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Zack Mercado

Sky is the limit for Vacaville Christian’s Mercado

October 8, 2020/Chris Jackson

Zack Mercado’s father reached out to one of the most prominent line coaches, and there was no hesitation to work out with the young phenom from Vacaville Christian.

Aaron Day, a defensive line trainer who focuses on rushing the passer, saw it all when Mercado’s father connected with him, and he has seen why those around Mercado rave about the defensive lineman every chance they can.

“With him it’s the ability to pick up things quickly and to put them to use,” Day said. “I give him a couple moves, I try not to put too much on his plate, but he’s been able to surpass my expectations and just keep going. He’s very tenacious, really attacks things. He has an ability to bend and not only just bend, but he can put his hands in the ground and muscle people out of his way. He’s very strong. 

“He’s a special talent.”

– Aaron Day

Mercado’s first varsity campaign his sophomore season in 2019 said it all.

In Vacaville Christian’s run to a 7-5 record and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals appearance, which was the program’s first playoff appearance since 2014 and was also a year when it won its first playoff game since 2011, Mercado was dominant every step of the way. He registered 119 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, 28 hurries and one blocked punt, earning his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors in the region

And Mercado reminds Vacaville Christian head coach Manny Tarango of Armon Bailey, who is now a linebacker at Sacramento State and played for Tarango when Tarango was a defensive coordinator at Vanden.

Both players are intentional. They’re deliberate. They’re extremely hard on themselves, no matter how well they performed or what type of big play they just made.

“Zack pushes himself and holds himself to such a high standard,” Tarango said. “This is a guy that wakes up and watches film on a game and says, ‘My hand placement when I was holding that B gap was off six inches. And if I had got a little bit lower, I would have been able to push the pocket and I would have been able to get that sack instead of the quarterback hurry.’”

There is still so much more room for Mercado to grow, which is exactly what he has done during this extended offseason before his junior season officially rolls around in a few months.

Mercado is 6-2 and 245 pounds and has been a menace at every showcase he’s attended, displaying a burst right away that is tricky for any opposing offensive lineman to maneuver against.

“He has the athleticism to be able to move and pull, but he has the strength and the power to be able to just be, he can be like an Aaron Donald,” Tarango said. “He can hold a gap. He can change the direction of a game, and he’s only 6-2, 245. He’s still growing. But he plays like he’s much bigger. He’s super humble. He’s one of those guys that is very quiet in the classroom. 

“He just gets in, does his work, 3.8 GPA, but he’s just so cognizant of what he’s doing and how he’s doing it, and he plays with such a reckless abandonment.”

The sky is only the limit from here going forward.

With 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as just a sophomore for a team that went as far as it did a year ago, the expectations are higher now. Once colleges can start recruiting in person again – the NCAA dead period was extended to Jan. 1, 2020 – Day sees the recruiting process taking off for Mercado.

“I think once they physically see the kid that they’ll see on film, especially this season, because his film is going to be very, very good,” Day said. “Once they see him in person, they can put somebody physically in front of them and see what he’s all about. He’s going to start taking off as far as offers come or just attention.”

“It’s going to help me with everything – recruiting, in game, just everything, the proper technique that he’s telling me to do,” Mercado said. “It’s just on the field, off the field, just me as a person – it’s going to help with everything.”

Maybe another Defensive Player of the Year award is on the way, too.

“I can’t say enough about Zack Mercado,” Tarango said.

“The kid has a motor. I think we might see our first two-time Defensive Player of the Year out of this season because I just don’t know if they’ll be able to block him. He’s bigger, stronger, faster, and he has an unrelentless will to succeed. I just love Zack.”

– Coach Tarango
Kendall Allen

‘Dog mentality’ carries Allen into three-sport sensation

September 13, 2020/Chris Jackson/No Comments

The simplest way for Vacaville Christian head football coach Manny Tarango to describe three-sport sensation Kendall Allen is to look back at one of his former players.

Tarango remembers back when he was coaching Javin White. The two had started working together from when White was 11 or 12 years old all the way yp to White’s junior season at Vanden, where Tarango was on the staff until becoming Vacaville Christian’s newest leader, before White moved over to McClymonds.

White ended up shining at McClymonds, where he developed into a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and was a first team all-league selection while ending up at UNLV to play college football at the next level.

Now, White just wrapped up a remarkable stint at UNLV, winning Mountain Defensive Player of the Year honors and signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders last month.

“I got to go to all his games, as many as I could go, graduation, the whole thing,” Tarango said. “That’s like my son. We used to workout at 4 o’clock in the morning. I would take him to school and then I would see him at football practice. He would come over on the weekends, and so because of that relationship I always knew that Javin was going to end up being in the league because he is, and I say that because he and Kendall share that same.”

What made White special is exactly what has Allen destined for a career in athletics beyond high school, too. 

Even if the success is there, Allen is going full throttle every single rep in practice and every single time he’s competing – whether that’s on the football field, on the basketball court or on the track.

“These guys are just dogs,” Tarango said. “Javin and Kendall hold themselves to a standard that I don’t think anybody could ever touch. When Kendall works out, Kendall is going a 100 miles an hour and nothing is good enough for him. And now some people may be like, ‘Well, that’s kind of obsessive, compulsive, but no.’ He just understands, ‘If I want to be the best, I have to work like I’m No. 2 chasing No. 1.’ And he is out there, and on game day he is the ultimate competitor.”

It’s simply like watching Russell Westbrook, whose aggression and will to win every single play has helped him morph into an NBA All-Star.

Kendall Allen was an award winner at the Exposure Academy Boys Basketball Showcase. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo

In basketball alone, Allen’s stardom has guided Vacaville Christian to unprecedented heights every single time he and his teammates step foot on the hardwood. As a freshman, Allen averaged 13.9 points per game while coming off the bench in the Falcons’ run to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship.

His sophomore year saw those numbers skyrocket, amassing 21.8 points per contest and being named the MVP of the squad as Vacaville Christian was a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinalist.

“When he goes up and dunks, he’s trying to break the rim off,” Tarango said. “He plays with an anger but at the same time he’s just a good hearted kid, and he’s constantly working on his craft. He just wants to compete and he doesn’t do it in a disrespectful manner.”

This type of athleticism was noticed a couple of years ago from Allen, citing a conversation with his mother when they understood that the sky was the limit for him.

“Seventh grade summer going into eighth grade,” Allen said. “I kind of hit a little bit of a growth spurt and I started getting my athleticism and stuff. It was always born with me, but I was always a small kid. That’s when I knew. I told my Mom I could actually do something with this athleticism and my God given talent, too.”

Meanwhile, Allen’s talents in every other sport he competes in are evident each and every night.

During his first year at VCS, Allen recorded 994 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, following that up with 992 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore to bump the Falcons’ win total from one to seven while appearing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals.

And Allen’s resume also features being a Junior Olympian.

“He works his butt off,” said Vacaville Christian senior receiver Jaron Leaks, whose offer list includes UC Davis. “That guy – what an athlete. He’s just wonderful. I love that kid to death. He just knows how to work hard.”

It’s all that “dog mentality” Tarango alluded to, with his constant hours perfecting his craft with fellow teammates paying enormous dividends.

Allen, Leaks and others have worked out three and four times per day. They’re getting up early to run a few miles. 

Plus, Allen is attending every showcase and camp he can, most recently having a three-showcase weekend over Labor Day with the xposure Academy Football Showcase on Friday night in Vacaville, the Xclusive Speed Bay Area Top 100 Showcase Saturday morning and the Exposure Academy Boys Basketball Showcase on Sunday – the latter being a day when he also earned an award from the coaching staff.

“He does it to the point where if he lines up at wide receiver, he’ll tell you I have to make this corner know that I’m the best receiver that he’s going to guard all year,” Tarango said. “That’s his mentality every single day, on the basketball court, when we’re doing 400s on the track, when he’s out at practice just going up against his teammates in 1 on 1s or whatever.”

No schools have offered Allen yet, but schools from across the region are interested, like Hawaii, Sacramento State and Utah, to name a few.

But all Allen is focused on is continuing his progress as an athlete and adding more banners to Vacaville Christian’s athletic department.

“For myself I want to make the all-state nominee again,” Allen said. “I want to win Offensive Player of the Year. I’m trying to get 1,200-plus receiving yards, and then as a team I want to win state. I want to win. I don’t want to lose more than two games at all. We shouldn’t. We’re one of the best teams in this area and proved it already, too.”

Leaks develops into VCS star, college recruit

August 13, 2020/Chris Jackson/No Comments

Two months ago, Vacaville Christian senior athlete Jaron Leaks felt the moment that all of the work was worth it.

Going through some challenging days, Leaks received a call that showed he was next level. Whittier, a Division III school in Southern California, sent an offer his way to play college football.

“It’s a blessing because all my hard work, my family and I went through a hard time with all the corona stuff and my grandpa being sick, so everything was falling apart,” Leaks said. “And then I get a call from a coach and he gave me a full scholarship. It opened my eyes more.”

That moment was indicative of what those around him saw early on: a budding star just waiting to be unleashed.

Leaks’ cousin, Latrelle Smith, who is a cornerback at William & Mary, saw something in Leaks right away.

He knew he was different.

“He had been telling me all the time to just keep working hard,” Leaks said. “‘It’s in you. You got it.’ So when I first got my offer from Whittier about two months ago, I was like, ‘Alright, I can really get used to this type of stuff.’ Just got to keep working hard.”

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