Two years ago, Los Banos High’s Bryce Howard had several Division 1 football offers on the table. As he weighed them, though, they dried up as schools filled their scholarships with other players, and Howard ended up at Menlo College of the NAIA.
Now, heading into his junior year, Howard believes Menlo is the place he was meant to be.
“God put me here for a reason. Everything’s working out beyond anything I could have dreamed of,” said Howard, who anchors the Menlo offensive line at left tackle. “I feel at home here, and I’ll be here the next two years. My teammates know that and they respect that. It’s kind of like a brotherhood.”
Howard is one of three Los Banos High graduates playing in either the NAIA or NCAA – Greg Williams plays linebacker for the NAIA’s Sterling College in Kansas, and Garrett Mentz is a running back for University of La Verne of the NCAA’s Division 3 in Southern California. Both Williams and Mentz are vying for starting positions with their respective teams.
Howard’s Oaks went 5-5 on an independent schedule last year, which was the team’s first under head coach Mark Grieb, a long-time Arena Football League quarterback. Howard said the team is feeling a lot more confident in camp this summer.
“Camp has taken off, and just the overall direction we’re heading is positive,” said the junior, who was voted a team captain this year. “Last year wasn’t a standout season for me.”
Howard said the offensive line never really jelled during the campaign, something that wasn’t limited to just the offensive line.
“We’re looking a lot better this season,” said business-real estate major. “We graduated a lot of seniors that had bad attitudes, and now everybody on the team has great attitudes. We’re all positive. All the younger guys are falling into line and doing what they need to do.”
Menlo opens the season on Aug. 23 at home against Eastern Oregon University.
Williams was a key cog in a physical Los Banos defense for three years and graduated in 2012, recording 77 tackles (7 for a loss) his senior year. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, he started five games for Sterling College, recording 20 tackles, a pair of sacks and an interception to help the Warriors to their first conference title and playoff berth in school history.
“It was a unique experience,” he said. The hardest part, though, was the weather as winter closed in on Kansas – he said the temperature in the final game of the season was in the high teens.
This year, Williams, with 15 pounds more muscle than his high school playing days, is confident he can be a full-time starter at outside linebacker. Graduations left him and one other player as the returning outside backers, though he said the team has some freshmen who can play.
“As long as I play up to my potential I’ll be fine,” the biology major said.
Mentz spent his career at LBHS as a backup to flashier running backs – Darron Brown his junior year and James Sams his senior year. He rushed 71 times for 522 yards as a senior in 2011.
His first two years at La Verne were similar, as a backup to Matthew Biggers, who set the school’s all-time career rushing yards mark as a senior last season. Mentz made the traveling squad (the top 50 players out of the 120 on the roster) early in the season as a special-teams player, but a hamstring injury left him at home in the second half of the season. He rushed just three times during the season, for no gain.
“My last two years, we had an All-American running back, so that was hard to get past,” Mentz said. “Late in the year, I was dealing with an injury. But this year, I’m looking forward to getting more carries.”
Mentz, a kinesiology major with a 3.3 grade-point average last year, said he and another junior will vie for the starting position during fall camp. The season starts Sept. 13 at George Fox University in Oregon.
Other local graduates playing junior college ball include Los Banos grads Keith Turner (receiver) and Markus Rico (linebacker) at Modesto and Derek Neves (kicker) at Merced College; Dos Palos grads Alexander Reeves (receiver) and Logan Enos (lineman) at Merced College; and Pacheco grad Sam Jiminez (receiver) at Merced College.
Players going into the college ranks this year include Pacheco linemen Wyatt Orozco to Menlo College to join Howard and Victor Cortez to Gavilan College in Gilroy, as well as Los Banos lineman Michael Severino to Monterey Peninsula College.