Local Lions Game Saturday

RBs Alex Laurel (Manteca) and Daniel Ruffin (Stagg) both hope to benefit from a massive offensive line during Saturday's Lions All-Star Classic. Photo: Mark Tennis.

RBs Alex Laurel (Manteca) and Daniel Ruffin (Stagg) both hope to benefit from a massive offensive line during Saturday’s Lions All-Star Classic. Photo: Mark Tennis.


This year’s Central California Lions All-Star Classic moves to Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy. The 41st annual game features two potent running backs who were in a 69-55 scorefest last season. We have a prediction of which team will win.

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For years in the Stockton community, 55 to 60 of the best graduated high school football players from Amador, Calaveras, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolomne counties gathered each summer at the University of Pacific’s Stagg Memorial Stadium for the Lions All-Star Classic.

UOP’s stadium is now in the process of being flattened with football long gone from the campus, much to the chagrin of many former players, including Super Bowl champion coach Pete Carroll.

The all-star game, like others in the state, has struggled to survive but it has continued – mostly due to the efforts of legendary former Tracy coach Wayne Schneider – and the 41st edition of the contest will be played Saturday at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy.

This will be the first year of the game being held in Tracy after two years at Modesto Junior College. The host school is coming off of a league championship season so it is hoped the Tracy community will come out and support the all-star game in a big way.

It may be more realistic, however, for attendance to come from nearby Manteca since the Buffaloes are coming off a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section divisional title and five of their players will be on the North roster.

JaQuan Gardner from Central Valley of Ceres, who was snapped while standing in line at the NorCal Nike Football Sparq Combine last spring, rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his prep career. Photo: Mark Tennis.

JaQuan Gardner from Central Valley of Ceres, who was snapped while standing in line at the NorCal Nike Football Sparq Combine last spring, rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his prep career. Photo: Mark Tennis.


The reason Manteca was just a few plays away from getting to the CIF Division II state bowl game last season was a running game led by Alex Laurel (the Stockton Record Player of the Year) and an offensive line including Billy Sharmoug (6-1, 300), Isaac McClain (6-4, 285) and Joe Eavenson (6-7, 300). All four of those players, plus linebacker Jacob LeDon, will be representing Manteca for the North squad.

The South team has a potential big-time running game as well with Jaquan Gardner from Central Valley of Ceres on its roster (the Modesto Bee Player of the Year). While Laurel rushed for 1,876 yards, piled up 2,316 all-purpose yards and scored 49 TDs for Manteca last season, Gardner piled up 2,467 yards rushing and scored 27 TDs for Central Valley.

When Manteca and Central Valley met in last year’s playoffs, it was one of the highest scoring playoff games in state history. Manteca won 69-55 and survived Gardner’s mammoth outing of 378 yards and five TDs. Laurel wasn’t exactly standing still, either. He had 258 yards and five TDs.

All-star games, however, are normally low-scoring and defensive in nature because the offenses just don’t have the time to learn too many plays and develop chemistry.

It should help the North team in that regard with Tokay of Lodi quarterback Kelse DePauli-Wiltse running the offense of Tokay head coach Louis Franklin, who is also the North head coach. For the South, head coach Rob Scheidt of Merced will be directing quarterbacks Sean Downs of Turlock and Kendall Johnson of Central Valley. Scheidt’s son, Sam, should be one of the leading tacklers for the South.

Aaron Zwahlen from Downey of Modesto was MVP of last year's game. He's with his father, Lynn. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Aaron Zwahlen from Downey of Modesto was MVP of last year’s game. He’s with his father, Lynn. Photo: Mark Tennis.

History, Last Year’s Game

The Lions All-Star Football Classic is one of the four oldest-running prep football all-star games in California with the first game held in 1974. The South won last year’s game 17-14 behind MVP Aaron Zwahlen from Downey of Modesto. After the North tied the game with 2:33 left, Zwahlen kicked a 35-yard field goal for the South with four seconds left. Earlier, the University of Hawaii recruit had a 30-yard touchdown pass and a 6-yard TD run.

With the victory, the South cut into the North’s advantage in the series to 24-15-1. The North has still won eight of the last 10 games.

Prediction for This Year’s Game

Sure, it would be great if it was 69-55 and maybe it would be if colleague Rich Estrada of Black Hat Football had his way. Every year, Estrada mentions his idea of all-star games going to a format of 11 players on offense against just 10 on defense. The coaches would hate that, but from a fan’s standpoint it sure would be interesting to see.

Since it probably won’t be that high-scoring of a game, the thought when looking over the rosters is that the running backs may all have their various moments to shine. For the North, Laurel and Stagg of Stockton’s Daniel Ruffin have the ability to break the big one. For the South, Gardner along with LeGrand’s Ryan Martinez are the same.

The difference therefore may be the play-making ability of Stagg’s Wayne Brooks. He was the Stockton Record Player of the Year as a junior and will play quarterback for the North. There just may be a bit more play-makers for the North this time.

Final Score: North 29, South 20

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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