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Manteca uses summer to mesh young line with veteran skill players
Manteca quarterback Dakarai Charles rolls scrambles out of the pocket and looks for receivers in an 11-on-11 scrimmage with Lathrop. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

What started out as an unheralded group of linemen stepped out of its predecessors’ massive shadows last year and continued Manteca’s proud tradition as a smash-mouth football team.

Head coach Eric Reis hopes another can do the same in 2015.

The Buffaloes used their four-team summer camp on July 13-15 to give a new set of linemen a chance to work with the veteran skill position players led by senior quarterback Dakarai Charles and two-way standouts Ronaldo Tijero (WR/CB),  Darrion Kitson (RB/LB) and Marcus Rivas (RB/LB).

Charles threw for 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns against three interceptions last season when the Buffs (5-2, 9-3 overall) finished tied for third in the Valley Oak League and were eliminated by Sacramento in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Kitson and Rivas replace hard-running Hector Soto (1,276 yards, 18 TDs) in the backfield but are also two of the team’s top defensive players.

“That’s a group we’re counting on a lot, especially with how young we are up front,” Reis said. “We need that group to make plays.”

Manteca’s skill players got their work in during the Delta College passing tournament and faced St. Mary’s, Lincoln, Central Valley and Bret Harte in 7-on-7 scrimmages. Reis was pleased with what he saw over the summer in 7-on-7s, but the big boys also gave him reason for excitement. That’s because for the second straight summer, the Buffaloes won the Delta College Lineman Challenge.

Last year, Manteca had to replace an all-senior offensive line that paved the way for a SJS Division III championship and the program’s first-ever CIF Division II Regional Bowl Game appearance. Five new seniors filled the void admirably, gaining confidence by winning the 2014 lineman competition at Delta.

“Obviously, we’ve lost a tremendous amount of linemen the last two years,” Reis said. “Go figure we won it again this year. That was kind of fun.”

Seniors Elijah Root-Sanchez and Javaun Dunn got some work in the trenches last season, but Manteca otherwise lacks varsity experience there. Justin Kakala and Kyle Reis, the coach’s son, are among the youngsters the team is leaning on up front. They’re also two of the four sophomores — the others being RB/LB Ferrin Manuleleua and QB/DB Gino Campiotti — competing for starting spots on the varsity.

“What’s unique for us this year is that we have four sophomores up meshing with the junior and senior classes,” Reis said. “We don’t pull kids up that often. How fast those guys can fit in with the team can determine how good we can be.”

The SJS is in the first week of its fall sports Dead Period, which ends with the first day of practice on Monday, Aug. 10. Until then, Manteca and the rest of the area football teams will continue weight training and conditioning.

The Buffaloes kick off the season Aug. 28 in a zero-week showdown with visiting Buhach Colony of Atwater. They’ll square off with an unfamiliar opponent in Week 1 when they head down to North Monterey before hosting Modesto’s Enochs in Week 2. Their bye week precedes their VOL opener with Kimball.