Consistency was an issue for Spanish Springs last fall, coach Eric Borja’s first in Purple.
The Cougars alternated wins and losses in their first six games of the season which included both impressive wins and head-scratching losses.
In their third game of the season, they went to Carson and knocked the eventual Sierra League champ, 28-27. Three weeks later, they went to Douglas and laid an egg in a 23-13 loss.
Spanish Springs went on to finish the season 4-5, 2-3 and lost the tiebreaker to finish to fifth in the High Desert League and out of the postseason.
Despite the highs and lows of last season, Borja has not brought up last year’s ebbs and flows to his 2015 bunch in hopes of avoiding riding the same rollercoaster. He doesn’t see the need.
“I think I have a different group,” Spanish Springs’ second-year coach said. “Mentality wise, they are a little bit different than last year’s group. They’ve had a little bit more success at the lower levels so they expect to win more than just, ‘hey, hopefully we play good.’ So that’s kind of the difference.”
It’s also a new feeling personally for Borja. He said there is a greater feeling of familiarity in year No. 2 and feels the coaching staff is able to “fine tune” more in practice compared to a season ago.
That feeling is shared by the players. Senior Ian Check, who lost the battle for the starting quarterback job as a junior to Jase Ryals but is penciled in as the 2015 starter, said there is a greater sense of comfort within the team.
“I think Borja, one, himself, is much more comfortable and I think as a team (we) are much more comfortable,” Check said. “Especially for us seniors who have been under him now for two years. He’s an incredibly-respectable guy and so is the whole coaching staff.”
Check completed 21-of-43 passes last season for 240 yards while serving as Ryals’ backup and has earned the starting job, Borja said, but will be pushed in practice throughout the season by junior Korbin Marcum.
“Ian has proved that he’s the guy to start us out,” Borja said. “I know he’ll have a great year. Korbin is going to be right there waiting and pushing him everyday so that’s our plan.”
This fall, the Cougars are going to be led by their skill position players on both sides of the ball. Senior running back Travis Vargas led the team in rushing a season ago and should be one of the benefactors from an offense that aspires to work with improved pace this season.
Vargas averaged just short of 70 yards a game last season with a team-high five rushing touchdowns.
As far as receptions are concerned, it’s going to be a lot of new faces with the departures of wide out Trevor Listman and tight end Jacob White. The two accounted for 59 receptions (out of 100) for 713 yards (out of 1103) and five touchdowns (out of eight).
It will also be skill position players that will anchor the Cougars’ defense in the backfield while one of the biggest battles in camp is on the defensive line.
“We have great skill guys in the back,” Borja said. “Our linebackers and DBs are faster than they were last year. We’re hoping our front three or front four can hold up against the bigger teams.”
Senior kicker Jake Ward will be another player to watch. He should compete for all-region honors this year. Although despite his talent, Borja hopes he doesn’t have to deploy his kicker too much this fall.
What he does hope to deploy, is a game plan in November with the DI North quarterfinals starting Nov. 6. He said the biggest key to advancing past the regular season is simply ignoring the other noise around the HDL.
“Obviously the league is tough as usual and I think it will be that way until something has changed,” Borja said. “But we have to worry about ourselves, improve every week and I think if we play to our capability we’ll be there every game.”
Borja and the Cougs open the season Friday at home against Damonte Ranch (one of the stronger teams in the Sierra League) at 7 p.m.
Outlook: Last year’s playoff absence wasn’t all too surprising with departures of pivotal pieces like Hunter Fralick (now competing for the starting job at Nevada) and Gehrig Parks, who received all-league honors at three different positions. The Cougs lost pieces again last year but they won’t sink the ship. Borja’s personality, energy and all-around knowledge of the game will get the Spanish Springs program going in the right direction quickly. It’s back to the postseason for the Purple.
Record: 5-4, 3-2