High School Sports

Football talent bounces back to Modesto Junior College. Who are the new Pirates?

East Union quarterback Jack Weaver makes a pass as offensive coordinator Jason Stock looks on in the background during the MJC Passing Tournament at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, July 9, 2016.
East Union quarterback Jack Weaver makes a pass as offensive coordinator Jason Stock looks on in the background during the MJC Passing Tournament at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, July 9, 2016. The Modesto Bee

Since taking the reins at Modesto Junior College, football coach Rusty Stivers has made recruiting the Stanislaus District a top priority.

He appointed a recruiting coordinator, Kirk Peterson, whose sole responsibility is to identify and help foster relationships with the area's top talent.

How strong are some of those ties?

The invitation never expires, Stivers says, even when the talent decides to go elsewhere.

The Pirates' spring roster is lined with transfers looking for a fresh start, and several are expected to make an immediate impact as Modesto Junior College stares down one of the toughest schedules in program history.

The Pirates open the season Sept. 1 at home against Laney College. Modesto Junior College also has home dates against American River (Sept. 23), College of San Mateo (Sept. 29), West Hills College (Oct. 20) and Sacramento (Nov. 3).

The road won't be any easier. MJC travels to Sierra College and San Francisco City in back-to-back weeks, Sept. 8 and Sept. 15, and has trips to Visalia (College of the Sequoias, Oct. 13), Fresno (Fresno City, Oct. 27) and Stockton (Delta College, Nov. 10) later in the season.

The list of bounce-back players reads like an All-District lineup: Central Catholic's Cole Petlansky; Central Valley's Gabriel Quezada; Modesto Christian's Emoni Karriem; East Union's Jack Weaver; Orestimba's Austin Martins; Downey's Peter Kennedy; Pitman's Jacob Perez; Oakdale's Darus Nelson; and Calaveras' Trevor Ramirez.

Oakdale running back Darus Nelson sprints up field during a game between Oakdale and Menlo-Atherton at Oakdale High School in Oakdale California on September 12, 2015. John Westberg The Modesto Bee

Coming out an exciting transfer window, which saw wide receiver Michael Thompson (Eastern Michigan) and defensive lineman Mustafa Noel-Johnson (Colorado) land at Division-I universities, Stivers is excited about the new blood in the program.

All of the bounce-backs, he said, are players Peterson and the Pirates courted coming out of high school.

"We have established some great relationships during previous recruiting seasons and that is one reason we have so many bounce-backs or transfers this year," Stivers said. "Our recent student-transfer success to the next level is another reason why we have the new players in our program."

He believes the players' experience at four-year programs will ease their transition.

Petlansky, a superb athlete who played multiple positions during his prep career at Central Catholic, returns from Azusa Pacific, while Quezada, formerly of Humboldt State, is expected to fill the void left by Noel-Johnson on the defensive line.

Karriem (San Jose State), Weaver (College of Idaho), and Ramirez (Willamette) will compete for reps at the offensive skill positions.

Weaver will be tasked with learning two positions: wide receiver and quarterback. He was a dynamic dual-threat QB at East Union, also the alma mater of former Pirate quarterback Teejay Gordon.

Stivers likes the versatility Weaver provides. Historically, the Pirates have had success converting high school quarterbacks into pass-catchers. And should incumbent quarterback Danny Velasquez transfer in the spring or get injured, Weaver could find himself back under center.

"He's pulling double duty right now," Stivers said of Weaver. "Some of our best receivers have been quarterbacks, so we love having quarterbacks in our program. If they don't play quarterback, I want them to be ready at one of our four wide receiver positions."

Martins, a record-setting running back at Orestimba High, played one year at Linfield College in Oregon, not too far away from Kennedy, an offensive lineman who enrolled at Pacific University after graduating from Downey.

A former quarterback at Pitman, Perez left Delta College for MJC after starting under center against the Pirates in a 63-45 loss in November.

Nelson transferred from Butte College.

"The experience they had at the four-year level playing or red-shirting will definitely help the transition," Stivers said.