The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
When asked about College of San Mateo’s 318-yard rushing performance in Saturday’s 52-14 win over De Anza, Bulldogs head coach Larry Owens immediately praised how his offensive line recovered after a disorganized start.
“The O-line — these things don’t happen unless they block,” Owens said. “They did a very good job blocking and giving guys opportunities.”
The interior line was playing together for the first time since Week 2, when freshman left guard Api Mane departed with a neck injury. Saturday marked Mane’s first start since returning and he was admittedly a little rusty off the blocks. CSM struggled to move the ball in the first quarter, with quarterback Ryan Brand being sacked three times in the opening 15 minutes.
“Our linemen, we were confused with what gaps to take … but we took a look at how they made plays and went back and fixed it,” Mane said.
The confusion stemmed from CSM being only vaguely familiar with De Anza’s “Bear” defensive front. But at the start of the second quarter two things happened to lead the Bulldogs to a 21-point explosion in the second quarter, including a score on the second play of the quarter on a 22-yard run by running back Keenan Smith.
One, CSM got the strong College Heights Stadium wind to its back. But just as important, Mane and company on the front line started hitting their blocks through the middle, making the Bulldogs look like a different team.
“Once they did, and once [Mane] did, he got more and more comfortable with what he needed to do,” Owens said.
A grayshirt freshman out of Menlo-Atherton, Mane is one of two freshman guards upon whom the Bulldogs are relying this season.
“They have very little experience playing because they’re freshmen,” Owens said. “So it’s some of those kind of things where we’ve got to learn to play together.”
In just third start of the year Saturday, Mane is the most inexperienced of CSM’s linemen. He currently wears a neck guard to protect against further injury, though he said he is now 100 percent.
According to Smith — CSM’s leading rusher Saturday with 107 yards on 15 carries — Mane kept his head in the game during his injury downtime, which actually served him well once he got back to action when he was cleared to play last week.
“The time he was out, he stayed in his game and stayed focused,” Smith said. “I think being able to step back really helped him a lot.”
Mane is plenty experienced at the guard spot though. Through three years of varsity football at M-A, he started his career as a sophomore tackle before transitioning to the interior as a junior.
Taking a grayshirt last season was a tough decision though, as Mane didn’t want to miss a year of competitive football. He opted to bypass the active roster in an effort to shore up his academics. And just as he did with his downtime in season this year, he used his grayshirt season of 2015 as a chance to improve his game.
“I lost some weight and put on some speed,” Mane said. “It’s good to be back.”
Converting from the wing-T to the pistol offense this season, CSM has moved away from the slot-intensive end-around runs of years past. But the Bulldogs relied on staying between tackles with the rushing attack even more Saturday, with sophomore slot receiver Ramiah Marshall sitting for the second straight game.
Sophomore center Vita Maumalanga brought some key stability to the interior line. He is one of just two sophomores up front, along with tackle Pesa Tupa, a Carlmont grad. Freshman George Moore patrols the other tackle position.
With Mane honing in on executing his blocking assignments, perhaps the best block he levied in the game came amid a 7-7 tie during the second quarter when he helped open a huge hole through the middle for a 33-yard run by Smith to make the red zone. Three plays later, CSM took the lead on a blast right through the middle on a 2-yard run by Joey Wood.
Mane said he is so focused on his blocks, he doesn’t know the result of his running backs’ gains until a given play is over.
“I just know when the referee blows a whistle and we’re downfield 15 yards,” Mane said.
But he got plenty of good news after the whistle as the Bulldogs posted their second best rushing performance as a team this season.