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  • Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

    Antelope's Tyler Winston has scored 16 touchdowns this season - in various ways - and 41 in his three-year career.

  • Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

    Brian Baer Special to The Bee Tyler Winston (2) gave a straight-arm to Connor Graves (32) and Whitney with 204 rushing and receiving yards and a touchdown in Antelope's 35-27 win for the CAL title.

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Winston quietly has Antelope at 9-1 and ready for a playoff run

Published: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 - 11:29 am

There have been a number of high-profile area football recruits in recent years.

Shaq Thompson at Grant and Arik Armstead at Pleasant Grove last season. Eddie Vanderdoes at Placer this season.

Followers by the thousands kept up with their every move and sound bite through social media.

But people don't hear much from Antelope senior Tyler Winston, even though he's one of the Sac-Joaquin Section's top playmakers and has 14 scholarship offers to back his growing reputation as a next-level player.

"He's actually pretty tough to get a hold of," Antelope coach Matt Ray said. "He's pretty quiet. I have to remind him to go on Facebook because college coaches sometimes have a tough time reaching him."

Winston is one reason why Antelope is 9-1 this season, won its second Capital Athletic League championship in three years and is ranked in The Bee's Top 20 in only the school's fifth year of existence.

Tonight, in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, the fourth-seeded Titans will be hosts to No. 13 Rocklin (5-5) in the school's first home football playoff game.

The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Winston is a wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner with 16 touchdowns this season – and 41 in his career – in almost every conceivable way.

He's made acrobatic catches, dazzling rushes, zigzagging kick returns and momentum-turning interceptions.

His play leaves his teammates in awe.

"Whenever he touches the ball, you know crazy things can happen," senior tackle Daren Echeveria said. "He's that spark. Every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to score a touchdown."

Winston has offers from UCLA, Washington State, Boise State and Northwestern, among others.

But he's as low-key and unassuming as they come.

Talk about his highlight-reel plays on YouTube and he deflects the conversation toward his teammates and coaches.

"I try not to be too flashy," Winston said. "We're all a bunch of hardworking guys who come out every day and get physical in practice and in games."

It's no act.

"Tyler is loved by his teammates, appreciated by his peers," Ray said. "To see his growth since his sophomore year and how he's polished himself as a player and a person, there's no doubt that he's going to leave here and be successful at whatever he does."

Added Echeveria: "Tyler's definitely down to earth. He prides himself on not being this showboating, cocky guy."

The way Winston carries himself is a reflection of the type of program Ray has built at the sports-crazy school in the suburban community nestled between North Highlands and Roseville.

Team first. Committed. Accountable. And with goals that reach beyond what happens on the football field.

"Athletics is a great way to teach kids how to become good young men," Ray said. "Don't get me wrong, I like to win. But ultimately, we want to get a positive end that carries beyond high school."

Ray knows from experience the impact athletics can have in dealing with the ups and downs of winning and losing.

He was a four-sport athlete at Quincy High School, where he was a record-setting Northern Section quarterback.

Ray coached East Nicolaus to back-to-back Northern Section titles in 2006 and 2007 before making Antelope a solid program from the start.

The Titans went 5-5 in their first varsity season without seniors and are 14-1 in the Capital Athletic League over the past three years.

But this was their breakthrough season after back-to-back 6-5 campaigns that included opening-round road playoff losses to St. Mary's of Stockton 48-21 last year and to Vacaville 77-28 in 2010.

Antelope's only loss this season was 15-14 to Rio Linda on Sept. 7. In last Friday's showdown with defending champion Whitney, Antelope spotted the Wildcats 20 points in the first quarter before rallying to win 35-27.

In a tribute to the team's emphasis on getting bigger and faster through a ramped-up weight-training and strength conditioning program, Antelope rushed for 395 yards and added 147 passing yards in beating the Wildcats for the league title for the second time in three seasons.

"It all starts with coach Ray," said Echeveria, who has a scholarship offer from Air Force. "The physicality, the mentality and the confidence that we're in every game no matter what comes from him."

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