From having an eye that was frozen in place to sleeping in a fetal position just to find any semblance of comfort, tears soaking his pillow, Marcus Rios doesn’t take anything for granted.
Every day, he says, is “a blessed one.”
Rios reminds that he’s alive, which is a victory itself, and he will be in uniform today in El Paso, Texas, where UCLA will play in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Cosumnes Oaks High School graduate may even see the field for the first time this season at cornerback or on special teams, a reward for his hard work in getting this far and serving as an inspiration to the Bruins.
Rios played on the scout team this season, his second with the Bruins, after recovering from a fungal virus that nearly killed him and required eight surgeries. Regardless of what happens today, Rios said a new year brings new hope. He vows to start in the Bruins’ secondary in the 2014 opener.
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Rios last fall was unable to breathe through his nose, making workouts and full-contact practices difficult, and he suffered from headaches so painful he was certain his head was going to split. What was initially diagnosed as sinus blockage was actually a rare fungus at the base of his brain, locking one of his eyes in place for a spell. Six months in the hospital cost Rios 60 pounds, but he gained immeasurable perspective and inner strength in the outpouring of support from teammates, family and friends from Elk Grove to Los Angeles.
Even though he didn’t play a down this fall, Rios is everyone’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“I’m feeling really good,” Rios said. “I’ll be suiting up.”
“Amazing kid and story,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said recently while stopping by Cosumnes Oaks. “What Marcus has gone through, I don’t think people understand. He’ll play again.”
Jackson Cummings of Rocklin, Eddie Plantaric of Del Campo and Jordan Richards of Folsom will play for Stanford in Wednesday’s 100th Rose Bowl against Michigan State.
Cummings is a senior running back and special-teams player for the Cardinal. He was paramount in Rocklin’s 2009 CIF State Bowl team. Plantaric is a senior tight end who has also played fullback and defensive line during his Cardinal career. He did not play last season because of a stress fracture in his back.
Richards is a junior strong safety who twice won Pacific-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors. He helped Folsom to a 2010 CIF State Bowl win and is a projected NFL draftee.
Oregon three-year starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell of Burbank will spend the coming days deciding if he’ll enter the NFL draft. Oregon ended the season Monday against Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Mitchell, a junior, is projected to go in the top three rounds. Teammate Arik Armstead, a sophomore defensive lineman out of Pleasant Grove, is looking forward to a healthy 2014. He has endured injuries the past two seasons.
Big on Burton
Pierce Burton of Rio Americano started the past two seasons at right tackle for Ole Miss, including Monday’s 25-17 win over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound senior and NFL draft hopeful settled with the Rebels after previous stops at San Jose State and City College of San Francisco.
From playing quarterback to chasing them, Ball State defensive end Michael Ayers of Laguna Creek will be in the GoDaddy Bowl against Arkansas State on Jan. 5. . When he wasn’t playing quarterback, Ayers had 110 tackles as a Laguna Creek senior.
Capital Christian lineman Nifae Lealao, headed to Stanford on scholarship, will play in Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Previous area players who played in the prestigious high-school showcase include Vei Moala (Cal), James Sample (Washington) and Shaq Thompson (Washington) of Grant, Armstead (Oregon) of Pleasant Grove and Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) of Placer.
Ben Trumm of Folsom hopes his powerful right leg lands him a college roster spot. He kicked a 50-yard field goal, the longest in the 57-year history of the Optimist All-Star Game, on Saturday. Trumm will be a walk-on candidate in a sport that rarely offers kicking scholarships.