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CV, CHS grads team up at Merced College
• Friends, former teammates play football together at next level
Amare Padilla runs
Ceres High School grad Amare Padilla is teaming up with his friends and former teammates at Merced College. The freshman defensive back totaled 19 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup through the Blue Devils’ first seven games.

Ceres Unified School District grads Isaiah Hidalgo, Amari Taylor, Agustin Piza, Ezekiel Ruiz-Young, Nate Diaz, Carlos Barajas and Amare Padilla are all making the commute to Merced College this fall to attend school and play football.

Hidalgo, Taylor, Piza, Ruiz-Young, Diaz and Barajas graduated from Central Valley High School.

Padilla, a former Hawk, graduated from Ceres High.

Hidalgo, Taylor, Piza and Diaz helped lead Central Valley to a perfect 5-0 record and the Western Athletic Conference South Division title during the 2020-21 school year.

Hidalgo and Ruiz-Young are cousins.

“It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come since our first year of high school,” Padilla said. “I still talked with all of them after I transferred from Central Valley. It would be a big deal helping Merced College make history with some of my best friends.”

“The best part is knowing we’re all here together,” Hidalgo added. “We’ve all known each other for a very long team.”

Hidalgo, a freshman all-purpose player whose main positions are running back and receiver, has appeared in six games with the 4-3 Blue Devils this season.

He’s rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.

He’s caught four passes for 29 yards.

He’s totaled 77 yards on three kickoff returns.

He ranks eighth on the team in scoring with 12 points.

“Every day is to build towards Saturday,” Hidalgo said. “There are steps to playing. It’s not high school anymore. It’s a business. It gets really competitive at practice. We’re here to win and get looks from four-year schools. If you don’t want to be there, the coaches and other players will tell you to go home.”

A three-year varsity player at Central Valley High School, Hidalgo contributed at quarterback during his final season with the Hawks.

Hidalgo was selected to the WAC South First Team.

He gained 1,005 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 134 carries.

He passed for 189 yards with four TDs and two interceptions.

He hauled in two passes for 52 yards.

Hidalgo starred at running back as a junior and sophomore.

Taylor has appeared in two games during his first season with Merced College.

The freshman running back’s lone carry resulted in a 4-yard gain.

Taylor totaled 316 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries during his senior year at Central Valley.

Piza, a freshman kicker, ranks sixth on the team in scoring with 16 points.

He’s converted 13 of 16 point-after kicks.

He’s also booted a 27-yard field goal.

Piza made 18 of 20 PATs his senior year of high school.

Ezekiel Ruiz-Young, a freshman defensive end, has made appearances in two games.

He has one tackle and half a sack.

Ruiz-Young totaled 14 tackles on defense while appearing in five games during his junior year at Central Valley (2018-19).

He started at left tackle on the offensive line.

Diaz, a freshman defensive back, and Barajas, a freshman receiver, have yet to appear in any games this season.

Central Valley High grad Isaiah Hidalgo is logging playing time at running back and receiver during his first season with Merced College's football team.
Padilla, a freshman defensive back, totaled 19 tackles with one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup during the Blue Devils’ first seven games.

“It’s a lot different than high school,” Padilla said. “Everyone is good out there. You have to work harder. You really have to compete at every practice.”

Padilla totaled five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in nine career games with Ceres High.

He had 343 all-purpose yards—145 rushing and 88 receiving—with seven touchdowns.

He had to sit out the first four games of his junior year to satisfy a CIF transfer rule.

“I was originally going to go to Modesto Junior College,” Padilla said. “Merced reached out to me. I had multiple conversations with coaches. I felt more wanted there. It was just a better fit for me. They have a good system and everything is moving in the right direction.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he added. “I enjoy playing defense more than offense. I like getting physical. I enjoy covering.”