Sports

Mariposa teammates team up for chance at Super Bowl

Mariposa High School graduate Logan Mankins has become a Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the AFC champion New England Patriots
Mariposa High School graduate Logan Mankins has become a Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the AFC champion New England Patriots AP

MARIPOSA -- Trivia: Which two players in Sunday's Super Bowl were high school teammates?

Take your time. Do some Googling if you must.

You might have guessed from where I am that one of the players is Logan Mankins, the Patriots' guard who played at Mariposa High School and is famously a mountain man who grew up building fences and team roping and generally being tougher than an old tire.

He and a buddy, Justin Allison, made money in high school chopping and delivering firewood in Mankins' old truck, The Yellow Bomber.

The other half of the trivia answer is Stephen Spach, the Patriots' backup tight end. Mankins and Spach were teammates at Mariposa High.

Now if you were thinking Spach played at Clovis High, that's true. But for one season, when Spach's dad moved the family into Yosemite National Park for his job with concession services, the two were teammates at Mariposa. Both were sophomores. Technically, it was the JV team.

The coaches moved Spach up to varsity for the playoffs because they needed a guard. (Back then, Spach was the guard and Mankins was the tight end.) Mankins was so ticked that the coaches didn't move him up, he pummeled Spach every day in scrimmages. They were still friends, of course.

The next year, the Spach family moved back to Clovis. A couple years later, he and Mankins would both walk-on at Fresno State, both earn scholarships, and now both are in the NFL.

Mankins has started every game since being drafted in the first round. He made his first Pro Bowl this year.

Spach worked out for six NFL teams this season before finally being signed by New England in December.

So, no, their careers are not necessarily at the same point. But it's still remarkable.

"At this little school," says Trace DeSandres, the Mariposa basketball coach, "if we have a D-I player once every 40 years, that's a pretty amazing deal.

"Now we're wondering how many schools have two kids who went to high school together and then college and were on the same NFL team."

Mankins, though, is the area's pride. He grew up here, a few miles down the road from Mariposa, just outside a cluster of farmhouses called Catheys Valley. Mankins' sixth-grade class at Catheys Valley Elementary had six kids.

His parents still live in the same house down the dirt path on the other side of a gate -- the one with the chain and padlock and barbed wire twisted into "Mankins." No NFL contract will change them.

"I told him if he wants to build me a house, he can," laughs Kierstin Lee, a childhood friend.

His parents run the same family ranch that began two generations ago, homesteaded in Yosemite National Park.

They are friendly, do-anything-for-a-neighbor folks, but not much for attention. They have 13 horses and a few hundred cows that block traffic when they drive them seven miles down the road. They breed their own work dogs, a mix of McNab shepherd and border collie.

"We don't really do interviews," says Mankins' mother, Jill. "But I'll tell you this: We're just so darn excited."

The Mankinses are flying to Phoenix for Sunday's Super Bowl. The last Patriots game Jill didn't watch on the ranch was last year's playoff loss to the Colts. So this year, she spent every game at home in her pajama bottoms, slippers and Patriots sweatshirt.

It must have worked, because her boy's team won them all. After the AFC title game, she and a friend went to the friend's house to order plane tickets, since the Mankins still don't bother with the Internet.

How their son arrived at his current place in the NFL is a head-shaker.

"It's a great story," Tim Simons says. "I've told it many times. I'm sorta proud of it, too."

In May 2000, Simons was a new assistant at Fresno State. He looked at the map of his recruiting area and started visiting schools. He arrived at Mariposa looking for potential recruits in the junior class.

Football coach Ed Vegley told Simons he had a senior worth looking at and played a tape of a game against Modesto Christian. In the highlights, Mankins was blocking well against Clarence Denning, a player Fresno State had already given a scholarship.

"They weren't even sure he was gonna go to college," Simons says. "(Mankins) shook hands with me and had these big, giant hands."

Mankins had been the league MVP in both baseball and basketball and a good tight end, but Fresno State coaches hoped they could turn his 6-foot-4, 240-pound body into an offensive lineman.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill has always said Mankins never even took the SAT. He was a true long shot, an academic nonqualifier who they let walk-on.

In the year he had to become eligible at Fresno State, Mankins found the weight room for the first time. When the 2001 season arrived, he was 290 pounds, and started the opener at Colorado.

He's been a starter ever since, at Fresno State and then all three seasons with New England. He and his wife, Kara, have two children. Kaylee is 7. Case is 2½. Their third child is due in May. Kara can't wait for her husband to shave the giant beard he's been superstitiously growing since August.

They have been together since high school, of course, because pretty much everything valuable in Logan Mankins' life comes from this section of mountains just south of Yosemite.

So there's your trivia. All that's left is to get to the game, and for that, Jill Mankins is packing her special outfit -- PJs, slippers and sweatshirt.

Not wearing it. Just bringing it for luck. Mountain folks don't like to stick out.

MANKINS FILE


  • AGE: 25

  • HT: 6-4

  • WT: 310
  • POSITION: Offensive Guard
  • DRAFT: 2005 -- 1st round (32nd pick) by New England out of Fresno State
  • CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:

    *Selected to 2008 Pro Bowl as a starting guard for the AFC.

    *Recovered fumble in the end zone for first touchdown of the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

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