Expectations run wild on the West Side, where two catch-me-if-you-can seniors dare to elevate the Orestimba High School football team to new heights.
For the first time in program history, the Warriors return two 1,000-yard rushers: quarterback Joe Sheldon and reigning Southern League MVP Austin Martins.
“That’s something special,” said Orestimba coach Aaron Souza, entering his sixth season. “You’re fortunate if you return one guy with that level of productivity, but to return two? That puts us in a situation to accomplish some pretty special things this season.”
The Warriors are the chic pick to win the Southern League, a small-school conference dominated by Le Grand. The Bulldogs have won six consecutive league titles, a run of success that includes four of the past five Sac-Joaquin Section Division V banners.
Le Grand (7-4, 6-1) shared last season’s title with Mariposa (8-4, 6-1). Orestimba (6-5, 3-4) limped to the finish after a 5-2 start. The Warriors qualified for the D-V playoffs as the No. 8 seed but lost to eventual champion Bear River in the first round.
With Sheldon and Martins back, there’s a palpable buzz about a community starving for football success. Orestimba has not won a section championship, much less a playoff game. In fact, the program’s bucket list remains largely intact.
Orestimba hasn’t ...
▪ won nine games in a season
▪ won seven games in a season since 1996
▪ hosted a playoff game at Warriors Stadium, which opened in the late 1980s
▪ won an outright league title since 1981
The Warriors’ dynamic duo already has its place in school lore. Now they want to build on that historical footprint.
“You have to have a short memory and not remember what happened in the past,” Sheldon said. “We’ve got to move on to the next play, the next game, the next season. You have to move forward and keep making yourself better, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Sheldon and Martins are one of the most prolific quarterback-running back tandems in the Stanislaus District. There are others, of course – such as Central Catholic’s Hunter Petlansky and Justin Rice, Oakdale’s Adam Olsen and Darus Nelson, and Sonora’s Sammy Page and Wyatt Faughnan – but none with quite their credentials.
Sheldon is a dual-threat quarterback who patterns his game after Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and San Francisco 49ers legend Steve Young. He loves their ability to improvise and keep plays alive with their feet.
Sheldon, who has been groomed as a QB since eighth grade and attended the Nate Costa Football Camp, threw for 1,419 yards and completed 66 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns.
Oh, everyone’s covered? No sweat.
“If all else fails,” he said, “get out and run. Just the way Cam makes plays with his arm and feet – that’s what I can do.”
Sheldon was just as dangerous with the ball tucked under his arm, racking up 1,163 rushing yards on a team-best 9.5 yards per carry. He had five 100-yard games and 13 touchdowns, second to Martins.
“Joe is a dynamic game-changer. He’s a tall (6-foot-2), fast, long-striding kid who is developing into a better quarterback,” Souza said. “He’s gifted with so much natural ability that when the pocket collapses he has that ability to make things happen down field with his arm and legs.”
While Sheldon is unpredictable in style, Martins strikes with the blunt, unapologetic force of a wrecking ball. The 5-11, 190-pounder attacks defenses with a straight-ahead style, crashing into the second and third levels like a runaway train.
“He has the ability to get in the open field and break long runs,” Souza said, “but his forte is getting into the pile and moving the chains for us. When he gets 20-plus carries, he starts to wear down defenses because he’s so punishing. He’s a violent runner.”
Martins credits his burst and power to personal trainer Chase Pometta, but the determination bubbles from within. He made a promise to himself before the start of his junior year that he would compete at every chance, in season and out.
“I’ve always tried to be the hardest-working player on the team. At the end of my sophomore year it hit me: I’m going to be varsity now and there’s going to be expectations,” Martins said. “I pride myself on the fact that no one can outwork me. That’s been my goal, and I think I’ve achieved that every day.”
His work ethic was rewarded last fall with the Southern League’s top individual award.
Martins paced the Warriors with 1,406 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but it was his contribution as a two-way player that helped save a season. The hybrid linebacker/safety had a team-best 101 tackles and four interceptions, including a pick six that sparked a 33-27 come-from-behind victory over Firebaugh.
Sheldon ultimately won the game with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Navarro as time expired.
The duo acknowledges the expectation created by their breakout junior seasons but realize a championship season will take the work of many.
“People can sit here and say we have a two-headed monster, but in all reality we have so many great players around us,” Martins said. “We can bring something great to our town and our community. That’s what drives us.”
Other 1-2 punches
A look at some of the other top quarterback-running back duos in the Stanislaus District, in no particular order:
QB Hunter Petlansky/RB Justin Rice, Central Catholic: Petlansky proved he’s no one-trick pony for the Raiders, throwing for 2,052 yards and rushing for 782. Rice assumed starting tailback duties during Week 4 and still finished with a Stanislaus District-best 2,146 rushing yards.
QB Adam Olsen/RB Darus Nelson, Oakdale: A four-year varsity player, Olsen has spent the past three under center for the Mustangs. Nelson rushed for more than 1,500 yards last fall despite playing the final six games with a torn ACL in his left knee. Nelson has fully recovered.
QB Chase Whitaker/RB Josh Stewart, El Capitan: Whitaker showed flashes of brilliance during a rough-and-tumble sophomore season, throwing for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. Stewart posted five 100-yard games and finished with 1,070 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
QB Cam Calton/RB Demetrius Vinson, Gregori: Calton completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns, alleviating some of the pressure on Vinson, a highly touted junior. Vinson rushed for 1,274 yards and 14 touchdowns.
QB Nick Trujillo/RB Jay Green, Beyer: Trujillo showed improvement in Year 2 of the system, throwing for 1,188 yards and 15 touchdowns. Green has rushed for 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, including 1,417 yards and 18 scores in 2014.
QB Sammy Page/RB Wyatt Faughnan, Sonora: Page threw for 1,058 yards while completing 56.8 percent of his passes, leading the Wildcats to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game. Faughnan is the team’s top returning rusher with 601 yards during the regular season, good for 13.4 yards per carry.