First-year coach Brad Rose installing spread offense
There are two new coaches in Sparks this year. And they are in entirely different positions.
At Reed, Tony Amantia is taking over a program that has won five of the last six 4A North regional titles. At Sparks, Brad Rose doesn’t have that luxury. He inherits a program that is 16-71 since its last winning season in 2007. The former North Valleys offensive coordinator is the first new head coach at Sparks since 1999, when Rob Kittrell started his 19-year run, and is trying to find a balance between acknowledging the past and moving on from it.
“It’s a tough line. I think it’s important to honor the past while preparing for the future,” he said. “We don’t really talk about previous seasons. It’s a new era, new beginning. And that’s kind of the attitude we come in here with. What’s happened in Sparks’ past is Sparks’ past, and we’ll always honor our traditions. But we are a brand new football program.”
One of the first lessons Rose preached when he was hired in January surrounded consistency. He asked his players to constantly compete against their selves of the previous day and it grew into “one of our mantras here.” That was a philosophical change. A nine-year drought of winless seasons doesn’t end with just a fresh perspective, though.
His next adjustment was a complete overhaul of the offense. The Railroaders threw the ball less than nine times a game last year. That number will grow significantly in a spread offense.
“They haven’t really passed the ball a lot the last few years,” Rose said. “I am very much a smash-mouth, ground-out football guy, but I think the development of the spread passing game is really going to help us a ton this year.”
It was unclear going into camp who would be throwing the swollen number of passes. Senior Kaige Lewis is the only member of the competition with varsity experience. He completed 12-of-21 passes for 77 yards in five games last fall. He’s fighting for the job against an unlikely individual. That’s because Vashisth Patel, another senior, was blocking for Lewis at times last year.
Listed at 6-4 and 220 pounds, Patel shared he would like to give quarterbacking a try in the offseason. Rose gave him the go-ahead after displaying flashes while working out with former Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo in the offseason.
“In the spring, he was one of the few guys who really wanted to try quarterback. Cody and I had him out for a session and decided he might be the guy, he might be a guy who could fit that spot,” Rose said. “And we’ve rolled with it ever since.”
The winner of the job will spend much of the fall targeting Colby Boman and slot receiver Avery Aranas, who was tied for third on the team in receptions in 2016 and is enthusiastic about his expanded role.
“That’s why I like the position,” he said. “It’s just different plays, different schemes. Everything is just different … It’s a clean slate.”
Jorge Dominguez, Aleki Po’oi and Abner Lopez will all get carries out of the backfield.
Senior linebacker Julius Rice-Mesa will be in the center of a 4-3 base defense that will morph into different alignments depending on the opponent. Cameron Colbert (defensive end), cornerbacks Dominguez and Aranas, and returning all-league safety Carlos Rodriguez will also be names to watch when Sparks’ spread offense is on the sideline.
Another adjustment Rose made was adding a non-league game in the first week of the season. The additional game will give Sparks 10 in the regular season for just the second time in five years. The Railroaders will open the season at Lovelock on Friday night. The Mustangs won the 2A state title last year, ending Yerington’s run of three-straight state titles.
“I feel really good about this group,” Rose said. “There are a lot of talented seniors coming back and some very ferocious juniors, so I think it’s going to be a pretty solid year for us over here at Sparks.”
Outlook: Last year’s 2-7 record doesn’t tell the entire story. In week three, Sparks was on the cusp of its biggest win in years, leading 13-10 on the road at Elko in overtime. The Indians faced a third-and-goal from the 17. Two stops would’ve put the Railroaders at 2-1 and could’ve entirely redirected the season. Instead, the Indians successfully hit a double pass to win 16-13 and elongate the Railroaders’ misfortunes. Rose is confident the new spread offense will work in the 3A North. The scheme requires athletes who can create in the open field, something Sparks hasn’t had in abundance the last several years. The enthusiasm counts for something, especially at the prep level, so while a playoff berth (top six teams go) may be overly optimistic, an increased win total isn’t.
Prediction: 3-7, 3-6