Month: September 2020

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 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.”

Adam Grabowski '18

Adam Grabowski ’18

If you have ever walked into the VCS gym, you may have noticed a big banner on the wall reading, “2018 CIF Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Adam Grabowski”. This esteemed Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor is only given to two athletes in the entire state. Basketball captain, active student council member, and community serving student-athlete, Adam Grabowski, was recognized for his excellence in academics, athletics, and character in his final year at VCHS. Grabowski, the youngest of three VCHS alum, graduated from Vacaville Christian in 2018 to welcome a busy, yet equally fulfilling, college experience at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

Most of the VCS community remember Grabowski for his athleticism on the court and his outgoing personality. A past coach of Grabowski and now close family friend, Coach Paulo Mikelionis considers Grabowski to be one of the most respectful and selfless students he has known.

“He has always been self-motivated and always worked to be the best version of himself in whatever he undertakes. I enjoyed his light and fun personality which balanced his competitive nature well. When I think of what a VCS student-athlete is, he is a top example.”

Coach Paulo Mikelionis

Grabowski grew up in the VCS community quite literally as he attended VCS for 15 years. Over the course of his high school years, he was a tri-sport athlete, playing on the varsity men’s basketball team for four years, and for two years on the varsity soccer and volleyball teams. He received First-Team All League honors for basketball his sophomore and junior season. Finally, Grabowski was recognized as the Men’s Basketball Sierra Delta League MVP his senior year. One of Grabowski’s fondest memories in high school, aside from his decorated sports career, was his senior year camp. He mentioned that many of his classmates had been there for as long as he had, essentially growing up together. “It was special to be all together enjoying each other’s company,” Grabowski shared.  

Leaving a class of around 60 students to entering his incoming class at UCLA of nearly 14,000 students, Grabowski was excited to embrace his new environment. “I chose UCLA because I believed it gave me the best opportunity to be successful after college, while also having a great experience.  Although I received a Division II scholarship, I decided it was best to think in the long term and choose the place where I would be happiest.” Grabowski’s older brother and sister both graduated from UCLA as well, so this school was the most natural choice. “I loved knowing how welcoming the student community was as well as the determination of the student body. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Quickly, Grabowski immersed himself into that welcoming undergraduate community.  “As soon as I got to UCLA, I was playing basketball about 2 hours everyday so I realized it would be a good idea for me to get involved with a team that would be competitive.” The club basketball coach for UCLA approached Grabowski one day in the gym and asked him to try out for the team. Soon after making the team, Grabowski found a community that he considers his closest friends. Like himself, Grabowski’s teammates had played basketball for all their lives. No matter D1 or not, they played for the love of the game. They did not lack in competition or intensity.

Grabowski competing with his club team at UCLA vs. USC

“We practiced twice a week with full on scrimmages that got very heated. Imagine a bunch of guys who were the best players on their high school teams, all fighting for playing time for this club team.”

Grabowski and his team played local schools throughout the season like USC and UC Irvine. Later in the season, UCLA’s club team played nationally where they eventually lost to the University of Miami in the end of season tournament.

The club team commitment may be lighter than the Division 1 team commitment, but Grabowski has chosen to be involved in both. Grabowski is a manager for the UCLA D1 Men’s Basketball team. “As a manager, I help the coaching staff and team in any way I can. I play defense on players during practice, help with film for upcoming games, and work out with players out of practice.” Grabowski enjoys having basketball in his everyday routine. He finds his position valuable as he continues to learn about the game from respected teachers of the sport. He stated there simply are no negatives with this opportunity. 

“My favorite experience as a manager is seeing how much work goes into creating a strong program and making connections with everyone in the program.”

Double basketball commitments, and Grabowski still has time to be involved in more extracurriculars. He is an active member of RUF, Reformed University Fellowship, a campus ministry that offers him a faith-based community. Additionally, he is a member of Camp Kesem, a nationwide community of college students who support children through and beyond their parent’s cancer. Grabowski describes this community to be one of his biggest highlights of college thus far.

“I loved being a camp counselor. Helping kids find happiness and offering them emotional support has been more than rewarding.”

Considering Grabowski’s many experiences since leaving VCHS, he tells the biggest lesson he has learned is to keep a positive attitude and the ability to adapt. “I have learned to see the positive side of things and to adapt to every situation in order that I can better my future.”

In between Grabowski’s extracurriculars, he is pursuing his double major in Economics and Sociology. His 16 hour days of class, studying, basketball, workouts, and spending time with friends, have made UCLA his home away from home. He plans to be back on campus in the summer – if the distance learning restrictions are lifted – in order to take classes contributing to his double major workload. If Grabowski could give any advice to current students, it would be to keep a positive attitude and trust God.

“With the right perspective and God at the forefront, you will be blessed with opportunities.” 

Adam Grabowski

From Adam Grabowski to his Vacaville Christian Community: VCS grew me into the man I am today and I am very grateful to the staff and VCS family that has supported me.

Kai Nunley '23

Vacaville Christian morphs into contender under Tarango

Kai Nunley and Vacaville Christian played in the section semifinals in 2019. Chris Jackson / Staff PhotoAugust 25, 2020/Chris Jackson/No Comments

Manny Tarango was hired in April of 2018, and there was not much time for him and his staff to get acclimated to their new setting.

Tarango, formerly the defensive coordinator at nearby Vanden High School, brought his entire defensive staff over with him. Hired later in the process, Vacaville CHristian was in pads just three months later in July.

At that point, it was to go in and get the players familiar with what they do. Get them focused on offense and defense. They needed to be ready to go.

It all amounted to a 1-9 season in the debut year of the Tarango era, but the roots were planted immediately. 

“And then in year two we focused on getting bigger, faster, stronger,” Tarango said. “What we learned in that first year was the physicality of the Sierra Delta League really crushed us in that freshmen season for our coaching staff. We had to get bigger, stronger, faster. And we did.”

Vacaville Christian – a small Sac-Joaquin Section school with just 250 students on its high school campus – saw those results pay off in big ways in the second season.

Things were turned around in a big way during year No. 2. The Falcons improved from one win to seven. They averaged more than 36 points per game. They held three teams to single-digit scoring totals.

To top it all off, the Falcons found themselves in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals, falling to the eventual section champion in Mariposa County.

“We completely turned the program around in that second year and made it one game away from the Division VII Section Playoff, the title game, and so I think we kind of shocked a lot of people by getting there really, really quick,” Tarango said.

Quarterback Gabe Helmer shined all year and accounted for 3,087 total yards of offense and 44 touchdowns. Tamani Williams became Vacaville Christian’s first football player under Tarango to ink a college scholarship by signing with Valley City State University in North Dakota.

Even more talent returns, as multiple college-level players are sprinkled up and down the roster – including senior athlete Jaron Leaks, who recently announced an offer to UC Davis on his Instagram page, and junior Kendall Allen, who is not only on college radars on the gridiron but is also rated as one of the top basketball players on the west coast in addition to being a Junior Olympian.

So, how do they continue building the Falcons brand? 

It’s all about culture.

VCS lives by three core values, and the staff finds a way to teach those values and implement them into their programs each and every day. 

“We live by another motto,” Tarango said. “We tell the kids that we have to focus on being above the line. We have these red line painted stripes out on the football field to kind of give a visual representation of when we’re stepping onto the field it’s more than just playing football. It’s time to compete for our brother and to be intentional and deliberate and not make excuses.”

“I can’t say enough,” said Vacaville Christian junior defensive lineman Zack Mercado. “Coach T and the staff just, they’re great all around. They really push us to do great all the time, and they keep us focused in the classroom and everything. They’re just a great staff.”

It’s all about putting in the maximum effort and finishing what you started. You have to give 100% effort on the football field, during those drills, in the classroom and when you’re working on homework on the laptop.

Additionally, the Falcons have a big brother program. They are not invested in themselves, but they are rather invested in the team as a whole and becoming one family filled with love.

The big brother program features assigning every newcomer to someone who has been around the program. They sit down and interview with each other, then they have to type up a one page report about their teammate and speak about them in front of the entire squad.

“Everybody gets to listen about who’s your favorite player on the team, who motivates you the most, what kind of family life do they have, why are they here, what kind of stuff do they want to study in college and those kinds of things,” Tarango said. “And since that’s happened it’s brought in another level of accountability because I always talk to them about when your brother hits the wall, who’s going to pick him up and pull him through that? My leaders have really bought into what now you hear them saying, ‘Hey, we can love our brother but still hold them to a high standard.’”

Heading into what is now the 2021 campaign, Vacaville Christian is eager to watch its program grow even more.

Colleges are flocking from across the country to reach out and inquire about the Falcons. UTEP, right in Tarango’s hometown of El Paso, is coming out. There are Ivy league schools like Harvard and Yale. Southern Oregon. Pac-12 programs like Arizona State and UCLA.

They all see something special happening at the small private school with just over 200 students at the high school level, and they want these players part of their program. They see their character and they see how they win on and off the field.

Vacaville Christian believes even more is in store, and the Falcons are working to take that next step and win some rings.

“Me, Jaron, Austin (Dydo) – we’ve been working out three times a day, four times a day trying to put in that work. We want to win a title. I’m trying to bring a section championship and a state championship to this school.”

Kendall Allen ’22

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