Rey Vega insisted this summer he would be heavier, faster and have more savvy than he did during his junior year at Davis High. Now the running back is getting the chance to prove it.
The city's most prolific runner the last two seasons with 3,500 yards and 42 touchdowns, Vega didn't have a carry through the first six games of this fall.
His Friday night role was restricted to the coin toss, a far cry from what he wanted.
"It was difficult, seeing everyone playing on Friday and I was just watching," he said. "I've never been in that spot before, just having to watch."
Vega sat six games when he transferred to Central Catholic in August without changing school districts. He put on his new uniform three weeks ago.
True to his word, Vega was heavier, faster and displayed savvy. On his first touch this fall, he sprinted 46 yards with a handoff for a TD in a 55-15 win over Pacheco. By the time it was over, Vega had added an 85-yard kickoff return, and 80-yard run and a 2-yard dive all for scores.
Running on fresh legs, he is terrorizing Western Athletic Conference foes: Vega has 334 yards rushing and nine TDs in three games, averaging 14.5 yards on his 23 carries.
"I'd practice with the team, then I'd go to Bonsu Athletics to work out more," said Vega, a star at Davis since his sophomore year. "I knew the competition that was waiting for me. I know I have to work for carries, so I had to be ready."
Central Catholic (7-2), No. 1 in The Bee's small-school ratings, was a contender for the Division 4 State Bowl prior to Vega's arrival. His out-of-the-gate performances cemented the Raiders' spot on top of CalHiSports' NorCal Division 4 ratings.
He joined a crowded backfield that featured Ray Lomas (1,171 yards, 18 TDs), as well as juniors Reggie Bland and Matt Ringer. Vega has taken carries from each of them.
Lomas had 921 yards in the first six weeks, averaging 154 a game with 18 carries a game. In the last three games, though, Lomas has averaged nine carries and 83 yards, with five TDs.
That lighter load is intended to keep the 5-7, 180-pounder healthy if the Raiders need to play seven more games that's what it would take for Central to be in a State Bowl.
Aiming for section title & beyond
Any State Bowl run begins Friday when the Raiders (7-2, 5-0) visit Patterson (7-2, 4-1) with the goal of an outright Western Athletic Conference title. It would be Central's 27th league title since it first played football in 1969.
Despite that legendary success, the Raiders haven't won a Sac-Joaquin Section title in five years. That seems like an eternity for a school that has won a section-record 15 titles.
Vega's play could convince the section's seeding committee to elevate Central from its current No. 7 seed: It beat D2 St. Mary's (7-2), and lost close games to D2 Downey (8-1) and D3 Placer (9-0) without Vega. Now that committee members have seen the two in tandem, it strengthens that argument.
"Sometimes it's split backs, but other times I'm a fullback and blocking," Vega said. "It works because Ray and I are different runners to tackle."
Lomas is the shiftier, often weaving in and out of holes as he follows lineman. Vega's a missile, finding a gap and accelerating as he goes through leaving defenders grasping for air and into the second layer where he'll use his size.
Vega says he's not just playing football, either. He's balanced his life by playing the flute and maintaining a 3.89 GPA. While Vega wants a football scholarship, his counselor tells him to shoot higher.
"My goal is for Rey to get an academic scholarship," said Sinh Diep, who counsels Central's seniors. "I know Rey has a desire for a business degree. I think his performance in our classes, that will show colleges Rey is ready for it."
Back In Action
Central Catholic senior Rey Vega hit the ground running after sitting out six games for transferring schools without the required address change:
WEEK 7: The first time he gets the ball as a Raider, Vega runs 46 yards to score. He had TDs of 85 (kickoff return) and 80 yards, finishing with nine runs, 150 yards and four TDs in a 55-15 win over Pacheco.
WEEK 8: Vega touches the ball just seven times, yet gets 175 yards and four TDs. It includes a 36-yard TD catch and TD runs of 26 and 29 yards in a 77-7 victory at Livingston.
WEEK 9: Vega has 45 yards on eight carries, but had two TDs in a 38-6 win over Central Valley. He's got 3,800 rushing yards and 52 TDs in 23 varsity games the last three seasons.