Feelin' the heat: Los Banos linemen headed to Arizona JC

June 25, 2009 

Almost all of the North offensive linemen were huddled around the water cooler during a break at practice.

All except Damon Bragner.

The former Los Banos star was kneeling down out in the grass.

Almost like he was enjoying the triple-digit heat during this June afternoon as he and his teammates prepared for the Chowchilla Rotary North/South All-Star football game this Friday.

Bragner and his Los Banos teammate Manuel Lira should get used to the heat.

The two linemen have accepted scholarships to play football at Arizona Western Junior College in Yuma, Ariz. in the fall.

"Every time I tell somebody where I'm going to school, they tell me it's going to be hot," Bragner said.

Lira checks the temperature in Yuma regularly.

"Today it was 105 degrees," Lira said on Tuesday. "Our coaches tell us it's not that hot because there's no humidity.

"The heat doesn't matter. It's still just football."

It's hard to miss Bragner or Lira.

Even on a field of all-stars, the two Los Banos behemoths stand out.

Bragner is usually the one tossing defensive lineman around like ragdolls.

"We just call him a monster," Lira said. "He used to be a beast, but he stepped up to a monster.

"I've watched him toss people around so much on film the last couple years, I come to expect it."

Both Bragner and Lira measure out at about 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds.

Bragner anchored the offensive line and Lira dominated from defensive tackle.

"Manny is just a freak," Bragner said. "I think the one play that sticks out is when he intercepted a pass against Merced our junior year in the last game of the season.

"The ball was tipped and he showed he's got some pretty good mitts. He even took it back about six yards."

The opportunity to get full-ride scholarships was too much to pass up for Lira and Bragner.

"The story I heard was when Manny went to visit, the coaches told him they could offer him a full-ride scholarship that included room and board," Los Banos coach Dennis Stubbs said.

"Manny asked, 'Does that include food?' They told him yes and he said, 'Where do I sign?' "

Stubbs has seen the two players develop in his two years at Los Banos.

"They've both come a long way," Stubbs said. "They had to be pushed early. Both are very good players and did a great job for us.

"If Manny wasn't the best, he was one of the best defensive linemen around.

"If someone got in Damon's way, he got tough.

"Both spent a lot of time in the weight room. They're not just large, they're both strong."

The only question may be if the Los Banos duo decide to room together, will one dorm room be big enough for the two of them?

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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