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'We'll see Sioape playing on Sundays.' Bright future forecasted for Bishop Manogue star

Sioape Vatikani
Sioape Vatikani is one of the top-rated high school recruits to come out of Northern Nevada. (Handout)

Local high school coaching legend Ernie Howren has worked with some of the best players to come out of Northern Nevada, including future NFL players Austin Corbett and Devin Gray. So when he heaps praise on a player, it means a little more. And Howren, the head coach at Bishop Manogue, is sky-high on one of his seniors.

“I don’t want to put any pressure on him, but we will see Sioape playing on Sundays," Howren said of Miners offensive lineman Sioape Vatikani.

Vatikani is equally as effusive in his praise of Howren, whom he credits for making him a real football player. Howren is just thankful he's been able to work with a player of Vatikani's caliber.

“I jokingly say I taught him everything he knows,” Howren said with a laugh. “Sioape is one of the best guys I’ve ever been around. I’ve never seen a guy that is such a sponge like him. He takes all this information and he just categorizes it and processes all of it. It’s insane how smart he really is. There’s a reason he’s going to Cal. It’s not just because of his football IQ. It’s his smarts in the classroom. It’s fun to be around him. He’s a great leader. Talk about a guy that takes care of his family, that’s the guy.”

Vatikani, who verbally committed to Cal earlier this offseason, is one of the highest-rated high school recruits in Northern Nevada football history. He played youth football for six years prior to playing at Manogue, but he credits coach Howren for taking his game to the next level.

“I was just a big guy," Vatikani said. "I didn’t really know how to hit. But when I came freshman year and I met Coach Howren for the first time, he really brought that inner football in me. Coach Howren is the reason why I wanted to play football. It’s a pretty chill atmosphere. He’s very fair with his kids, he’s understandable. He pushes you but doesn’t push you over your own limits. He pushes you to meet your limits.”

Vatikani, who has been on the varsity team since his freshman campaign, took official recruiting visits to Cal and Nevada and an unofficial visit to Air Force before pulling the trigger with the Bears. The combination of Cal playing in the Pac-12, having elite academics and being close to home was too much to pass up.

“Cal, it’s very close to home," he said. "Academics over there are outstanding. Dream school was Stanford, but Stanford and Cal they go hand-in-hand and when we were there on our official visit. It felt like home. I was just shocked with all the equipment they had and how they support all their athletes, especially on and off the field with the academics. That’s why I really love Cal.”

A big part of the senior’s recruitment process was Cal assistant coach Angus McClure, who was Nevada’s associate head coach from 2018-19. McClure still owns a home a few miles from Bishop Manogue's campus, and his youngest son, Malcolm, is a senior at Manogue who has been Vatikani's teammate the last three years.

“If you watch his film it’s pretty ridiculous with how great he is and how athletic he is at his size,” Malcolm McClure said. “I think he benched 385 in the weight room. It’s just ridiculous. I always tell my dad, and he’s like, ‘Thank god we’re getting him on our team.’ He works a lot on the weekends. He’s a really goofy guy and he’s the most humble person I’ve ever met.”

Vatikani said his familiarity with the McClure family and his belief he'll be taken care of at Cal was a big reason he committed to the Bears.

“Coach McClure knows me and he knows my academics always come first,” Vatikani said. “But on top of that, Coach McClure has a huge background of getting players drafted into the NFL. That was one of my big things with Coach McClure. I can trust him. He can really mold me when I go to Cal.”

With Howren predicting an NFL future for Vatikani, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman said his dream team would be the Las Vegas Raiders, who he grew up rooting for. But there are a lot of steps remaining before attaining that goal. He still has his senior season with the Miners and a college career he is determined to make end with a degree.

“My biggest goal is to graduate college," he said. "To get my bachelor’s degree in engineering and try my best. I’ve always been around automotives my whole life. Growing up, I was always around my uncle. He’s a mechanic. Every day I was around his house he always put a tool in my hand and told me to help.”

Outside of football, Vatikani works to help out his family, which he said is one of the two main focuses of his life, the other being education. He is the youngest of three children with two older sisters, Elenoa, 24 and Luisa, 19. He credits them for making him who he is today. Vatikani admitted it will be hard to leave the state for college.

“My family means everything,” Vatikani said. “It’s pretty tough to leave home to Cal-Berkeley, but that’s why I chose Cal. It’s only a couple of hours away, so I can drive myself. Coach McClure lives down the block, so he can give me a ride home.”

Vatikani's junior season was a difficult one as he tore his calf and the Miners went 3-2, a relative disappointment after the team won back-to-back Northern 5A Regional championships during his first two years of high school. That included a run to the state championship game during his freshman season. He's exciting to be back on the field, healthy again and ready for a full season after last year's COVID-19-truncated campaign.

Now that he's a senior, he wants to be a leader for a Manogue team looking to get back on top in the Northern 5A.

“What we say in the weight room all the time is, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’" Vatikani said. "And that’s what our coaching staff is all about. We want to lift each other up instead of one guy lifting everybody up. We’ve been so close. We just want to finish it off this time.”

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