The High Desert League got a makeover last season.
Hug, North Valleys and Spanish Springs all entered the campaign with new coaches and the Hawks proceeded to make a surprise run into the playoffs.
The Hawks were picked to finish sixth in the HDL by the coaches in the league but went on to finish third (knocking off Reed in the regular season) before advancing to the DI North semifinals where the Raiders returned the favor. Hug’s regular-season win over Reed was without question the biggest upset of the season.
With perhaps some stability now in place with a year under each of the new coach’s belts, here is a glance at the six HDL squads:
Coach: Ernie Howren
Experience: 15th season
2014 Record: 11-4, 4-1; HDL champion; DI North champion; loss to Bishop Gorman in state title game
Number of Returning Starters: 8
Key Losses: OL/DL Cody DeHaan, OL/DL Alden Giang, OL/DL Cody Carr, WR Grayson Young, DB Porter Hansen, LB Sione Taukiuvea
Key Returners/New Faces: QB Matt Denn, OL/DL Nick Gregg, TE Parker Houston, RB Jorden Carter, DB Logan Marcantonio, OL/DL Ian Neely, OL/DL Stein Otuafi, LB Matt Garcia, RB Tre Bussey, Lucas Bigford OL/DL, Mike Spivack WR, Robert Ferrel WR, Caleb Ariaz DB
What to Expect on Offense: There is no mystery to what Reed plans to do with the ball. The Raiders will spread defenses out and get the run game going with running back Jorden Carter returning for his senior season. What makes the Raiders particularly scary on the offensive side this year is the passing game. Reigning DI North Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Matt Denn, returns for his senior season and will often look for San Diego State verbal commit, tight end Parker Houston. The question mark comes up front with Reed losing a key parts of its offensive line but finding big men has never been a problem for coach Ernie Howren.
What to Expect on Defense: Typical for Reed, it starts with the big boys. Howren feels his front three is the best in the league that will continually cause problems for opposing offensive fronts. The Raiders lost several key pieces in their linebacking corp and in the defensive backfield so new faces will be tested this fall. The security of a strong defensive line, anchored by Nevada commit Nick Gregg, should help with the transition.
Team Will be Successful If: As long as the Raiders stay healthy, they should be the team to beat in the DI North once again. They lost pieces just like every other squad in Northern Nevada but they bring back numerous key pieces that make them the favorite to win a fifth-straight regional crown. The defense may take a step back this fall but the offense should be improved from a 2014 bunch that averaged over 40 points a contest.
Prediction: 10-0, 5-0
Coach: Dan Avansino
Experience: 13th season
2014 Record: 8-4, 3-2; 2nd in HDL; L to Carson in DI North semifinals
Number of Returning Starters: 14
Key Losses: Cole Eddy RB, Jeremy Smith QB
Key Returners/New Faces: Lukas Mckenzie SS/ATH, Ian Cartlidge LB/FB, Paula Finau OL/DL, Carlos Barraza OL/DL, Brandon Hunter TE/LB, Denny Peters QB/RB/FS, Isaac Terrasas QB
What to Expect on Offense: The Huskies’ offensive identity rests largely on who ends winning the quarterback battle. Junior Denny Peters and senior Issac Terrasas are duking it out leading into the opener and both have different games. Peters is a better running quarterback while Terrasas is the better passer. “We will kind of find what our strengths are and then injuries play a role,” coach Dan Avansino said. “If our throwing quarterback gets hurt, you have to really morph into what our strengths are. It really becomes a week-to-week at the high school level … Fortunately we are diverse enough to where we can change week to week.” The Huskies were young on the offensive line a season ago and return numerous big men with experience on Friday nights.
Update: Coach Avansino told the Sparks Tribune on Tuesday that Terrasas, the senior, won the quarterback competition.
What to Expect on Defense: As will be the case for the majority of defenses in Northern Nevada, the success of Reno’s defensive unit will start up front. “In today’s football, can we pressure the quarterback? That’s really what it comes down to,” Avansino said. When the Huskies aren’t able to pressure opposing quarterbacks, Lukas Mckenzie will be asked to led the defensive secondary. Mckenzie is the best athlete on the Huskies’ roster and has already verbally committed to Nevada. He is athletic enough to play safety and big enough to play linebacker.
Team Will be Successful If: Reno can make a run this year if it can get good at boring football (controlling the line of scrimmage, successfully running the ball and dominating time of possession). It’s success formula No. 1 in the football coach’s handbook. Avansino also said a point of emphasis in 2015 is the importance of finishing games. He is still unhappy with last year’s 10-7 loss to McQueen in the regular-season finale, allowing the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left. “We have to be able to finish games and we do that by running the football,” Avansino said.
Prediction: 8-2, 4-1
Spanish Springs Cougars
Coach: Eric Borja
Experience: 2nd season
2014 Record: 4-6, 2-3; 5th in HDL; missed playoffs
Number of Returning Starters: 7
Key Losses: TE/DE Jacob White, WR/LB Trevor Listman, OL/DL Justin Anukam, OL/DL Connor Hendriks, TE/LB Cyle Schaefer, RB/LB Joey Arterburn, TE/LB Ricky Espinoza
Key Returners/New Faces: Issac Ruiz RB/DB, QB Ian Check, RB/DB Travis Vargas, K/P Jake Ward, RB/LB Jacob Dye
What to Expect on Offense: Senior Ian Check lost the starting quarterback battle to Jace Ryals a season ago but it’s his turn now. Check did take snaps last season, however, so he won’t be entering the opener completely green. Second-year coach Eric Borja hopes to play with better tempo in 2015 and to “open things up a little bit more.” At a 7-on-7 camp this summer, Spanish Springs went 4-1 (after going 1-4 in same camp last year) so it appears the Cougs will have skill position players this fall to compete for playoff spot. Travis Vargas will be asked to carry much of the load carrying the rock.
What to Expect on Defense: The skill position talent and speed on the offensive side will translate to the defensive back field as well. The Cougs will be fast in the secondary and at the linebacker level but the real question mark comes in the defensive front. Spanish Springs will likely have its share of struggles against run-oriented squads this fall.
Team Will be Successful If: Spanish Springs should break back into the playoffs if the defense can find a way to get off the field. At times the defense was stout last year (19 points to potent Hug offense) and looked less impressive other nights (40 point to Damonte, 56 to Reed). The offense should be improved in 2015 but it will be up the defense to prevent shootouts every week.
Prediction: 5-4, 3-2
Coach: Jim Snelling
Experience: 7th season
2014 Record: 5-5, 3-2; 4th in HDL; L to Carson in DI North quarterfinals
Number of Returning Starters: 7
Key Losses: Patrick Deleon RB/DB, Kyle Draeger FB/DB, Johnathon Wethee QB, Nathan Narra FB/LB
Key Returners/New Faces: Noah Johnson OL/DL, Collin Crown LB
What to Expect on Offense: The Lancers have more team speed than they did a year ago so look for them to get the ball to their playmakers in space. Coach Jim Snelling said he would like to see a 50/50 distribution of running plays to pass plays but like many high school teams, that will depend on who is taking the snaps. There is currently a three-way battle for the job between junior Joey Cox, who stands at 6-3 and is more of a prototypical dropback passer, and quicker dual-threat signal callers, senior Jeremiah Lesniak and junior Zach Ball. “All three are very capable of running the offense,” Snelling said. “Which is great.” The Lancers have been blasting static noise through the stadium’s PA system at practice in attempt to get the three vying for the job to be more vocal.
What to Expect on Defense: It’s not going to be anything flashy for the Lancers. The unit’s success will hinge on its ability to be fundamentally sound. The defense allowed just shy of 22 points a contest a season ago but surrendered a pair of 42-point performances in two of its last three games (Reed and Carson in the DI North quarterfinals). “We try to play real sound, fundamental football,” Snelling said. “We want to make sure to try to get as many hats on the ball on each play as we can. People say they want to get 11 hats on the ball, that’s unrealistic. But we want to get eight guys around the football when the whistle blows … We want to be great tacklers.”
Team Will be Successful If: The Lancers snuck into the playoffs last year as the High Desert League’s No. 4 seed. If the Lancers want to rise in the final standings and avoid playing the Sierra League champion in the playoff opener, Snelling pointed to two major facets, only one of which is controllable—injuries and avoiding mistakes. “You hope to be in good shape health wise … hopefully you have the majority of your squad still intact,” Snelling said. “The other part is, you have to limit the number of mistakes you make. You get into the playoffs and there really is very little room for mistakes.”
Prediction: 5-4, 2-3
North Valleys Panthers
Coach: Anthony Doucette
Experience: 2nd season
2014 Record: 3-7, 0-5; 6th in HDL; missed playoffs
Number of Returning Starters: 11
Key Losses: Melando Cachapero QB/DB, Alex Palko RB/DB
Key Returners/New Faces: Matt Sneed QB, Cardayell Morgan FB/LB, Skyler Mendonca LB, Alex Frasier WR/DB, Miguel Gonzalez OL/DL, Maafu Palavu OL/DL, John Waleins OL/DL
What to Expect on Offense: Junior Matt Sneed will take over the huddle in his first year running the Panthers’ offense. Second-year coach Anthony Doucette said Sneed looks comfortable in camp and he has been meeting with the new QB since January. The first-year quarterback has also attended a number a camps but to take pressure off Sneed, the Panthers will need to develop some consistency in the running game to take pressure off Sneed’s arm. All five of the Panthers’ starting offensive lineman return this year, which will undoubtedly help. But a running back will have to separate himself as the leading returning rusher, Alex Frasier, has switched to wide out. The most rushes for a returning running back is six.
What to Expect on Defense: It’s going to start up front for the Panthers. Returning senior defensive ends, John Waleins and Logan Ramirez, will be relied upon to keep outside contain and provide a consistent pass rush. Waleins led the team with four sacks a season ago while Ramirez turned in a pair of tackles for loss. “We’re going to rely on those guys to basically run our defense,” Doucette said. “So it’s going to help us out a lot.”
Team Will be Successful If: Like Hug coach Carl LaGrone and Spanish Springs coach Eric Borja, Doucette feels much more comfortable in his second season at the helm. That familiarity has morphed into a confident message that can be felt at the Panthers’ practice. Although, confidence wasn’t an issue a season ago as North Valleys started the season 3-2 before dropping all five of its HDL meetings. “We have to react better to our own success,” Doucette said. “We just weren’t able to handle it, realize what it took to get there … Our guys are hungry.” If Waleins and Ramirez are able to anchor the defense as the team hopes, and Sneed develops into a competent passer, the Panthers could climb out of the HDL cellar.
Prediction: 4-5, 2-3
Coach: Carl LaGrone
Experience: 2nd season
2014 Record: 8-4, 3-2; 3rd in HDL; L to Reed in DI North semifinals
Number of Returning Starters: 4
Key Losses: Dekembe Montgomery QB, Roosevelt Calhoun RB/LB, Trey Williams RB/DB, Treci Blanton RB/DB, Phillip Shepard OL/DL, Devin Porter LB/WR
Key Returners/New Faces: Sam Moala TE/LB, Ja’lawnie Thomas ATH, Jalan Williams RB/DB, Bryce Shatz WR/DB
What to Expect on Offense: The Hawks surprised everyone in Northern Nevada a season ago when they went on to finish third in the High Desert League and advanced to the DI North semifinals. But the majority of the players who led that run are gone. “Just about everybody who played a really big part in what we were doing, went on to graduate,” second-year coach Carl LaGrone said. With so many new faces this fall and an ongoing quarterback battle, the Hawks’ offensive success is going to come down to limiting mistakes. The Hawks will also look to continue the trend of reoccurring explosive plays it developed last year. Ja’lawnie Thomas, Jalan Williams and Bryce Shatz are the likely candidates for Hug’s chunk plays.
What to Expect on Defense: LaGrone had no problem putting the defensive unit’s responsibility on the shoulders of junior linebacker Sam Moala. “(He) is going to be our leader on defense,” Hug’s coach said. “He’s going to be the guy that we look for when we need a big play.” Outside Moala, the success of the defense will rely largely on the unit’s ability to harness its speed in pursuit to the ball, LaGrone said.
Team Will be Successful If: LaGrone and company are stuck somewhere between trying to build off last year’s successes but also moving on to the new season. It was a fun story to follow but last year isn’t going to do much for the 2015 Hawks. If anything, Hug is climbing an uphill battle as teams aren’t going to let themselves be caught off guard by the upstart Hawks. “We addressed (last season) in the summer. We haven’t addressed it this fall,” LaGrone said. “Last year was our base, our foundation. Now we’re just trying to climb higher.” With so many departures to graduation there are numerous ongoing position battles that need resolution. If a core of players can assert themselves this fall, Hug could once again be a team to be reckoned with. A boost in numbers due to last year’s surprise will help with overall depth.
Prediction: 4-6, 1-4