It’s a different year but it appears to be the same story for the Reed Raiders.
Coach Ernie Howren leads another talented squad into another fall season with another target on its back after winning another regional title (fourth-straight) last fall.
Howren said although it’s a familiar spot for his program to be in, the team can’t sit on the last half decade of dominance.
“I don’t want to say you ever get used to it (defending titles) because we’re never comfortable,” Howren said. “We feel like our expectation is we’re going to do everything we can to get back into the regional championship and win a regional championship.
“You don’t get used to it. Because if you get used to it, you’re not going to be … as intense as you need to be. I feel like our intensity is as intense as it’s ever been.”
Last year, the Raiders went through the majority of fall camp in a quarterback battle between former senior Jackson Gilmore and former junior Matt Denn. Denn not only won the competition, but went on to be named the DI North Offensive Player of the Year.
Denn, who accounted for over 2,900 total yards and 37 touchdowns, returns for a senior year to run the Raiders’ up-tempo spread offense and unfortunately for the DI North defenses, some of his weapons most dangerous are back.
Also returning for the Raiders at skill positions are senior running back Jorden Carter (263 carries, 1491 yards and 20 touchdowns), junior running back Tre Bussey (87 carries, 572 yards and nine touchdowns) and senior tight end and San Diego State verbal commit Parker Houston (40 receptions, 525 yards and 10 touchdowns).
“We feel like those guys have been there, done that,” Howren said. “The attitude and the energy those guys bring to the game right is just amazing. They work so hard.”
Junior wide receivers Mike Spivack and Robert Ferrel will be asked to fill the void left by Grayson Young’s graduation. Young led the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (679) a season ago.
The biggest question mark for the Reed offense heading into the 2015 season is on the offensive line where it lost a number of key parts. No longer in a Reed uniform are Cody DeHaan (now playing at Nevada) and Cody Carr. Both were all-region selections as seniors.
“Life after the seniors who graduated on that offensive line, guys that we just counted on for so many years, yeah, that’s an adjustment for anybody,” Howren said. “But we really feel like the guys that are coming up have put themselves in a position to fill and be who they are and do really well.”
Typical for Howren’s program, there are big men in the wings ready for their turn. Senior center Ian Neely, who was an all-region selection last year, will be asked to anchor the new offensive line along with junior Stein Otuafi. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Gregg, will also get reps on offense.
Defensively, Gregg will anchor a front that Howren feels is the best in the league. Gregg, a senior, is verbally committed to Nevada. Reed’s coach also feels the defensive backfield, led by returners Ty Warkentin and Logan Marcantonio as well as newcomer Caleb Ariaz, stacks up with the best in the area.
“I really feel like the three that we’re going to have up front are going to be guys that are going to give any offensive line a challenge,” Howren said. “And our secondary. I think our secondary is as good as anybody’s.”
The Raiders finished last season 11-4, 4-1 in High Desert League contests but for the second-straight year, were upset on its home field. Two years ago, Reno snuck past them on a late blocked field goal. Last year, Hug shocked everyone with a win at Reed.
To upset a similar game his fall, Howren said the team must remain mentally strong.
Reed will not start the season Friday night. It will instead wait until Saturday night when it will square up with Carson under the lights at Mackay Stadium in a rematch of the last two DI North title games.
“It’s really cool that we’re playing up there,” Howren said. “You don’t need to add anything more to playing Carson but I guess if you’re going to add something, playing at Mackay is pretty cool.”
Outlook: Saying Reed is stacked with talent has almost become a cliche but what do they say? Cliches only exist because they’re true? Reed lost pieces on the offensive line but has guys ready to fill in. The offensive line is the core of Reed’s spread offense and expect the Raiders to be as dangerous as ever, if not even more so, this fall. Defensively, Nick Gregg is going to be a hard man to stop on the defensive front. That doesn’t bode will for opposing offenses that are going to have to play keep up. If the Raiders can get by Carson Saturday night, they might not lose until after Thanksgiving.
Record: 10-0, 5-0