Elias Saldana played every game like it was his last during his final season with Ceres High School’s varsity football team.
The 6-foot-tall 280-pound lineman’s dominance on the gridiron earned him second-team all-league honors on both offense and defense during the Western Athletic Conference year-end head coaches’ meeting.
“Everything seemed to click for him this year,” Bulldogs’ head coach Matt Chachere said. “The game slowed down for him and he was able to make a lot of plays. He was coachable. He played with a lot of passion, pride and heart. He was disciplined with his eyes, feet and hands. He was a relentless player. He never quit. He really wanted to win.”
“It feels great to be noticed for everything I did,” Saldana said. “I achieved a lot more this year. I definitely exceeded my expectations.”Elias Saldana
“It feels great to be noticed for everything I did,” Saldana said. “I achieved a lot more this year. I definitely exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed being a captain. I showed how football should be taken seriously.”
Saldana totaled 78 tackles and four sacks, both team-highs, at nose tackle in 2019.
He managed to fill the stat sheet despite being slowed by shoulder, finger, knee and ankle injuries.
He broke his left ring finger two games into the season.
“They weren’t life-threatening injuries,” Saldana said. “I just had to deal with the pain. I never fixed my finger. I would have had to get a doctor’s note and miss games. I just taped my fingers together every practice and game. I didn’t want to leave the field. I wanted to play as much as I could.”
Saldana racked up a career-high 14 tackles and one sack in Ceres High’s 35-26 Homecoming loss to Lathrop.
“He created chaos in the backfield,” Chachere said. “He was making tackles all over the field.”
Saldana started at left guard on Ceres High’s offensive line.
“A lot of times we ran his direction or asked him to pull,” Chachere said.
“I did my best to block and protect every time,” Saldana said.
Saldana played 30 career games at the varsity level.
He was a two-way starter his senior, junior and sophomore years.
“I’ve played football for nine years and never missed a game,” Saldana said. “That’s something I take pride in, especially playing on both sides of the ball.”
“He really was the heart and soul of the team,” Chachere stated. “He never missed practice. He was always there in the weight room. Everyone respected him. He’s going to be missed.”
“If I could, I’d love to keep playing football,” Saldana added. “It would be different if I didn’t. It’s a routine every fall.”
Bulldog sophomore receiver Verlis Smith was an honorable-mention selection.
He caught 31 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was an easy decision to promote him to varsity,” Chachere said. “The biggest part is his maturity. He works hard at his craft. He really wants to get better. He’s extremely coachable. He’s super competitive. He plays with a lot of passion and aggression. He has a high ceiling in terms of getting stronger, faster and learning routes.”