MODESTO -- It only seems like the field tilts toward the Central Catholic offensive line when it trots onto the field.
Troy Leota, the right tackle, checks in at 6-foot-2 and 346 pounds and is arguably the area’s best lineman. Next to him, at right guard, is Florida State commit and Modesto Christian transfer Manasse Itete, a mere 6-7 and 290.
Itete became eligible only two games ago, and it was coach Roger Canepa’s idea to place Leota and Itete side by side. Call it a sinister sense of humor.
“You’ve got two guys like that, you run that way,” Canepa said.
Wait, it gets better, or worse from the standpoint of future CC opponents. The rest of the Raiders’ front is Marques Duran (6-2, 260), left guard Rowdy Addington (6-0, 260), right tackle and Gregori transfer Darius Brown (6-0, 270) and tight end Seth Van Dyk (6-4,220).
Central Catholic has won four CIF state titles since Canepa took over 15 years go, but he’s never had a larger offensive line. It’s the perfect instrument, he believes, to deliver another Valley Oak League title and deep run in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Just the daunting sight of Itete and Leota on that right side, however, makes the Raiders different in 2023. They’ve been big in the past, but not this big.
“We can get combo blocks with them and the right end,” Canepa said Monday after six Raiders – including Leota – were honored by the Modesto Quarterback Club at its weekly lunch meeting. “He (Leota) moves well for a big guy. It’s nice to have big bodies on the same side."
Canepa proved his point on the game’s first snap last week against East Union. Running back Joey Alcutt, running behind Itete and Leota, hardly broke stride as he sprinted 90 yards for a touchdown to keynote a 47-7 victory.
Local basketball fans remember Itete as the power forward during Modesto Christian’s drive to Sac-Joaquin Section and Northern California titles and a berth in the CIF State Open Division finals in 2022. He completes the vision Canepa – whose strategy always leans toward straight-ahead power – has for 2023.
“The line has been intact for the last two weeks. That helps,” Caanepa said. “We had only five linemen available against top-ranked Serra, and we still played them to a 10-7 game at halftime (the Raiders eventually lost 42-33)."
Itete and Leota also anchor the defensive line. Add them to defensive backs Brooklyn Cheek (a Cal commit) and Trace Hernandez and quarterback/safety Tyler Paul Wentworth, and it’s clear why Central Catholic (4-2, 1-0 in the Valley Oak League) is poised to add more hardware for its trophy case.
NOTES – Enochs (3-3, 1-0 in the Central California Athletic League) is a different team with Downey transfer Johnny Staggs at quarterback. Since he became eligible, Staggs and the Eagles launched a dramatic comeback that fell short against Oakdale 49-35, followed by a 35-6 victory over Modesto. Stagg, running back Aiden Muhammad and quick slotback Eric Myles now accent a lethal Enochs attack. “Opponents can’t stack eight in the box now,” coach Tracey Traub said. “He (Staggs) keeps his eyes and downfield when he runs.” Staggs adds more intrigue to Friday night’s CCAL game at Gregori. “They have a lot of playmakers,” Gregori coach Lamar Wallace said in reference to Enochs. Last week, the Jaguars (4-2, 0-1) trailed Turlock 35-3 and nearly rallied to within a touchdown before they were beaten 51-24. …
Modesto (1-5, 0-1 CCAL) will be a major underdog Friday night as Downey (5-1, 1-0 CCAL) celebrates homecoming. “We gave up a lot of big plays,” Panthers coach Dylan Miller said as he discussed last week’s loss to Enochs. “We’re past the point where we pat them on the butt and ask them to do better." … Downey overcame a slow start before it found its form to beat Pitman 35-7. Receiver Joe Ramirez was bracketed by the Pitman coverage, so quarterback Carson Lamb turned to receiver Ethan Woodmansee who enjoyed his best game of the season (nine catches, 221 yards, TD) …
Johansen (5-1, 3-0) turned an early touchdown, 2-point conversion and a safety into a 10-3 win over Ceres. The Vikings’ unbeaten Western Athletic Conference record will be challenged, however, Friday night by defending WAC champion Los Banos at Dan Gonsalves Stadium … Beyer (0-6, 0-3) managed only nine snaps on offense during the first half of the Patriots’ 24-7 loss to Lathrop. The Patriots travel to Mountain House on Friday night. …
Modesto Christian (2-4, 0-1 Trans-Valley League), will be the visiting team on its own field Friday night against Escalon. The Cougars are wrapping up a major renovation to Engel Field and plan to show it off for homecoming Oct. 20 against Ripon. Coach Kurt Bryan lamented the Crusaders’ four scoreless trips into the red zone during their 47-16 loss last week to Ripon. … Big Valley Christian (1-5), after a week off, will welcome Millennium for homecoming on Friday night. … Grace Davis (1-5, 1-2 WAC), led by quarterback Izzy Sanchez and running back Ezekiel Suarez, ran off the final nine minutes to beat Pacheco 31-13. It was the first victory not only for the Spartans but also for first-year head coach Trevor Mew. Davis meets Lathrop on Thursday night. …
Modesto Junior College’s bye week is well-timed. Injuries, especially to the offensive line, have slowed the Pirates. They fell to their third straight loss 45-20 against American River, as the Beavers jumped to a 21-0 lead, netted 501 yards and built a nearly 12-minute advantage in possession. MJC (2-2) begins the defense of its Valley Conference title next week at Sacramento City.