Sonora High defensive end Evan Bearden, No. 2 on the Front Row’s list of top-50 returning players, is built differently.
That isn’t a vague reference to his style of play and destroy-everything demeanor on the football field, or even his imposing 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame.
Truly, the Mother Lode League’s reigning defensive player of the year is built a little different.
Bearden was born with an extra bone in his ankle, a condition that affects less than 10 percent of Americans, according to the Sonora coaching staff. He chose to have the os trigonum surgically removed this summer and may miss Friday's opener at Oakdale.
“I’m making a fast recovery, which is great, and I hope to be cleared this week,” Bearden said. “If not, I’ll be right there with them, cheering them on and helping anyway I can.”
Even with a healthy Bearden, Sonora, the region’s top-ranked small school program and the four-time defending Mother Lode League champion, faces an uphill battle in its season opener. The Wildcats lock horns with Highway 108 rival and large-school No. 4 Oakdale, which has reached the Division III section final in seven of the last eight years.
Bearden hopes to be cleared for the rivalry game, but even with a doctor’s blessing, coach Bryan Craig and his staff will likely limit his number of plays. With a loaded nonconference schedule, including a Sept. 7 showdown at reigning D-VI section champion Hilmar, Bearden's health is just too important.
When healthy, Bearden is a force in all three phases of the game, including a central figure in a versatile offensive attack.
A traditional run-first team, Sonora may attack through the skies more often this season with Bearden (seven catches, 158 yards, two touchdowns) on the perimeter. He also had 37 tackles, including seven for a loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles in nine games, according to statistics reported to MaxPreps.
His presence on the field makes the Wildcats an instant Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State contender.
They’ve just got to keep him — and his teammates — healthy.
“We first need to accomplish the little goals week by week to get to those games late in the season,” Bearden said of the postseason.
Regardless of what happens this fall, there are bigger games in Bearden’s future. He is one of the region’s most-sought after talents with offers from Sacramento State, UC Davis and Utah State. San Diego State, Neveda and Cal Poly have also shown interest in Bearden, who has been recruited as a tight end, defensive end and offensive lineman.
“I would play anywhere they want me to play,” he said. “I’d be happy to play in a new position. It’s great to be called a versatile player. But I really just play my hardest wherever they put me (in) to play.”
His humility is genuine, yet another example of how Bearden may be built a little differently.
Bearden may command the spotlight, but he insists it’s big enough for an entire community, much less a football program. His recruitment story is nothing without a strong cast of friends and family, teammates, coaches and fans.
“Although there is some pressure, I feel very blessed to have the received the recognition I have,” he said. “I hope to be able to be as useful to my team as possible and be the best player I can for them. … It’s fun sharing my experiences with my friends and family.”
July 16-Aug. 13: 50. Sean McGovern, DB/WR, Ripon Chr.; 49. Bryan Millan, WR/DB/K, Hilmar; 48. Logan Weatherby, RB/LB, Calaveras; 47. Isaac Schinnman, RB/LB, Modesto Chr.; 46. JoJo Espinoza, WR/S, East Union; 45. Ryan Kraft, QB, Bret Harte; 44. Xavier Rodriguez, QB, Davis; 43. Joao Silveira, LB, Hilmar; 42. Landon Wright, DL, Modesto Chr.; 41. Xavier Stewart, WR, Merced; 40. Charles Jackson, RB, Atwater; 39. Hayden Sauser, QB, Modesto Chr.; 38. D. Durossette, QB, Central Cath.; 37. Trey Longstreth, WR/DB, Gregori; 36. Justin Traina, DB, Central Catholic; 35. Nash Satnat, LB, Escalon; 34. Payton Bass, RB, Pitman; 33. Justin Rentfro, RB/DE, Hilmar; 32. Dhameer Warren, QB/DB, Merced; 31. Jacob Bettencourt, QB, Orestimba; 30. Trey Paster, DB, Buhach Colony; 29. Marquise Higgins, LB/WR, East Union; 28. Omar Ortega, OL, Patterson; 27. Antonio Lopez, RB, Los Banos; 26. Jonah Kosakiewicz, QB, Turlock; 25. Kyle Jackson, QB, Central Cath.; 24. Anderson Grover, WR, Downey; 23. Jake Dirkse, LB, Turlock; 22. Trabron Russell, RB, Manteca; 21. Garrett Fountain, DE, Turlock; 20. Kaden Christensen, RB, Escalon; 19. Jorge Cedano, WR, Manteca; 18. Logan Foumai, OL, Patterson; 17. Zaire Eugene, RB, Modesto; 16. Isaac Sharp, RB, Hilmar; 15. Ryan Daggett, QB, Ripon; 14. Jacob DeJesus, WR, Manteca; 13. C.J. Castleman, RB, Sonora; 12. Chris Mendoza, OL, Central Cath.; 11. Javyn Drobnick, RB, Big Valley Chr.; 10. Tyler Vargas, WR, Orestimba; 9. Eric Soares, OL, Central Cath.; 8. Jake Gookin, QB, Sonora; 7. Marcello Longstreth, ATH, Gregori; 6. Xavier Carlton, DE, Modesto Chr.; 5. D'Angelo Bellamy, RB/LB, Central Catholic; 4. Bryce Peterson, WR/DB, Downey; 3. Everett Johnson, OL, Turlock.
Today: No. 2 Evan Bearden, DE/WR, Sonora.
This week: 5-1.