Posts Tagged Cecil Conley

Lack of height, but no shortage of heart for Aggies

Five-foot-10 Devon King scoops a fumble on a lateral, but it was later ruled an incomplete pass.

With a cast on his hand, 5-foot-9 Erron Duncan tries to tackle 6-5 Kaden Smith.

 

Five-foot-10 Isaiah Thomas jumps for joy after an interception in the first quarter.

Five-foot-10 Isiah Olave does everything he can to contend with 6-7 tight end Colby Parkinson.

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UC Davis quarterback hopes patience will pay off

Hunter Rodrigues may have to bide his time at UC Davis after transferring from American River College, where he passed for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 14 scores as a freshman in 2017.

Playing the waiting game is nothing new for Hunter Rodrigues. If it pays off for the quarterback at UC Davis as it did last season at American River College, the Aggies will be sitting pretty in 2020 with Rodrigues calling the signals.

Rodrigues waited in 2016 after graduating from Whitney High School in Rocklin. His statistics as a senior – 3,154 yards and 45 touchdowns passing to go with 642 yards and six touchdowns rushing – did not earn him a scholarship. He settled for going to American River and then taking a grayshirt season to avoid losing a year of eligibility.

Grayshirts can attend classes as part-time students, thus rendering them ineligible, until they go full time on scholarship. Such a scenario made sense for Rodrigues because American River was set at quarterback with Griffin Dahn.

Accepting that was much easier than going through a season as a glorified spectator on the sideline. And with nothing better to do, Rodrigues was occasionally summoned to feed the referees with an ample supply of footballs. Imagine the embarrassment of serving as a ball boy with his relatives and friends watching from the bleachers.

“That was a pretty long year,” Rodrigues lamented.

Jake Maier (15) keeps an eye on Rodrigues from the sideline during a recent practice at UC Davis.

One season at American River was enough for Dahn to receive a scholarship to Nevada. That opened the door for Rodrigues to become the starter for the Beavers in 2017. The 6-foot, 180-pound Rodrigues showed no fear or signs of rust in throwing for 2,191 yards and 23 touchdowns as well as rushing for 478 yards and 14 scores.

American River would have loved more of the same from Rodrigues in 2018, but the sophomore followed Dahn’s lead by being done after one year with the Beavers. A scholarship offer from UC Davis is to blame for his departure.

Jon Osterhout is entering his fifth season as American River’s head coach in need of a starting quarterback. Rodrigues’ return would have made his life easier – and his offense more potent –  but Osterhout will not stand in the way of an athlete he described as having “all of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback and certainly has the ‘it’ factor. Extremely athletic, quick release, high football IQ and natural ability to lead through his actions.”

That explains why UC Davis pursued Rodrigues even though it might be a year of two before he climbs the depth chart. This could turn out to be another season of standing on the sideline for Rodrigues, at least not as a ball boy.

The Aggies are set at quarterback with Jake Maier, who was the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2017 with 3,669 passing yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore. The transfer from Long Beach City College set school records for completions (306) and 300-yard passing games (nine) in a season. The offense is clearly his.

Rodrigues is battling sophomore Brock Johnson to be Maier’s understudy, and Johnson has an advantage in the competition. Johnson redshirted in 2017 after transferring from Georgetown, so this season will cost him a year of eligibility and leave him with two. If he is active for games, the Aggies might as well get some use out of him.

Redshirting Rodrigues would leave him with three years of eligibility. And with redshirts now allowed to play in as many as four games without losing eligibility, UC Davis gets a free look at Rodrigues. The possibility of redshirting did not stop Rodrigues from accepting the Aggies’ scholarship offer. Then again, it was the only one he got.

“I knew of Jake. He’s a great quarterback,” Rodrigues explained. “I always felt I was going to redshirt and learn from him.”

The first lesson comes Thursday at San Jose State.

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Aggies do homework for first 2018 test

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins addresses his players after Saturday morning’s practice at Aggie Stadium. Junior quarterback Jake Maier, left, sophomore wide receiver Darius Livingston and their teammates are preparing to kick off the 2018 season on Aug. 30 at San Jose State.

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Love of football is former Bulldog’s legacy

Ryan Smith prefers to remember Demetrious Ward for how the Vacaville High School student lived instead of how the 18-year-old died in October 2014. Smith will judge Ward as the young man he knew as a teacher and coach instead of the one portrayed by media reports as a drug dealer who was shot for a small amount of marijuana.

Members of Ward’s family will defend him as a victim of being in a bad place at a bad time with bad people. There are those who will say he was asking for trouble by being out at 1:30 a.m. on a Monday, just six hours before he would have been going to school. And others will say Ward needed to learn a lesson and it is a shame the price of that lesson was his life.

Smith will not let those people decide how he remembers Ward. He will remember Ward for what he saw with his own eyes.

Kevin Ward has started the Solano Hurricanes youth football program in memory of his son Demetrius.

What Smith saw in 2012 was a freshman who skipped spring football workouts to stick with the track team even though he was just an alternate for the varsity boys 4×400-meter relay. Smith coached the relay runners at that time.

“ A track meet is a long day, “Smith said, “and the 4×400 is one of the last events. For a kid like him, it’s got to be boring.”

Vacaville had a strong 4×400 team with seniors Tanner Mahoney and Imi Edopai, and sophomores Daniel and David Mewborn. The four qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet, and Ward tagged along as usual. Smith did not attend the meet because his wife had given birth a day earlier, but he did get phone calls with updates.

One call came after Mahoney fell and was injured during the 800-meter trials. He had to be scratched from the relay, Fortunately, Ward was ready to go. Vacaville won its heat in the trials, advanced to the finals and placed second.

That finish sent the four to the 2012 state championships, where they were overmatched and bowed out in the trials. None of that would have been possible, Smith said, had Ward turned his back on track to go to spring football.

Football was Ward’s game. His headstone at Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery is in the shape of a football jersey with his last name and No. 21 on the back. Football meant so much to Ward that he was making efforts to be a better student in the fall of 2014, Smith recalled. 

“He really cared, He was getting good grades and was getting on track to graduate. He was turning around academically,” Smith said. “He was not getting into trouble at school. How could we know what was going on outside of school?”

Dulon Stevens, whose son Dulon Jr. was a football teammate of Ward’s, also noticed a change in Ward. “He was going through a lot of stuff, but he was making progress in life,” Stevens said. “There was some brightness in his future.”

One person who was well aware of Ward’s activities away from school is his father. Kevin Ward used tough love in an attempt to set his son straight, often reminding him that he alone would be accountable if he ran afoul of the law.

“He knew that if those were choices he was going to make, he would have to deal with it,” Kevin Ward said. “I told him if he was going to do the crime, he would have to do the time. Some kids just have to go out there and test the water.”

Kevin Ward prefers to remember his son in a positive light and has launched a youth football program, the Solano Hurricanes, in his memory. Kevin Ward is not concerned about competing with established programs for players.  He is not concerned that any publicity for the program will rekindle talk of his son’s untimely and senseless death.

“This is in my son’s memory. It’s not about what people are saying. You can’t put yourself in his shoes,” Kevin Ward said bluntly. “You have to move forward and don’t look back. There’s plenty of room for one more (program). There’s plenty of kids. They need to stay off the streets and stay in the books. The streets are not your friend.”

The Hurricanes will hear that from a man who hopes to turn his loss into victories for youngsters who love football as much as his son did.

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Opportunity to play if just for one day

Ryder Jones did not expect to get much sleep July 19 after the Sacramento River Cats’ 8-7 loss in Fresno. Not only was an 0-for-5 night weighing heavily on the third baseman’s mind, but he also had just three hours for a few winks before the River Cats would board a bus to the airport at 3:30 a..m. and then jump on a flight to El Paso.

Fortunately for Jones, Brandon Belt’s pregnant wife came to his rescue without knowing it. Belt left the San Francisco Giants and went on paternity leave July 20 for the impending arrival of his second son. Jones was too busy reflecting on his futile night at the plate to give any thought to the possibility of being promoted to fill in for Belt.

Third baseman Ryder Jones went from playing with the River Cats in Fresno on July 19 to joining the Giants on July 20 in Oakland and rejoining the River Cats on July 21 in El Paso.

Jones was sitting in front of his locker as 11 p.m. approached when he received the news that he would join the Giants in Oakland. Instead of rising at an ungodly hour to catch a bus, Jones got a good night’s sleep in Fresno. The Giants dispatched a car to Fresno for Jones so he would arrive in plenty of the time for the game  at 6:35 p.m.

“It was definitely easier to sleep,” Jones said in an interview July 24. “It was kind of weird with the timing. I was a little frustrated after the game. I haven’t gone 0-for-5 in a while. I’ve been swinging it well. I just had a tough game.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy made the trip worthwhile for Jones by starting the 24-year-old at third base against the A’s. Jones repaid Bochy by belting a home run in the fifth inning to put the Giants ahead to stay in a 5-1 victory.

Belt could have missed as many as three games, and Jones would have remained with the Giants for the weekend. After learning he would start July 20, however, Jones figured the only reason he was in the lineup was because Bochy knew Belt would most likely return in time to play July 21 and did not want Jones’ trip to be for nothing.

“I though it would be the normal two or three days of paternity leave. That’s what I was expecting. No one ever told me,” Jones said. “I was just going to go in there and try to make a quick impact, just do something to contribute.”

His home run apparently was not enough to sway the Giants to consider keeping Jones when Belt returned and assigning another player to Sacramento. At this point in his career, Jones realizes he will have to take what he can get.

“I was happy to do it,” Jones said. “I don’t care if it was just for one day. That was kind of the plan. I think the coaching staff knew what the plan was. There’s a lot of people that would give up a lot just to play in the big leagues for one day. Even if I had hit four home runs, I think it would have been the same.”

Jones has time on his side. He turned 24 in June and already had 53 major-league games under his belt. He made his major-league debut on June 24, 2017. Just like last week, the River Cats were playing in Fresno at the time. Jones chuckled when asked if the River Cats would have another series this season in Fresno. They do not.

The Giants have Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval at third base, so they did not need Jones for the time being. Jones realizes the importance of playing regularly for the River Cats instead of going to waste on the Giants bench. And after hitting .173 in 150 at-bats with the Giants in 2017, it could be that he is right where he belongs.

“I think they want me to get a full season in Triple A. They want to give me that confidence of playing a full season down here. They want me to continue to develop,” Jones said. “They gave me a good look last year. I had a decent August (.240 average) and then just really struggled in September (.135). I got tired and got out of my ways a little bit. It humbled me a lot. When you start to struggle at a level like that, there’s a lot to deal with.”

Learning to cope with failure was not easy for Jones because “I felt like I was ready. I felt prepared.” Every rookie would love to announce his presence with authority. But for every Cody Bellinger, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, there are thousands of young players who crash and burn.

“I’m a guy that can get very disappointed in myself. That’s how I was last year,” Jones offered. “Everyone dreams of coming up and doing what Bellinger did last year. Every rookie wants to do that. And every fan wants every rookie to do that. It’s hard to deal with that pressure. Now when I take an 0-for-5, it’s not the end of the world.”

The world was still spinning July 20.

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