Under former UC Davis head coach and former quarterback Bob Biggs, the Cal Poly football team had become accustomed to a rival Aggies program known for a remarkable passing attack.
Hard-charging running back Gabe Manzanares, among the Big Sky Conference’s best running backs, is helping to change that under new head coach Ron Gould.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Manzanares has been a big surprise for UC Davis.
He joined the program this fall as a walk-on transfer from City College of San Francisco, where he was a backup for a state finalist that produced 15 Division I signees, including Cal Poly offensive lineman Sean McDonald.
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But when Manzanares showed up, he quietly took over the Aggies’ rushing game.
“He didn’t have spring ball, didn’t have a chance to learn the offense,” Gould said, “and every day to see him work, you wouldn’t know he was on the field.
“He never says a word. He’s sitting right there, but he takes in everything. He’s a professional. He’s a learner. His work ethic is flawless. It’s incredible, and because of how hard he works, he really has permeated through our whole team.”
With 890 yards, Manzanares ranks 16th in the FCS and second in the conference. He’s been able to win admirers through a punishing style.
“If we added up the yards after contact,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said, “it’s incredible how many yards he’s getting, and that’s the sign of a great running back. You can get so many yards because of how good your offensive line is. It’s what you do after the fact, and I think he’s really made some outstanding runs and turned them into big plays.
The Mustangs used 6-1, 225-pound freshman slotback Jake Brito on the scout team this week to give their defense plenty of practice to get ready for Manzanares.
“That’s an emphasis this week,” Walsh said, “because we better be able to tackle because he breaks tackles and he bounces off tackles.”