF: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Wayne Schneider Stadium, Tracy High
ADMISSION: $10, kids 6-under are free.