Can it be?
UC Davis running back Gabe Manzanares is about to saddle up?
Since last spring, when the Aggies’ breakout player of 2013 injured his foot, the reigning Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year has been pacing the sidelines.
Manzanares hasn’t popped a pad since helping destroy Sacramento State, 34-7, last Nov. 23.
Manzanares’ two early touchdowns that day softened up the Hornets, then he wore them out with 220 yards total offense.
The City College of San Francisco transfer finished the schedule with 1,285 yards on the ground. He scored 11 of UCD’s 25 touchdowns.
So, where have you gone Joe DiMag, er, Gabe?
“I’ve been on a strict rehab program,” Manzanares told me. “They have me working out, strengthening my foot so when I’m good to go, I’m really good to go.”
Manzanares was doing shadow cuts, running hard and kept moving during workouts this week — but he remained absent from on-field drills.
With Division-II Fort Lewis in town this week, UCD coach Ron Gould says No. 41 again will be out of the lineup.
“We thought he’d be ready to go by now, but unfortunately he’s not. It’s going to be another week before he’s ready. That’s my doing,” Gould explained. “The biggest thing … is making sure this young man is 100 percent.”
All along Gould has said his bell cow will be coming back.
Finally, on Wednesday, the second-year coach spilled the beans:
“He’ll be ready to go the following week (Sept. 13 at Colorado State).”
Gould’s caution has made sense.
Manzanares may not have made much of a difference in the season-opening 45-0 loss at Stanford and certainly the Aggies have enough to handle a struggling D-II team like the Skyhawks. (Fort Lewis is one year removed from an 0-10 showing and hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.)
UCD, nonetheless, is a different team without Manzanares.
But even if Gould backs off his promise of using his star against the Football Bowl Subdivision Rams, he can be forgiven.
Big Sky play begins at home on Sept. 27 with defending champion Eastern Washington. Those league games are the big fish the Aggies most want to fry. And judging from Manzanares’ impact last year — and All-Big Sky preseason accolades — he’d be more than ready to light that fire if he received a couple more of those “cautionary” weeks off from Gould.
But it looks like Manzanares will have none of it. He’s been in the coach’s ear about being game-ready.
“That’s just the competitor in me,” the 5-foot-9, 195-pound tailback explained. “It’s hard. I want to be out there, contributing with my teammates.”
Gabe said he’s fallen back on his family for support and encouragement.
Brothers Gustavo and Marvin, sister Marlene and mom Barbara have been, as Manzanares puts it, “my rocks.”
“They’re awesome. I talk to them a lot,” he continued. “They share the disappointment with me, but more than anything they motivate me; tell me to keep my head up; to stay focused; and get back as soon as I can.”
Meanwhile, Gould points out something every Aggie fan already knew: “He’s the heartbeat of our team. But one of the things that can happen when you get injured is you pull yourself back (at practice). So I had a long talk with him.
“He’s earned the respect of his peers, but it’s central for him not to withdraw his heart, but to stay in there.”
Gould need not worry.
Manzanares is sick of spending countless hours in a walking boot and wearing that injured-player red jersey in practice.
He’s been an encouraging outpost on the sidelines and, as Gould mentioned, “knows the game. He is an extension of the coaches. He sees it and can go out there and help make the corrections (working with the backs during practice).
“He’s champing at the bit.”
Everyone in Aggie Nation is anxious. With Manzanares carrying the ball, UC Davis will get to pick up where it left off (winning five of its final eight games).
While I Have You Here: There are a couple more Profiles in Courage being enacted by two ex-Davis High football players.
Former Blue Devil running back Courtney Williams and one-time DHS wide receiver C.K. Hicks are on the comeback trail.
Williams, who was brilliant as a redshirt freshman at UCD, scoring six touchdowns on limited opportunities (31 carries, 199 yards, 6.3 per carry), is back in camp as a medical redshirt junior.
A knee injury kept him out of 2013. Unfortunately, being hurt is something Williams knows all too well. Hip, thigh and ankle injuries plagued him throughout high school. He never regained the prep promise of a sophomore season that saw the Devil tailback go for 1,011 yards and 13 TDs — including a school-record five touchdowns in a half.
“He’s been doing a great job in rehab, busting his tail,” Gould says of the DHS record-holder in the 100 meters (10.88). “He’s been able to jog … coming along.”
We also just discovered that the highlight-a-minute Hicks is redshirting as his comeback saga at American River College continues.
Hicks suffered a catastrophic knee injury during a showcase camp at UCLA. He missed his 2013-14 senior year at DHS, where he had also played basketball and baseball.
But Hicks is upbeat, says the knee feels pretty good and — after going through ARC camp — understands the redshirt designation:
“This year is more of a get bigger, faster and stronger for next year type of thing.”
Hicks caught 56 passes for 1,175 yards and 11 touchdowns his first two Blue Devil years.
His 79-yard TD catch-and-jaunt against Colfax on Sept. 23, 2011 was considered by many the region’s Play of the Year.
Anyway, bet on these guys back in action this time in 2015.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.