A preview of the five Sierra League programs, including defending 4A North champ Damonte Ranch
As one Sierra League coach put it, the layout of the league has changed significantly.
And he wasn’t talking about the emergence of Damonte Ranch, which ended Reed’s run of regional titles at five in November and fields a quarterback verbally committed to Notre Dame. He was talking about the news that made waves throughout the state in January when Ernie Howren left Reed to take over the Bishop Manogue program.
It’s unlikely the Miners will threaten the Mustangs for the Sierra League title in just Howren’s first year, or is it?
Here’s a look at the five Sierra League teams:
Damonte Ranch Mustangs
Coach: Shawn Dupris
Experience: Sixth season
2016 Record: 12-2, 4-0; First in SL; Regional champs; Lost to Liberty in state semifinals
Returning Starters: 13
Key Losses: OL/DL Adonis Williams, RB/DB Cameron Sandoval, WR/DB Ryan Riggle, OL/DL Jonah Hyde, OL/DL Jake Covert, OL/DL Austin Howery, OL/DL Anthony Parker, DE Poe Seiuli, DL Brady Odom, WR/DB Thomas Wright Jr., WR/DB Bryson Toles
Key Returners: QB Cade McNamara, WR/DB Dru Jacobs, LB Richie Garcia, RB/LB Hunter Brooks, WR/DB Jake Polson, RB/LB Derrick Knoblock, RB/DB Ryon Hurley, OL/LB Ryan Madole, RB Jacob Mandichak
What to Expect on Offense: Coach Shawn Dupris likes to stay balanced. Proportionately mixing the pass with the run keeps defenses honest and takes stress off the quarterback position. He may have to rethink things this season. That happens when you have a junior signal caller who is verbally committed to Notre Dame. “When you have a quarterback like Cade (McNamara), who can put the ball pretty much wherever I want to put it and where he wants to put it, we may have to bump that percentage up to throw a little bit more,” he said. McNamara will get to throw his favorite target from a season ago, all-state selection Dru Jacobs. Jacobs caught 53 passes for 1,107 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. The team is without first-team all-region running back Cameron Sandoval, who was one of the most explosive players in the region last fall. Sandoval ran for 1,440 yards (8.0 yards/carry) and 16 touchdowns. He also finished with 521 yards and six touchdowns through the air. Senior Ryon Hurley (52 carries for 353 yards and four touchdowns last year) and junior Derrick Knoblock (24 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns last year) will share the running back responsibilities. While the skill players drew most of the credit for the offense scoring a staggering 40.6 points per game last fall, the impressive offense line went mostly unsung. It featured a trio of three-year starters who graduated, including Adonis Williams, now a freshman playing for Air Force. “We have some capable kids that are stepping in,” Dupris said. “They’re just going to have to learn real quick and hopefully they’re ready to roll.”
What to Expect on Defense: The Mustangs’ defense was overlooked last year. While the offense lit up scoreboards across the region, the defense quietly allowed less than 21 points per game, routinely making plays across the line of scrimmage. A senior defensive line that didn’t have to play both ways factored, so too did a strong linebacking unit that brings last year’s top three tacklers back. “That’s the core of our defense, those linebackers,” Dupris said. Senior Hunter Brooks returns after racking up 155 tackles last season, as does all-state outside backer Richie Garcia. Garcia’s 157 tackles were good for second in the state last fall. Those are players coaches in the 4A North know about. Junior Derrick Knoblock is one they will learn about. Knoblock weighs 210 pounds standing six feet tall and runs a sub-4.7 40-yard dash. “I don’t know if many people know about him, but they’re going to know about him in the next couple years,” Dupris said. “He’s a stud.” In the secondary, Jacobs is back where he prefers to be. He caught 53 passes last season, but did not play any free safety (where he started as a sophomore) due to a lingering shoulder injury. “He covers a ton of ground. A lot of schools are looking at him,” Dupris said. “He’s an all-state caliber free safety. He comes downhill hard.” The line provides the most uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball. Poe Seiulu (8.5 TFL/3.5 sacks), Brady Odom (5.5 TFL/2 sacks) and Anthony Parker (18.5 TFL/10 sacks) accounted for over a third of the team’s tackles for loss and half of the team’s sacks last year. They all graduated and will be replaced by a rotation of younger players.
Overview: The Mustangs had to learn to finish going into last season. In 2015, they lost a handful of games in the fourth quarter on their way to a 4-7 season. After going 12-2 and overcoming a 31-7 halftime deficit against Reed to win the program’s first regional title, it’s fair to say they acquired that skillset. Now, they must learn something else: Dealing with expectations. They’re not going to surprise anyone after ending the Raiders’ run, nearly besting Liberty in the state semifinals, and boasting a quarterback verbally committed to Notre Dame. “We haven’t made that the focus of the offseason, but we’ve talked about it,” Dupris said. The offensive and defensive lines have something to prove, but the rest of the team remains loaded. Damonte isn’t as deep as it was last year, so health will be particularly imperative for the regional title defense run.
Prediction: 9-1, 4-0
Coach: Blair Roman
Experience: 10th season
2016 Record: 5-5, 2-2; Third in SL; Lost to Reno in regional quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 11
Key Losses: QB/LB Jace Keema, OL/DL Bryceton Schilling, RB/DB Tyler Huling, RB/DB Spencer Rogers, WR Luke Myers, OL/DL Sheldon Miller, TE/DL Josh Thompson, K Johnny Barahona, LB Justin Tschetter, LB Jordan Aikins, WR/DB Brandon Gagnon
Key Returners: RB/LB Abel Carter, OL/DL Blaise Bonomo, OL/DL Brandon Macias, OL/DL Dallin Shaffer, LB/TE Dawson Lamb, WR/DB Kyle Glanzmann, RB/DB Kyle Rudy
What to Expect on Offense: Everyone in the 4A North is aware that Abel Carter is back for his senior season. Carter is the reigning Sierra League Player of the Year after running for 1,887 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior. He broke 100 yards rushing every game and nearly averaged 200 yards a contest. It can’t be just him. The Senators showed some balance in their first seven games of 2016 and averaged 40.1 points on their way to a 5-2 start. Then starting dual-threat quarterback Jace Keema suffered a season-ending hand injury and the offense mustered just 41 total points in the final three games – all losses. Seniors Dan Morrison and Blake Menzel entered camp in a quarterback battle and both bring something different to the huddle. Morrison, a cerebral pocket passer, took over last season, but was recovering from a torn ACL that cost him his sophomore season. Menzel is a physical runner who coach Blair Roman compared to Keema. Carter will get his touches. The biggest question is just how much of the load he will be forced to carry. That will depend largely on the development of the Senators’ passing game.
What to Expect on Defense: Carson’s defense ran through first-team all-league defensive tackle Sheldon Miller last fall. He graduated. That won’t change the Senators’ plan to play defense from the inside out. Pushing 270 pounds, returning second-team all-leaguer Blaise Bonomo will slide into the role of anchor on the defensive line. Linebacker Dawson Lamb started five games last fall and will join Bonomo in leading the front seven. Speedy outside linebacker Richie Romero and 6-2 defensive end Liam Desormier are also names to watch. “We got some nice pieces, and it’s really just a matter of gelling those pieces together and finding the right places for those pieces,” Roman said. Senior cornerback Kyle Glanzmann brings the most experience to the secondary and will be surrounded “young, but talented” players.
Overview: Roman and the Senators need an offensive option other than Carter. Any resemblance of a passing attack will prevent defenses from solely keying on him while helping to keep the burner (who has offers from several schools, including NAVY, but is currently planning on baseball at the next level) from burning out. So not only do either Morrison and/or Menzel need to develop, but a pass catcher or two needs to emerge. Nobody on the team, other than Carter, caught more than one pass last year. Defensively, the ultimate potential of the 2017 Senators depends on the green secondary. The group will face its largest test in week nine when it hosts defending 4A North champ, Damonte Ranch.
Prediction: 4-5, 2-2
Bishop Manogue Miners
Coach: Ernie Howren
Experience: First Season
2016 Record: 4-6, 1-3; Fourth in SL; Lost in Reed in regional quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 16
Key Losses: OL/DL Nikko Hamlin, TE/LB Conner Larkin
Key Returners: RB/DB Angelo Reviglio, OL/DL Josh Malafu, OL/DL Chandon Pierre, RB/LB Preston Helu, WR/DB Hunter Gates, RB/DB Peyton Dixon, QB Lincoln Hauck, WR/DB Dontell Jackson, LB Gilberto Aguilera, OL Matt Gilbert, OL/LB Ryan Miller, OL/DL Ronnie Nieto, QB/DB Josh Rolling, WR Carter Wilkerson
What to Expect on Offense: The Miners are going to be a completely different offensive team this year. Last year, under coach Thomas Peregrin, the Miners started the season as a triple-option/veer team. This fall, under first-year coach Ernie Howren who went 146-54 and won six regional titles at Reed, the Miners are going to spread it out. “As a coaching staff, we feel really strong about the offense we were running and we plan to continue that at Manogue,” Howren said. Lincoln Hauck started under center as a freshman and sophomore and entered fall camp in a battle with fellow junior Josh Rolling. Both are able passers and runners. Whoever wins the job will spend much of the fall looking for junior wide out Dontell Jackson. Howren likened Jackson to Robert Ferrel, who caught 71 passes for 1,098 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Raiders last fall. “His athleticism, his speed, that’s something that’s hard to match,” Howren said. Angelo Reviglio, one of the team captains, and Peyton Dixon will do the brunt of the ball carrying out of the backfield. Reviglio was a second-team all-league selection as a sophomore last fall and Dixon can fly. He took second in the 100 meters at the 4A North regional track meet in the spring with a time of 11.16 seconds. A staple of Howren’s offense has always been the offensive line and he isn’t changing that philosophy at Bishop Manogue. Matt Gilbert will direct a large offensive from the center position. “We’ll probably average 250, 260 (pounds) across the board,” Howren said. “I think we’ll be okay.”
What to Expect on Defense: Defensive end Chandon Pierre finished with 35 tackles last year as a sophomore, almost a third of which were sacks (10.5). Howren, at Reed, was impressed. So were the Sierra League coaches. They voted him a first-team all-league selection. Now a 6-3, 250-pound junior, he’ll lead a defense that only allowed 21.5 points per game last season when excluding the two losses to Reed. “I am really impressed with how physical, how fast he is for a kid (that size),” Howren said. “He just moves around so well.” Senior captains Gilberto Aguilera and Ryan Miller will guide the linebacking corps. Reviglio will roam the secondary and call out a lot of plays from the safety position. The play-making safety has been another calling card for Howren’s teams. Last year, it was Caleb Ariaz directing Reed’s defense as arguably the best defensive back in the region. The Miners’ new coach said the comparison isn’t completely out of bounds. “Guys like him (Ariaz) don’t come along often, and I really feel like (Reviglio) is one of those guys,” he said. “It’s important for our defense to have a guy like that leading us.”
Overview: The overwhelming majority of Bishop Manogue’s roster last year was made up of freshmen and sophomores. Just five names were called on Senior Night. The Miners remain young this fall and the question becomes ‘how quickly can they pick up with Howren is putting down?’ Howren loves the work ethic and approach shown by his team, but the system overhaul requires a vast number of mental reps as well. “It (mental lapses) has been to be expected. There’s been some times where we are a little confused, but man, we work through it,” Howren said. “Those are less and less every day.” Common sense would suggest Bishop Manogue’s assumed ascension will take a few years. It may be quicker than that. Depending largely on quarterback play (it’s particularly important in Howren’s offense), the Miners have the staff, the skill players, the big boys up front, and a returning defense to contend for a home playoff game and their first winning season since 2011.
Prediction: 7-3, 3-1
Coach: Ernie Monfiletto
Experience: Sixth season
2016 Record: 6-5, 3-1; Second in SL; Lost to Reed in regional semifinals
Returning Starters: 6
Key Losses: RB/LB Ryland Desomber, WR Wes Williams, RB/DB Dawson Coman, OL/DL Dawson Hughes, OL/DL Daniel Rich, OL/DL Cody Lewis, OL/DL Tahomah Smokey, TE/LB Reagan Roberson, RB/LB Greg Sanotsky, WR/DB Alex Harker, WR/DB Nick Pedroza
Key Returners: QB Hunter Hickey, WR Tristan Smithers, OL/DL Cody Freitas, OL/DL Austin Aiken, OL/DL Andrew Browning, WR/DB Kane Hoyopatubbi, LB Dakota Lowden, WR/DB Andrew Williams, WR/DB Christian Gray
What to Expect on Offense: If a unit is going to return just one starter from the previous season, like the Douglas offense will in 2017, it may as well be the quarterback. Hunter Hickey was a second-team all-league signal caller as a junior and is the lone returning offensive starter from last year’s team that advanced to the regional semifinals. Hickey played behind an offensive line that put five on all-league teams and had two all-league running backs as well as a trio of all-league receivers at his disposal. They’re all gone. So, expectations must plummet, right? Nope. “I do expect that offense to be productive again. I don’t want to underplay it,” Douglas coach Ernie Monfiletto said. “I think those kids are going to get it and having a quarterback as experienced as we have is only going to help us.” With receivers Andrew Williams, Kane Hoyopatubbi and Devon Gray, the passing game will likely be the strength and after waiting behind Ryland Desomber and Dawson Coman, Dakota Lowden is prepped to take over the running back responsibilities. Lowden is the team’s leading returning rusher, finishing with 185 yards on just 13 carries (14.2 ypc) last year. “We still intend to make a living running the football,” Monfiletto said. “That’s who we are. And we feel like we’re going to be productive there.”
What to Expect on Defense: The Tigers are going to lean on their defensive line. Returning starters Cody Freitas and Austin Aiken, as well as Alex Rice will be asked to clog lanes and slow the increasing number of spread offenses in the 4A North, especially in the Sierra League with Ernie Howren taking his offense from Reed to Bishop Manogue. Five total starters are back on the defense so the Tigers won’t be as inexperienced on that side of the ball, but new faces will certainly be shuffling in, particularly at the linebacker position – an area of strength last season. “The linebackers are young,” Monfiletto said. “We have to really focus on (that group) and get better … We have a lot of competition at that linebacker position.” The pass defending in the secondary will largely be done by the same players who will do the pass receiving on the offensive side.
Overview: Linebackers are important at any level of football. They are particularly crucial in high school. They’re often among the best the best athletes on the field. They have to go sideline to sideline, be able to fill running lanes, and drop back into coverage. They are the playmakers. As they go, so does the defense. The Tigers were stacked at the position last fall, led by Sierra League Defensive Player of the Year, Reagan Roberson. That’s not the case heading into 2017. If they are to build on last year’s success that resulted in the first home playoff game in seven years, a few players will need to solidify the position and let a new-look offense ease into rhythm. Hickey is one of the most electric returning players in the 4A North and will put points on the board, but shaky offensive line play from an entirely new starting group could cage the Tigers’ star.
Prediction: 4-6, 1-3
Coach: Steve Struzyk
Experience: 16th season
2016 Record:2-7, 0-4; Fifth in SL; No playoffs
Returning Starters: 16
Key Losses: RB Adriel Brandt, OL Stettler Anderson, TE/LB Peyton Sakelaris, WR/DB Jim Massey
Key Returners: OL Colton Willow, TE/DE Hayden Werbeckes, WR/DB Tristian Smithers, RB/DB Tommy Corcoran, RB/DB Niko Pezonella, RB Grant Scott, OL/DL Andreus Alejo, OL/DL Robert Siavao, RB Austen Chu, RB/LB Michael Dennis
What to Expect on Offense: For reasons on and off the field, Galena struggled to a last-place finish in the Sierra League last year. The offense averaged 159 yards and 17.4 points per contest only to receive another blow in the offseason when to-be senior starting quarterback Derek Kline moved to Arizona. Enter junior Mateo Rasmussen. Rasmussen spent his sophomore season quarterbacking the junior varsity team and brings an element to the offense the Grizzlies haven’t had in a few years. “He’s one of the better athletes on this team, so he’ll be a mobile, dual-threat type of guy,” Galena coach Steve Struzyk said. “That’s kind of going to tweak our offense a little bit. We’ll be able to do a few more things with him back there.” Rasmussen will work behind an offensive line that will feature three senior returners in Robert Siavao, Colton Willow and Dylan Angella. The skill positions will be a question mark. Tommy Corcoran is taking over the starting running back position after getting just seven carries last fall. Grant Scott (five carries last year) will block for Corcoran at fullback. Three new faces will also shuffle in at wide receiver. Michael Derevianko caught three passes from the running back position and is moving outside. He is the only projected starter who recorded a reception last year. Seniors Alex Irvine and Erik Kozak will see expanded roles after limited junior campaigns.
What to Expect on Defense: Galena’s offensive struggles didn’t do the defense any favors. And the numbers showed that. Spending the majority of games on the field, the Grizzlies allowed over 30 points a night, forcing just six turnovers all season and finishing with just two sacks. A trio of returning starting linebackers should help shrink the first number and grow the latter two. Michael Dennis, Austin Chu and Niko Pezonella will all anchor the defense from the second level. To help combat fatigue, at least until league play starts in week six with a home game against Carson, Struzyk does not plan to start anyone on both sides of the ball. That means returning starters on the defensive line Andreus Alejo and Hayden Werbeckes will jog onto the field fresh early in the year and won’t have as much tread worn off the tires late. Tristian Smithers will play a prominent role in the secondary from the safety position.
Overview: There are a couple different ways to look at a team that brings 16 starters back from a two-win season. One could hypothesize a similar season is in store with many similar players. Or, one could interpret the campaign as an experience. It’s not shocking which school of thought Struzyk falls in line with. “(The returners) combined with the season we had last year, going 2-7, it’s always nice to have a lot of guys coming back from a season like that because I think it’ll be a motivated bunch,” he said. “They (worked) hard in the offseason. With the amount of seniors we have, it provides a lot of senior leadership, which is always good.” There is a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball and stirring in experience with a young dual-threat quarterback could be a smooth enough concoction to help Galena move past the turbulent 2016 season. The play of the senior class will largely determine if the Grizzlies are going to get back into the postseason.
Prediction: 3-7, 0-4