The Warriors finished 3-5, 2-4 a season ago, good for fifth in the seven-team DIV North-West. To get over the .500 huddle in the eight-player league, the local private school on Baring Boulevard will have to rely on a young offensive line.
Coach Jeff Denson will ask freshman center Hansen Rodriguez, freshman guard Max Ruston and freshman tight end Kaleb Denson to open lanes for Excel’s offense which figures to rely on the run game for a second-straight year.
“It’s huge,” Denson said of the importance of his freshman’s development. “These boys are 14 years old going against 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. The two, three years makes a huge difference in strength and skill level.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’ll get by.”
To help out with the young offensive front, the Warriors have a surplus of speed in the backfield. Senior running back Jake Haring ran a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash (with a bad quad) in camp and figures to be the integral part of the offense. Haring moved to Sparks from Tennessee last year and will be asked to replace the production of the graduated Eli Spurlock who ran for 865 yards and nine touchdowns last fall.
Also in the Warriors’ backfield will be returning junior quarterback Noah Denson, who ran a 4.48 40. Denson accounted for 753 yards and 17 total touchdowns last season.
Excel Christian’s coach said he would like to maintain a 60/40 run to pass ratio for his squad.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will be all about senior middle linebacker Matt Gruhn.
“We have to tackle,” Denson said. “We’re relying very heavily on him. Our defense is designed to make everything to go to him, to turn everything back to him. He can’t miss a tackle. If he misses a tackle, that person is scoring a touchdown.”
Freshman cornerback, Jeshua Fixel, also figures to play a role. Running a 4.5 40, he adds to the team’s speed.
Excel Christian is the smallest school in the league with just 12 players on its roster, compared to 25-30 players that are on most other rosters. Realizing the lack of depth and likelihood of fatigue late in games with players rarely leaving the field, Denson conditions his squad at least an hour every practice.
Denson and his staff laid out team goals in the winter and established they would like to see their squad finish over .500 this fall. To sneak into one of the league’s two playoff spots, they will have to find a way to compete with perennial powers Virginia City and Whittell.
The Warriors open the season with two non-league games, starting at North Tahoe (program’s first time fielding a team in three years) on Saturday at 1 p.m. Excel Christian opens league play Friday, Sept. 18 at Mineral County.
Outlook: The Warriors have unbelievable speed in their offensive backfield, a weapon made more dangers in eight-man football with more space to use compared to standard 11-man football. The youth on the offensive line, however, is a reason for concern. The loss of Eli Spurlock was substantial on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The ability, or inability, to replace his production will be a determining factor in deciding the Warriors’ success.
Record: 4-4, 3-3