After the pandemic put a stop to last year’s football season at Modesto Junior College, the Pirates have learned that former Turlock High School running back Anthony Frias II was well worth the wait.
The 2020 Bulldog graduate exploded during his freshman season this fall, which saw him named to both the All-State and All-League teams after leading California JUCO backs in touchdowns and the Valley League in rushing yards. Frias averaged 77.4 yards per game this season, rushing for 851 yards and the state-high 17 touchdowns.
“I feel like they're a reflection of the work that I've put in for, basically now, two years,” Frias said of his accolades. “I'm happy that I'm starting to see some results out of all the late nights behind closed doors in the gym and days out on the field.”
If Frias’ name sounds familiar, it’s likely because he’s no stranger to seeing his name in the Turlock Journal. The 2020 Bulldog graduate made the All-Journal Football Team in both 2018 and 2019, and he helped Turlock earn back-to-back, undefeated Central California Athletic League titles during his time on varsity.
Instead of rushing into the end zone at Joe Debely Stadium these days, Frias has now made a name for himself as part of one of the state’s top JUCO football programs — the Pirates came into the 2021 season ranked No. 8 in the state, and finished as Valley League co-champions.
After graduating in the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Frias knew JUCO (short for junior college) was the path for him as he looked for the next step in his football career. Playing for a JUCO program has provided valuable exposure for Frias, who dreams of playing for Michigan State one day, all while earning his associate’s degree.
“Playing here is definitely not a step backward, but just a smaller step forward to the ultimate goal,” Frias said. “Right off the bat, what I noticed was that these people playing here at JUCO are serious and I really liked that. I felt like everybody had the same goal: no one was there to play football just to wear the jersey. Everybody plays because this is what they love and this is what they want to do. We all want to go D-I and we all want to go pro.”
The journey from his last high school football game in 2019 to his first taste of college competition in 2021 was a long time coming — and the hard work he put in during those two years showed this season on the gridiron. Frias said the support of his father has catapulted him into his successful football career, and the garage weight room the pair spent years putting together at their house came in handy during the pandemic.
Unable to train with the team during last year’s cancelled season, Frias hit his personal weight room and practiced regularly to stay in tip-top shape for the next year. He knew he had stiff competition at running back in Pitman High alum Payton Bass, and he wanted to let his former Bulldog teammates, like wide receiver Lucas Curtis, tight end Holden Baldwin and linebacker Jayden Jackson, know he still had what it takes.
“We picked up right where we left off,” Frias said of playing with his friends. “It would be nice to get offers to the same school, but we know our road might come to an end soon and this is our last dance together. It’s an amazing experience to play again with all of these guys. It just feels like home.”
The Pirates roster is made up of countless local athletes who grew up playing against one another — a big part of the reason the team has such palpable chemistry and success. Frias has received at least one offer to play football at a university next season and hopes the offseason will bring plenty more his way.
Until then, he’s focused on following up his breakout freshman season with even more success.
“I’m taking my time and definitely want to see what my options are. But if I come back to MJC, I won’t mind. I love my coaches and my teammates and know that we could have another great season,” Frias said. “I definitely want to carry this season’s success over to next year because once you get a little taste, you want the accomplishments to keep rolling in.”