Sacramento State football coach Jody Sears says UC Davis senior running back Gabe Manzanares appears almost bigger than life on film, a reason he has concerns about today’s 61st Causeway Classic at Aggies Stadium.
“He has those instincts that you can’t coach,” Sears said. “He can see a block setting up, and he’s already two steps ahead knowing where he is going to cut before the block is finished. Or he’ll run right over you and split your chin open.
“It’s quite impressive to watch on film because you get to see his plays develop from the end-zone view.”
The Hornets saw the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Manzanares plenty in last year’s Causeway Classic at Hornet Stadium, where he rushed for 122 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns – he had 95 receiving yards – as the Aggies cruised past the Hornets 34-7 in the rivalry game that is usually close.
Despite losing eight of their first nine games, the 2-8 Aggies and Manzanares enter today’s game with the 6-5 Hornets with momentum. Last Saturday, the Aggies shocked Cal Poly 48-35 in San Luis Obispo in The Golden Horseshoe game while snapping a seven-game losing streak, the program’s longest since 1959.
In one of the biggest Big Sky Conference upsets of the season, Manzanares rushed 37 times for 230 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 53-yarder. The loss dashed any hopes Cal Poly had of reaching the postseason.
The San Francisco native was named the conference Offensive Player of the Week after becoming only the sixth Aggies running back to have two career 200-yard games. He rushed for 208 yards against Idaho State last season.
“We finally put together four quarters,” Manzanares said.
Last year, Manzanares arrived at UCD as an unsung junior walk-on who rushed for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors.
This season, he missed the first two games and played sparingly in the next two because of a left toe injury that had lingered since spring practice.
“That was real frustrating,” Manzanares said. “I’d forget about it hurting at night, then wake up in the morning and realize I still had a bum foot. I was in a boot the entire offseason.”
UCD coach Ron Gould calls Manzanares the “heartbeat of our team,” so he slowly brought back his marquee running back even as the losses mounted for the Aggies.
Manzanares didn’t hit his stride until rushing for 143 yards in a 77-37 loss to Montana State on Oct. 11, then a week later rushed for 110 yards in a 42-28 loss against Montana in games six and seven. He has 670 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 24 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown entering today’s game.
“Before we played Cal Poly, I told him, ‘We’re riding you now,’” Gould said. “Gabe has this uncanny ability to make plays and see things even when we don’t block the way it’s drawn up.”
As his college career comes to a close, Manzanares hasn’t minded being the poster boy to backups everywhere about the rewards of perseverance.
He played little in his previous college stops at NCAA Division III Wesleyan University in Connecticut and City College of San Francisco.
“I just tell them to keep working, keep grinding,” he said. “I kind of lucked out and got the opportunity. But what helped me was that I remained prepared.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.