Playing for his brother, Chavez has big game for Wichita County
The Indians topped Hodgeman County 58-8 Friday
JETMORE, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Leoti-Wichita County senior end Manny Chavez has a tattoo on his right forearm of his brother Zach Chavez’s birth and death dates. He lived from Oct. 28, 1997 to Dec. 20, 2018 before an unexpected passing. Zach, who attend Leoti in early high school, was a budding MMA fighter and already recorded his first title bout.
At the time, Manny attended Tribune-Greeley County, located 22 miles west from Leoti. He had grown up in Leoti and moved to Tribune in fourth grade. Last year, Manny returned. He couldn’t play for the Indians because of transfer rules though served as a key scout team player.
In 2020, Chavez joined an elite squad and delivered a big game in a 58-8 road victory versus Jetmore-Hodgeman County on Friday. The game was called at halftime because of the 45-point mercy rule.
“It was something that made my mind to transfer back,” Manny said. “Just because I wanted to do bigger things for my brother.”
Chavez, voted a team captain, delivered five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He finished with 2.5 tackles for loss and recorded a 36-yard pick-six for the game’s final points with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the first half.
“Everyone loves him,” senior quarterback Kayde Rietzke said. “He does so much for the team.”
Leoti, with 15 seniors and multiple three- and four-year starters, is ranked third in Eight-Man, Division I. WC returns three first team all-state players: Rietzke, senior wide receiver Sheldon Whalen and senior lineman A.C. Hermosillo.
“I couldn’t ask for a better coach, better support, our community is crazy,” Chavez said. “They love to come watch football, and I love to play in front of them.”
Rietzke showed excellent touch on deep balls. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 241 yards and five touchdowns. Whalen recorded seven catches for 128 yards and three TDs. Wichita County worked every day in the summer on timing routes. Practice officially starts at 4 p.m., but the team is on the field at 3:45 running routes.
“He is one of the most accurate quarterbacks I have ever met in my life,” Chavez said.
Senior running back Jesse Gardner finished with seven carries for 93 yards and two TDs. Erhik Hermosillo, the only sophomore who significantly plays varsity, delivered two pass breakups, including one in the end zone.
The Indians improved to 4-0, 1-0 in District 7. Hodgeman County, ranked sixth in the classification, dropped to 3-1, 1-1. The six District 7 squads were a combined 15-1 after three weeks. Top-four reach the playoffs.
“They are the real deal,” Hodgeman County coach Matt Housman said. “Size and speed, and the passing game. The receivers can catch the ball nine, 10 feet in the air, so they are a very good team.”
WC has already defeated three opponents with winning records and has a collective score of 210-28.
“We played a really good team in Hoxie in Week 1, and we were having some mental mistakes,” Wichita County coach Brant Douglas said. “And the thing that I enjoy most about this team is the effort is always there. So it’s hard to correct effort. It’s really easy to correct mental mistakes, and that’s the most progress we’ve seen.”
Last week, the Indians beat Hill City, 48-0, in a marquee matchup, though the Ringnecks missed several players with injuries. This week, the contest was tied at eight with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter before WC scored 50 unanswered points.
“It was all mentality,” Chavez said. “My teammates stepped in. We all talked, and we all wanted the same thing. We all wanted to win, and after last week, we did the same thing to Hill City, and everyone said that it was because of injuries. Tonight was a statement game.”
Chavez grew up many of the current Wichita County players, including Rietzke, before he moved to Tribune. As well, Chavez’s older brother, Jose, played for Tribune-Greeley County. He is currently a linebacker for Sterling College. One day, Jose even came to a Wichita County practice to help when the Indians were short-handed.
“A bunch of good kids that work really hard,” Rietzke said.
Zach was engaged with a steady job and house. He enjoyed music, woodworking and spending time with his mother and siblings.
“He was doing great,” Manny said.
Rietzke heard rumors that Chavez might be returning. In summer 2019, Manny came back after Zach’s passing and Jose’s graduation. Rietzke said Chavez pushed the team all last fall in practice and on the sidelines during games.
“I was excited,” Rietzke said. “We played with him when we were in youth football. Hadn’t played with him since. I didn’t realize how good of an athlete he still was. Because I knew he was a big kid, but I didn’t realize. He came in in the summer right away, and he just started clicking. It’s like he never left.”
The Indians finished 10-2, went to the state semifinals and tied for the best showing in school annals. Chavez spent the entire year on JV and learned. Douglas said Chavez, known for his energy, provided a “great look on scout team,” which has transitioned to 2020. WC brought back virtually everyone, including all of the team’s rushing yards.
“It was very rough for me,” Chavez said. “It was slow. It was hard to be excited, but when I stepped in and saw the guys that were in the weight room and dedicated every day of summer in there with me, grinding. I saw and I knew they wanted it just as bad as me, so I was there for them, and now we are all here together, one common goal.”
Leoti scored on the game’s first drive on a five-yard pass from Rietzke to the 6-foot-1 Chavez. Entering the game, Chavez had 13 catches for 137 yards and two TDs, along with six tackles and three sacks. Chavez is a rare two-way player for WC.
“He knows the offense, he knows his job, and he’s committed to doing it 100 percent,” Douglas said.
Rietzke, known for his elusiveness, nearly took a sack on third down, though gained eight yards to set up the score on the next play.
“He’s a load, and he can do it all,” Housman said of Chavez. “He’s good. Both sides of the ball. He’s a difference maker.”
The Longhorns, without standout junior Drew Dansel because of a season-ending shoulder injury, had its only score after Isaac Salmans picked Rietzke and returned to the Leoti 14-yard line. He tallied an eight-yard rushing score.
However, on the next possession, Rietzke found Chavez for a 27-yard pass on 2nd and 19. Whalen caught an eight-yard TD to give WC the lead.
“We kind of struggled at the beginning,” Rietzke said. “We let them stick around. But once we get clicking, we kind of just get on that roll, and we were playing really well.”
Copyright 2020 Catch it Kansas. All rights reserved.