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Local Pirates shine

MJC football once again influenced by Turlock-area kids

Local Pirates shine

MJC quarterback Quinton McCown, left, hands off the ball to running back Markus Sanders during a night practice at MJC Stadium this week. McCown (Hilmar High) and Sanders (Pitman High) are former f...


POSTED September 16, 2011 8:10 p.m.

MODESTO — It was one of those moments that couldn’t have happened a couple years ago.

Quarterback Quinton McCown called a play during a recent evening practice, speaking a language that only his teammates and coaches understand. Once the ball was snapped, he handed it off to the freight train known as Markus Sanders.

Within the Modesto Junior College football program, this scene was a usual occurrence.

A couple years ago, well, this scene was unimaginable. That’s because, at the time, McCown was quarterbacking Hilmar High and Sanders was collecting yards for Pitman High — schools not only separated by about 10 miles but also a few classifications. Today, these two are teammates. They call each other family.

And for McCown and Sanders, as well as a slew of other footballers from the Turlock area, MJC is their new home. The quarterback-running back duo, along with Donovan Smith (Hilmar), Jaime Lemus (Pitman), David Gianesin (Pitman), Drew Jonson (Turlock) and Dylan Souza (Denair), are making the best out of their new situation.

“It made me feel at ease knowing some of the guys already,” said Sanders, who shared the same Pitman roster with Gianesin and Lemus during the 2009 high school season, “but at the same time, this team is a family. We all get along.”

This MJC team is unified, especially after the Pirates rolled over Sacramento City with an impressive 32-21 win in the season opener last week. And yes, the kids from the Turlock area contributed more than just cheering on for each other.

Despite getting sacked four times, McCown got up and, in his first start as the MJC quarterback, completed 19 of 35 passes for four touchdowns and 196 yards. Sanders, who is all muscles, rushed 22 times for 109 yards and one score, and Gianesin, a lengthy wide receiver, pulled down nine catches for 127 yards.

So there you go: Three of the main offensive positions on the MJC roster are held down by kids from the Turlock area.

Of course, it’s not unusual to see locals playing for the Pirates. They’re known for keeping their talent search strictly in the area, from Patterson to Sonora and from Merced to Manteca. It’s a philosophy that is practiced heavily every year, thanks to longtime coach Sam Young, who’s been at it for four decades now at MJC.

“We’ve had very few kids beyond those boundaries,” he said. “We just believe in a true community college. We’re serving the players in our community, giving the opportunity to keep playing football and perhaps play football at a four-year college.”

Yes, MJC is a stepping stone. A basket outside of Young’s office is filled with letters from four-year colleges across the country interested in his players. Last season, the Pirates star quarterback, Devin Combs, signed with Nevada. That kind of recognition will continue this season.

Sanders, a sophomore, said he plans to go to Wisconsin after his time at MJC. McCown wants to travel the same route, though he has another year after he redshirted last season to watch and learn from Combs.

 But for now, the focus is on this season. The next mission is today’s game at Hartnell Community College in Salinas at 6 p.m.

 The Pirates are on target to repeat the 2010 success, in which they went 8-3 and stomped on Diablo Valley in the Graffiti Bowl. They returned seven starters, a group that will lead this year’s team to another strong campaign.

 And how are they going to do that?

 Sticking together as a family, of course, despite what part of the Modesto area they’re from.

“We’re a true team,” McCown said. “We’re together 24/7. If we’re not in class, we’re in the locker room, goofing around, having fun, but they do know when to take it serious. Overall, I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail csun@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.

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