It didn’t take long talking to linebacker Seth “Bear” Tennis of Stockton McNair and his father to determine that their family isn’t related to the one that founded Cal-Hi Sports in the 1970s. Comparing family histories, however, isn’t the only reason we wanted to feature Tennis. He’s been starting at linebacker for the Eagle varsity since his freshman season and he and his teammates have all the pieces in place to earn the school a trip to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
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Like the game. That’s what I often say to people on the phone when giving my last name.
Turns out that another group of people named Tennis – and who live in Stockton as well – do the same thing.
Two years ago, I first ran across the name “Bear Tennis” when looking for promising freshman football players. He started as a freshman for a 1-9 McNair of Stockton squad that season and had several games of double-digit tackle totals. His first name also is a childhood nickname that stuck, almost to the point that his real first name of Seth isn’t used by friends and family that often.
The fact that many freshmen never get close to varsity games also has helped Bear realize that those struggles were actually very beneficial.
“The hitting came natural to me and overall the physical part of doing that wasn’t too bad,” Bear said. “I was a little nervous, but just plugged along.”
Bear Tennis is now an incoming junior after racking up 118 more tackles as a sophomore. Prior to this season, it was finally time to meet up with Bear and his father, Seth, who also helps coach the team at McNair.
From Norway and Holland
Tennis is an unusual last name, but there are a few out there. Our family background is Norwegian. There’s actually a Tin Lake in Norway where the name Tinnis originated. In America, the “e” just took the place of the “i.”
For Bear and Seth, their last name is Dutch. Their ancestors also trace back to paper mills near Philadelphia. Before America, the last name was Tuenis.
So, we’re not related. But still there was more family background to catch up on with Seth and Bear before talking football.
Seth and his brother, Norm, played football and attended schools in the East Bay and also both played at Idaho State. I’m pretty sure I once saw Norm play for Ygnacio Valley of Concord. Seth is from Granada of Livermore.
Seth is married and he and his wife, Claudia, have six children. Bear is the second-oldest behind sister Diamond, who is a senior this year at McNair. She plays water polo and softball and recently was named an honorable mention All-American in water polo. Bear’s younger brother, Michael, will be playing JV football as a freshman at McNair this year, while there are three more younger sisters – Jackie, Kelly and G.G.
Norm and his wife, Sierra, live nearby in Galt and have five kids. That made sense to me because a couple of years ago I saw a teenage girl at a Stockton Ports game with “Tennis” on the back wearing a Liberty Ranch (school in Galt) letter jacket. Turns out that was Emily, who played softball at Liberty Ranch, and graduated last June.
Norm’s oldest son, Ryan, will be a senior at Liberty Ranch this year and yes there is a McNair vs. Liberty Ranch contest on the schedule (Sept. 11), enabling Bear and Ryan to be playing on opposing teams in the same game. Three more Tennis boys also coming up in Galt will be Bret, Patrick and Dylan.
As Seth was talking about all these kids, I was listening to hear if any were named Sean, which is my 19-year-old son’s name. There isn’t, but Norm’s middle name is Sean. I also told them about my brother, John, a police officer in Sacramento, and his kids – Nelson, Oliver, Penny and Hattie. Nelson (named for my late uncle, the founder of Cal-Hi Sports) just started as a freshman last week at Woodcreek High in Roseville.
McNair’s Season Just Took A Big Turn
Also attending this photo shoot and interview with Seth and Bear was McNair senior wide receiver Derrion Grim and his father, LaTief. Derrion might just be the best player in Stockton this season. He’s committed to Boise State. LaTief, who I saw play at Franklin and who later played at the University of Pittsburgh, was once the head coach at Brookside Christian and has been planning to be the offensive coordinator at McNair this season.
It is hoped by both the players and fathers that the sudden resignation of McNair head coach Curtis Perkins that was announced one day before we met the Tennises and Grims will not result in drastic changes just two weeks before the first game. Perkins, who coached the team last season, was attempting to mix being back at McNair with attendance at a police academy and living with a new wife and baby in Williams (which is roughly a 90-minute commute from Stockton). The head coaching job was listed as open as of Friday afternoon when news broke that Perkins was not going to be able to handle all that was on his plate.
“I don’t think whatever happens with a new coach is going to matter,” Bear said. “We got very close as a team over the summer and we have that brotherhood. We’ll just keep grinding every day.”
In addition to Grim and Tennis, McNair returns numerous other starters on both sides of the ball from a team that tied for second in the San Joaquin Athletic Association.
“Maybe it was good in a way we didn’t get that playoff spot because Stagg did and had to play Folsom,” Seth said. “You never know how a group can handle something like that.”
Quarterback Osai Brown also is among the returnees. He passed for 3,229 yards and 33 TDs as a junior running Grim’s wide-open offense and also rushed for 481 yards and six scores. Receiver Sean Hamilton also is back after nabbing 68 catches for 1,119 yards and 11 TDs.
An Ace of the Defense
Tennis led the team and the SJAA in tackles as a sophomore and is excited about being more of a leader and improving his speed.
“I think I’ve got a nose for the ball and can get off blocks,” Tennis said. “Our defense as a whole also should be a lot better.”
Grim says as an offensive coordinator the other offenses McNair faces will have to pay attention to where Tennis is playing at all times.
“His upside is on the edges and he knows how to use his hands well,” Grim said. “Yes, he can be a D1 recruit. We’ll just have to see about him getting a little quicker. Getting quicker and covering more on passing plays this year is going to be very important for him.”
McNair has qualified for the section playoffs four times since its first season in 2006. The only time the team got past the first round, however, was in 2010.
As Seth Tennis said: “We do have the groceries in the cupboard and we just have to put them together. When Bear was a freshman and we won just once, we didn’t even have the groceries.”
On the other hand, we all know what happens when a real bear gets near some groceries. Ripping apart containers and gorging on anything edible may be more of an image that Bear Tennis should use playing on defense this season.
It also can be safely said that anybody with the same last name of Tennis is going to be very interested to follow how it all works out at McNair and Liberty Ranch over the next few months.