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Late additions for North out to prove themselves
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Former rivals L.J. Alofaituli of Sierra and Martinez of Manteca talk with North head coach John Ward at the end of Tuesdays practice. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

STOCKTON — Steven Martinez, a bull of a lineman at 5-foot-11, 290 pounds, couldn’t wait between turns to go toe-to-toe with other touted linemen from the county.

During one-on-one drills Tuesday at Stagg High, Martinez shoved TJ Tiatia aside with one arm before running past the 6-foot, 320-pound standout from Lincoln. Two other combatants took their stance and went after it, and when they finished their scrum Martinez toed the line again. This time he took on Tracy’s Nate Brown, a 6-4, 250 tackle heading to Nevada, Reno and again won the battle.

“Everybody’s been telling me I’m going hard,” said Martinez, an otherwise good-natured character also known as “Bacon” by teammates and coaches from Manteca High. “I wanted to prove myself because I wasn’t on the initial roster but I’m so glad to be out here now.”

Lathrop High grad Hawaii Leafa Teo and Martinez are among the recent add-ons to the North roster for Saturday’s 42nd annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Game held at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium. They’re joining the Sierra trio of L.J. Alofaituli, Hunter Johnson and Trevon McCray and Manteca’s Darrell Clemons. The North is comprised of schools from San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, while the South includes the best from Stanislaus, Merced and Mariposa counties.

North head coach John Ward, also the head coach at Chavez, knew right away that Martinez had something to add to the team in a brief phone conversation.

“He’s got a great attitude,” Ward said. “A young man dropped out and when I asked ‘Bacon’ if he wanted to be part of the team he said, ‘Yes, absolutely. I would love to.’ He’s been a great addition for us.”

What was initially a 30-man roster has dwindled down to 27 with several no-shows and others tending to prior commitments. The Tracy tandem of Jacob Alvarado and Nate Jones are other alternates who have joined the fold. Alvarado had nine interceptions, while Jones is an outstanding running back who made the state final in the 100-meter dash.

That just goes to show how tough Ward and his coaching staff had it in the selection process.

“I got pretty lucky,” Ward said. “There are some impressive athletes in the area.”

And he feels fortunate to be able to bring the likes of Leafa Teo and Martinez aboard. Leafa Teo is the first player from Lathrop High to be selected for the game, and Ward said his versatility and work ethic will be assets for the team come Saturday. He was the leading rusher and tackler for the Spartans last fall.

“When coaches make notes on the sheets that we have, they say he’s a great young man, great motor and his coach (Steven Wichman) really believes in him. You take that into account because kids like that will go above and beyond for the team to be successful.

“Hawaii is playing a couple different positions for our defense and has really stepped up and there’s a reason why he was one of our next guys on the list. He has a motor and is not afraid to work.”

Leafa Teo will be playing his last game on defense Saturday. The rest of his summer will be spent working out with the Delta College football team, where the 5-7, 180-pounder hopes to make an impact as a running back.

 “I just want to prove myself out there and make a good name for Lathrop, because I’m the only one from Lathrop to ever make it,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out here playing with the best.”