Three seniors deserve final bow


The curtain will fall on the 2021 baseball season for Vacaville and Will C. Wood high schools on Thursday when the Wildcats travel across town to face the Bulldogs at 4 p.m. Before the lights are turned out, these three seniors deserve to take a bow before they exit stage left.

Kobe Rolling (from left), Juan Martinez and Daniel Navarro

Daniel Navarro and Kobe Rolling, Will C. Wood

Navarro and Rolling came to the rescue of Fairfield pitcher Juan Martinez on March 30 after Martinez was calling for balking on consecutive pitches. Martinez had no idea what was wrong because he speaks Spanish and could not understand the umpire. Fairfield coach Nick Spini did not fare any better when he went to the mound after the first balk with another Spanish-speaking player, whom Spini said could not translate a balk because he never heard of it.

The second balk call prompted Navarro and Rolling to go to the mound. Navarro’s father was raised in Mexico and only speaks Spanish. Rolling was enrolled in the Dual Immersion program as a youngster, so he learned Spanish before English. Martinez’s plight was all too familiar for Navarro, who did not speak English when he arrived at Wood in the fall of 2017.

“I felt his pain,” said Navarro, who credits teachers such as Katie Stonebraker at Wood for investing the time and diligence to help him become bilingual.

Martinez did not know what to think as two members of the opposing team made their way to the mound. “He was shocked,” Navarro said. Rolling added, “He had his guard up. I think he was a little scared. It has to be frightening when you don’t understand English.”

That the Wildcats had a 14-0 lead at the time had nothing to do with Rolling’s decision to go to the mound and take along Navarro. “I still would have gone out there if (the score) was opposite,” Rolling said. “It was the right thing to do at the right moment.”

Navarro and Rolling will be honored Thursday evening by the Governing Board of the Vacaville Unified School District during its meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

Austin Menesini, Vacaville

Four juniors made the 24-player varsity roster for the Bulldogs in 2020. Menesini was not one of them. The catcher was sent down to the junior varsity to play with his brother JJ, a sophomore. When COVID-19 wiped out the season, Menesini had plenty of time to stew after having assumed he would make the varsity.

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Austin Menesini

“I was in shock to be honest with you. I have high expectations for myself,” Menesini said. “I called my parents to tell them what happened and they told me I could stick it out or quit. I’m not a quitter. I knew what I had to do to get better. With all that was going on, I had to overcome it. I was motivated to prove people wrong.”

Among those people would be a few varsity players who teased Menesini for being demoted to the junior varsity, “They did make fun of me a lot,” he said. “They were chirping at me.”

Coach Stu Clary said it was not if Menesini did anything wrong during tryouts. Menesini was simply the odd man out with three senior catchers on the varsity. “It wouldn’t have been good to have him sit there and watch those three play,” Clary said. “And it wasn’t like we could just put him in left field. Our positions were stacked last year.”

Menesini’s perseverance has paid off this spring. He is the starting catcher for the Bulldogs and is batting .400 as the leadoff hitter. He had two hits, including a triple to drive in his brother, in Vacaville’s 16-2 victory over Wood on Tuesday. It might have taken Menesini three years to make his varsity, but he is certainly making the most of it.

“When there’s a bump in the road, you don’t give up. You go around it,” Menesini said. “I had to find my way around it.”

First play often goes astray

Hunter Rodrigues has figured out how to conquer his nerves as the starting quarterback for UC Davis. All the junior has to do to calm down is botch the first offensive play. He did that twice in three March victories for the Aggies, so getting his worst play out of the way right away was not catastrophic. 

Confusion on the first play March 6 at Idaho led to Rodrigues mishandling the snap and having to scramble to recover the loose ball. “We got (to the line of scrimmage) a little late and the play clock was going down,” Rodrigues said. “It was down to about 5 seconds and we were all trying to rush. Not a good start.”

Hunter Rodrigues was nearly sacked for a safety and then fumbled on the first play against Cal Poly on March 26. UC Davis went on to win 73-24.

Rodrigues bounced back to complete 23 of 29 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-17 victory. UC Davis knocked off the No. 19 team in the FCS rankings and then joined the Top 25 at No. 23.

The first play against Cal Poly on March 26 was worse. A holding penalty on the opening kickoff left UC Davis starting its first possession at the 9-yard line. Rodrigues dropped back to pass and was immediately under pressure. He retreated into the end zone and then scrambled to his left with Cal Poly’s Lance Vecchio in pursuit. Vecchio caught Rodrigues, who lost the ball on his way to the turf.

Rodrigues lost the ball because he was trying to flip it forward in hopes of the play being ruled an incomplete pass. “No (receiver) was open, so I was rolling out trying to find someone,” Rodrigues said. “I noticed I was in the end zone and I didn’t want to take a safety. I should have thrown it away sooner.

“Yeah, another not a good start.”

The Mustangs recovered the fumble, but the Aggies defense bailed out Rodrigues by limiting Cal Poly to a field goal. The turnover by Rodriguez was long forgotten by halftime, when UC Davis led 49-10 on its way to a 73-24 victory. UC Davis was to play Cal Poly again on April 10, but Cal Poly  has bowed out.

That leaves UC Davis (3-1) with one more game this spring. The Aggies, who are No. 11 in the FCS rankings, will host No. 9 Eastern Washington (3-1) on Saturday with the winner likely receiving an at-large berth to the 16-team FCS playoffs. Eleven conference champions will receive automatic berths, leaving just five at-large bids.

Weber State (3-0), which is ranked No 3, will likely receive the Big Sky’s automatic bid when the FCS playoff field is announced April 18. The Wildcats’ remaining games are against two 1-3 teams in Southern Utah and Idaho State. Weber State beat UC Davis 18-13 on March 13 and will not play Eastern Washington.

Rodrigues welcomes the challenge of facing Eastern Washington with the opportunity to lead the Aggies to their first win against the Eagles in nine meetings. The Whitney High School (Rocklin) graduate arrived at UC Davis from American River College in 2018, when the Aggies lost 59-20 to the Eagles in the regular season and 34-29 in the FCS quarterfinals. 

UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier was the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year in 2018, but he was not at his best against Eastern Washington. He threw two interceptions in each loss. To put that in perspective, he was picked off just six times in the other 11 games. When asked about Maier’s performances against the Eagles, Rodrigues looked beyond the errant passes to see what made Maier so successful.

“It was the true grit that you have to have to play this position,” Rodrigues said. “You have to put your heart and should into this position in order to be successful. It meant everything to (Maier). It means everything to me to play at my best when the best is needed.”

Rodrigues will have to be at his best against Eastern Washington – except for the first play. That is the one he can afford to botch because “it takes away any nerves or butterflies you might have.” 

He would know.Edit

Phat times at Oak Ridge High

Eric Cavaliere has never had it so good as Oak Ridge High School’s football coach. He enters his 14th season at the helm of the Trojans after claiming his first Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 2019. One of his prize pupils, Ian Book, is the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. And his current quarterback, Justin Lamson, was voted the All-Metro Player of the Year by the Sacramento Bee as just a junior.

Life is going so well for Cavaliere that the 1987 Vacaville High School graduate can afford to take it easy occasionally. He did that one recent morning, relaxing in the football bleachers at Oak Ridge with flip flops on his feet and a few weeks of growth on his face, to watch a handful of quarterbacks toss passes to receivers.

Justin Lamson (right) is following in the footsteps of Ian Book (left) at Oak Ridge.

In that group was Book, who is working out in his old stomping grounds after the coronavirus led Notre Dame to cancel classes on campus and spring football practice. He was joined by Lamson, who is having a difficult time with social distancing because he wants to hear any wisdom Book is willing to share. Book has no problem with any player, even an eighth-grader, wanting to work and pick his brain.

“I know what it would have meant to me when I was their age,” said Book, who is returning for a fifth year at Notre Dame after throwing for 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2019 as the Fighting Irish finished 11-2 by winning their last six games in a season for the first time since 1992.

Cavaliere and Book went out for lunch after that workout. Their conversation ranged from the Book family dog Duke to Book offering his thoughts on Lamson and Oak Ridge’s prospects for the 2020 season. Book frequently checked his phone for updates on Duke, which was bitten by a rattlesnake on a walk with Book’s father Rich. Book breathed a sigh of relief after learning just one or the snake’s fangs sank into Duke’s nose. 

Comforted by the good news, Book shifted gears to football by asking Cavaliere about one Oak Ridge player after another. Book has followed the Trojans from afar and knows who’s who on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Cavaliere never ceases to be amazed by Book’s vested interest in Trojans football.

Eric Cavaliere

“Here is the quarterback at Notre Dame going into his final season and Ian knows the names of the guys on our team,” Cavaliere said. “He’s got plenty of things to think about, but he takes a lot of pride in our school. He’ll always be an Oak Ridge Trojan. He wants us to do well. He wants our team to kick butt.”

Cavaliere takes great pride in having played football at Vacaville High and hopes his players will be just as proud once their time at Oak Ridge comes to an end. “I want them to leave with that same kind of feeling regardless of our record or anything else. That’s always been of my goals,” he said. “This is a community school. We’re not a renegade school. We don’t have transfers coming here from all over the state, You have to live here to come here.”

Book has fond memories of being a three-year starter at quarterback for Cavaliere at Oak Ridge. The 22-year-old was weighing scholarship offers from Boise State and Washington State in 2015 when Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford left to take the same position at Notre Dame. Book went from nearly committing to Boise State because of Sanford to pledging he would play at Washington State.

Sanford apparently thought enough of Book in recruiting him to Boise State that he invited Book to visit South Bend shortly after he joined the Notre Dame staff. Book was returning from a cruise with his parents at the time, so they went with him from Miami to Notre Dame and a meeting with Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly. Book had little reason to think as a three-star recruit that Kelly would offer him a scholarship.

“I sure hoped for one,” Book recalled. “It was a good visit. I felt at home.”

Without spring practice at Notre Dame, Ian Book returned to Oak Ridge to train.

Finding a home has not been as easy for Sanford, who left Notre Dame after just two seasons to become the head coach at Western Kentucky. He was fired by the Hilltoppers after two years and was Utah State’s offensive coordinator in 2019. Sanford then packed his bags again for the same job at Minnesota.

Brandon Wimbush has also been on the move, transferring from Notre Dame to Central Florida in 2019 after being supplanted by Book despite a 3-0 start in the 2018 season. The Fighting Irish went 11-0 in the regular season and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff. Book was no match for Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence in the Cotton Bowl. Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 30-3 rout. Book passed for 160 yards and was sacked six times.

Notre Dame is 19-4 with Book as the starter, and he deserves to be credited with a 20th victory after bailing out Wimbush in the 2018 Citrus Bowl by lifting Notre Dame to a 21-17 win over LSU. Book was 14-of-19 for 164 yards and two touchdowns as Notre Dame won its first New Year’s Day bowl since 1994.

Book has come a long way since that difficult day in 2015 when he called Graham Harrell, who had recruited Book for Washington State, and left a message. Harrell replied with a text as Book was in a movie theater with a few friends. Book left the theater to call Harrell and renege on his verbal commitment. 

To this day, Book does not remember the title of the movie or if he returned to the theater and rejoined his friends after making the call. “I was so rattled,” Book said.

Sanford and Book have gone their separate ways since Sanford asked Book to visit Notre Dame, but Book will never forget how he got to where he is today and the people such as Cavaliere and Sanford who paved the path for him.

“(Sanford) give me my shot. The relationship between us is still there. I will always appreciate him for the opportunity I got,” Book said. “I’ll talk a walk and think about how fortunate I’ve been. I do it a lot. I’ll go by the stadium at night after studying and think about how lucky I am.”