Raiders stay loaded, remain a contender despite Howren’s departure
Most prep football coaches inherit limited expectations in their first season at a new school. They’re taking over a program that has struggled more often not. The coaching job was not vacant on accident.
Tony Amantia does not belong to that faction. The former head coach at Bishop Manogue, Wooster and Damonte Ranch has expectations aplenty to dance with. He, and an entirely new staff, enter their first season leading a Reed program that won five of the last six regional titles before Ernie Howren took the job at Bishop Manogue in January after 16 years in Blue and Gold.
“The key is, for me, not to screw things up,” Amantia said. “It (strength of program) means you have a chance to compete right off the get go. It’s not like you’re doing an overhaul by any means. The caliber of players I have right now is outstanding … It gives you that opportunity.”
His message to the team has not waivered since he first introduced himself over the winter: Finish. He reminisces on his playing days for Chris Ault at Nevada and how the Wolf Pack icon’s drive separated his sideline from the other. Amantia, a linebacker, played on the 1990 team that won two-straight triple overtime games to reach the former Div. I-AA national title game.
The admonition, he said, has nothing to do with his team’s last contest, a 49-45 loss to Damonte Ranch in the regional title game after leading 31-7 at the half.
“I don’t really get into what happened in the past. Those guys on that coaching staff are friends of mine. That was their team, their squad, different year, different time,” Amantia said. “I try to really stay away from that stuff and focus on what’s going on now.”
Reed’s dynamic spread offense will remain largely unchanged and returns its signal caller in Cameron Emerson. Emerson was phenomenal as a junior, accounting for over 3,200 yards of offense and 45 touchdowns.
He’ll hand the ball off senior Josiah Schmidt. Schmidt quietly had an impressive season of his own, backing up HDL Offensive Player of the Year Tre Bussey. He still landed himself on the all league second team, running for 798 yards and 10 touchdowns on 78 carries. His 10.2 yards per carry led the Raiders.
Offensive line play has become a staple of the offense and Amantia hopes to continue that trend despite losing three all-league selections to graduation, including 4A North Lineman of the Year, Stein Otuafi. First-team all-league center Mike Delgado is the most experienced returner.
Isaac McCoy and Grant Cotter will take over for Robert Ferrel (first team all region) and Michael Spivack (second team all league) as the two premier pass catchers. They are the only two returners with double digit receptions a year ago. McCoy caught 19 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Cotter, who will play all over the field in multiple positions, also caught three touchdowns on 16 receptions for 195 yards.
When asked what the strength of the defense would be, Amantia answered before the question was finished.
“The defensive line,” he said. “I think we have depth at a lot of places, but we have Eric Schmitz coming back … He’s fantastic. He’s got a motor that won’t quit and that kid can move.”
The senior defensive end racked up 71 tackles last year, including a team-high 7.5 sacks. Schmitz will be joined on the line by Charles Tuavao, who stands 6-5 and pushes 314 pounds onto the scale.
They will play in front of an experienced linebacking corps made up of Jake Olson (75 tackles, six for loss last year), Kennedy Davis (6-2, 245 pounds) and Matt Johnson (second on team with 82 tackles last year).
“We got some guys,” Amantia said.
Reed will play another tough non-league slate with games against Clayton Valley Charter (Concord, Calif.) in Friday’s opener, Carson in week 3 and at Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) in week 4. Many eyes are already looking ahead to the week 5 matchup, when Reed goes on the road to play its former coach at Bishop Manogue. Amantia will attempt to downplay the final non-league game’s significance.
“It’s just another football game,” he said. “I know that (Howren) is over there, this and that. I never try to get emotional about that, because my experience as a person is that whenever you get real emotional, good things don’t happen to you. You have to be composed and play football.
“We’re going to face the best of the best right off the get go.”
The coaching staff has changed. The expectations have not.
Overview: Reed’s identity will almost immediately be exposed in Friday’s season opener. The Raiders went to California last year to play Clayton Valley Charter (which ironically is the high school Howren attended) and suffered the first of their two losses, 35-21. They get a shot at revenge right out of the blocks. The 21 points were the fewest of the season for the Raiders as they went on to rattle off 11-straight wins before the regional title game loss to Damonte Ranch. The expectation is that Reed will remain a bonafide regional title contender with so much talent returning this fall, and the most consistent program in the 4A North will have a chance to prove its validity on Friday night.
Prediction: 8-2, 5-0