It’s been more than 10 years since Manteca High football coach Eric Reis has had this much talent back.
Fresh off a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship and Northern California regional bowl appearance, the Buffaloes return 10 regulars, including third-year players Gino Campiotti, Kyle Reis, Ferrin Manuleleua and national recruit Justin Kakala.
In the talent-rich Valley Oak League, that’s enough to make defending co-champion Manteca a pace-setter, along with the other members of The Big Three: Oakdale and Central Catholic, also defending champions.
I was hoping with the talent we have back that it might lure him out, but with baseball and his family, he’s just fried.
Eric Reis, Manteca High football coach, on longtime offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald, who stepped down after last season
All three are coming off historic seasons.
The Mustangs won their first CIF State Bowl, defeating Bishop’s School in the Division III-AA game, while Central Catholic, a school with fewer than 400 students, made the jump to Division II.
Said coach Reis: “I haven’t had this many (players) back since 2006” when the Buffaloes completed back-to-back section titles.
Amid the sea of familiar faces, there is one missing: longtime offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald.
Reis said the former Turlock High star has stepped away from football to spend more time with his family. MacDannald, whose daughter Kaylee MacDannald is a sophomore and budding two-sport athlete, is also the coach of the Buffaloes’ two-time section championship baseball team.
“I was hoping with the talent we have back that it might lure him out, but with baseball and his family, he’s just fried,” Reis said. “He would coach on a Friday and then spend the entire weekend at a softball tournament. Football is ten times the stress, the preparation and the work.” He took an extra week off during the summer leading into the 2016 season (after never missing day in 14 previous years), “but I know when a guy’s got nothing left in the tank. He was on zero.
“It’s a major blow to this program, because (the coaching staff) has been like family.”
MacDannald has been instrumental in the development of Campiotti at quarterback.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior is a dual threat unlike any that have stepped under center for the Buffaloes. Campiotti is the Valley Oak League’s reigning Outstanding Offensive Player.
“For Neil, I think it’s matter of ‘He’s got it. He doesn’t need me to hold his hand,’ ” Reis said of MacDannald’s relationship with Campiotti, a partnership that dates back to Pop Warner. “He’ll still be around. We’re still running the same stuff. The terminology stays the same. It’s definitely a blow and we miss him.”
133The number of wins for Eric Reis and the Manteca High football program during the MaxPreps era (2004 to present).
Former junior varsity head coach Mark Varnum will call the offensive plays. Varnum coached Campiotti as a freshman.
Manteca is 133-34-1 with four section titles in the MaxPreps era (2004 to present), and a large reason for that success has been the stability of its coaching staff. Does MacDannald’s departure signal a changing of the guard at one of the VOL’s oldest institutions?
Now in his 15th season, Reis isn’t sure if he’ll coach beyond this fall.
He, too, can feel the pull of family.
His oldest, Kyle Reis, a 6-2, 276-pound all-conference offensive lineman, has received interest from Cal Poly (his father’s alma mater), Air Force, San Jose State and Sacramento State.
Father and son have been on a unique journey, beginning with their time together on the Manteca High sideline.
Early in his coaching career, Eric commissioned Kyle to be his waterboy and then a ballboy on Friday evenings. When Kyle reached middle school, Eric pulled double duty, coaching the varsity and Kyle’s Junior Buffs, a Pop Warner program.
“You want to talk about someone who has grown up in the program?” Eric said. “(Kyle) was 2 years old and hanging out at weight-lifting sessions. My goal is to get through this year. I definitely want this one and then I’ll assess it from there. I have to get through this year.”
The Buffaloes will find out early on where they rank among Northern California’s best.
Manteca opens the season Aug. 25 with a home title against Valley Christian of San Jose, a team with reportedly seven Division I recruits.
D’Angelo McKenzie is the jewel, a three-star defensive back with 10 offers. McKenzie favors Notre Dame and UCLA, but is also high on Washington and Florida.
“It will be a major challenge, which is what you want,” Eric said. “If you think you’re going to be good, play up. I think it’s helped us focus this summer.”
Manteca will also travel to Sacramento City College to face Christian Brothers, a D-III finalist a year ago. Last season, the Buffaloes announced themselves to the world with a 39-6 drubbing of the Falcons.
The rematch is Sept. 1.
Manteca also renewed its contract with Enochs, a struggling Modesto Metro Conference program. They’ll play Sept. 8.
The Buffaloes will then have two weeks to prepare for its VOL opener against Central Catholic on Sept. 22.
“This team likes that challenge,” Eric said. “If you want to be a (state)program, you want to be on the map, you have to start playing these types of games.”