NFL star Mankins 'just Logan' to folks back home

Sjansen@mercedsun-star.comFebruary 4, 2012 

CATHEYS VALLEY -- Bob Stark and Johnny Phillips stood outside The Ranch House Cafe on Thursday afternoon.

The restaurant is attached to a Texaco gas station along Highway 140.

Starks and Phillips chatted for about an hour, sipping cold drinks as customers streamed past. People came and went, stopping for gas, grabbing a bite to eat, or just picking up a drink for the road.

At one point, the two men saw a friend pull in for gas. In the back of the truck were some dogs, ready to hunt.

"That's a good pig hunting dog," said Phillips, pointing to a black and white dog staring straight at him from the truck.

Stark asked if their friend still goes pig hunting.

"Does Mankins play football?" Phillips replied.

Yes, Catheys Valley, this small Mariposa County town whose elevation (1,325 feet above sea level) exceeds its population (about 800), is Logan Mankins country.

Mankins was born and raised in Catheys Valley and graduated from Mariposa High in 2000, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He later played football at Fresno State, where he transformed himself into a first-round NFL draft pick.

Up here, you'll see more people wearing New England Patriots apparel than those wearing 49ers or Raiders gear.

Bob and Sue Williams walked out of the restaurant and stopped to chat with Stark and Phillips. Bob was wearing a Patriots sweatshirt and beanie.

He grew up back east and has been a Pats fan since before Mankins was drafted by New England.

"When I heard they drafted him I was in seventh heaven. I've collected every paper or article I've found written about him," said Bob, who received a signed Mankins shirt for his 80th birthday that he framed and hung in his den.

There's no question who people in Catheys Valley and Mariposa are rooting for Sunday when the Patriots play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.

"My phone rings about 15 times a day," said Logan's father Tim, who left with his wife Jill on Thursday for Indianapolis to see their son play in his second Super Bowl. "Everyone is pretty excited. It might be a good time to rob a bank because everyone is going to be in front of a TV."

Tim says Logan usually comes by to visit on his way to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Mankins has been selected to play in four Pro Bowls in his seven-year NFL career. He couldn't make the trip this year with the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl.

Instead, the celebration and revelry will be left to his legion of fans back home.

There will be big Super Bowl parties in Mariposa County.

Stark says he may have as many as 50 people over. Trace DeSandres, who was Mankins' basketball coach at Mariposa, hosted a Super Bowl party in 2008 when the Giants upset the undefeated Patriots in 17-14.

"I couldn't talk after the game. I was so disappointed for the Patriots and Logan," DeSandres said.

On Sunday, DeSandres will be watching the Super Bowl with Bruce Vegely, who was Mankins' football coach at Mariposa.

One of DeSandres' favorite memories is when Mankins scored 40 points in a playoff win against Christian Brothers in 2000.

"He went up against a kid who was going to Stanford as a tight end and Logan dominated," DeSandres said. "He single-handily decided we were going to move on against Christian Brothers."

Mankins makes it easy to root for him. You won't find anybody in his hometown who will say anything bad about him.

How can you say something bad about a millionaire who has no problem helping his dad build fences or chop firewood when he comes back to visit?

"I remember Logan riding a tiny, little pony," said Jenny Binning, who actually threw the baby shower for Logan's mom before he was born. "He rode that pony to handle the cattle and do the roping. It's funny remembering that little guy and seeing the one we see on TV now. He's still just Logan to us."

Brian Peters is a family friend who coached Mankins in Little League.

"He would pitch and when he got mad at the umpire because of a strike call, he would throw the ball harder," Peters said. "The kids couldn't handle it when he threw hard. The problem was you didn't know where it was going."

Peters liked the kids stepping into the batter's box with a little fear in their heart.

"I remember going up and watching him play at the high school," Stark said. "We go watch Mariposa play football -- even if you don't have a kid on the team -- because that's what we do around here.

"He was a super ball player, whether it was football, basketball or baseball. I'll never forget when he graduated. They have kids go up and say what they're going to do. Kids will say they are going to be a firefighter or a teacher. Logan went up and said he's going to be a football player. I remember thinking, 'Right on, Logan.'

"By God, he did it."

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