All three Sparks-area high schools kickoff their 2012 campaign tonight with non-league battles. Players and coaches alike are chomping at the proverbial bit to put pads on with a meaningful uniform on top and now they get to.
Here’s a closer look at the three Friday night games involving Sparks schools.
Reed at James Logan, Calif., 7 p.m.
Reed has made a habit of taking on California foes early on in the football season. The Raiders have opened up with Granite Bay the past two seasons and three years ago they took on Oceanside of suburban San Diego during the second week of the 2009 season. All three contests have ended with a loss for the Blue and Gold.
Still, Reed coach Ernie Howren believes these matchups are important for the remainder of the fall campaign.
“It’s a philosophy we’ve had for about six years now. This is something we believe in,” Howren said. “We need to go out and get the best teams that we can find to push us and let us know where we’re at. We feel that is the best way to get ready for league when we play teams like McQueen.”
This week, Reed is headed to Union City, Calif. to challenge James Logan, a school of over 4,100 students. James Logan had a similar season to Reed last year, outscoring its opponents in the regular season by an average of 45-8 per game.
But Friday night will be the first step toward a big change for the Colts.
James Logan is in its first year as an independent after dominating the Mission Valley Athletic League for several years. James Logan was 35-1 in MVAL contests under coach George Zuber.
However, that conference success hasn’t translated into postseason success. The Colts are only 1-6 in the playoffs the past six seasons. After going 10-0 in the regular season, James Logan lost its playoff opener to eventual North Coast Section Division I runner-up San Ramon Valley, 28-14.
That frustrating ending to the season, as well as the addition of another weak team to the MVAL that would have taken away one of the four non-league opponents for James Logan, motivated Zuber to go independent.
“We’re kind of a big fish in a small pond in our league,” Zuber said. “We had to get out to stay competitive.”
James Logan can apply for an at-large berth to the playoffs if it finishes the regular season over the .500 mark.
Zuber said he’s looking forward to the opener with the Raiders based on what he knows about the team from east Sparks.
“Reed is a high passing team, and that’s exactly what we were looking for. We know they run the ball well, too. We need to get as much work as we can against passing teams to get ready for some of our other big games this year,” Zuber said. “Getting the best competition we can get is definitely what we were looking for, and Reed fits that bill nicely.”
James Logan returns its leading rusher and the MVAL’s Offensive Player of the Year, Warren Miles Long, who has signed to play for Northwestern. He was also a first-team linebacker after leading the Colts in touchdowns and tackles. First-team quarterback Jeffrey Prothro is also back under center, a threat to run and throw the ball.
Howren knows his team will be facing a talented squad.
“We know they’re extremely fast and have some great skill players,” Howren said. “They play a very attacking style of defense. They get downhill very quick.”
–Aaron Retherford contributed to this story.
Bishop Manogue at Spanish Springs, 7 p.m.
Spanish Springs started off its 2011 campaign with a 3-1 record. Unfortunately for the Cougars and their fans, the season fell apart from their. The SSHS gridders dropped their final eight games of the years.
So you can bet those donning the Purple and Silver are all kind of fired up about a fresh start. Spanish Springs will meet a somewhat unfamiliar foe in Bishop Manogue. The Cougars and Miners have not met since 2007, when Spanish Springs stole an overtime win at BMHS.
“We’ve only got 11 in the North, but we’ve missed them four straight years,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “In ‘08 and ‘09 we were in different leagues and then the last two years we had the one league and they were one of the schools we missed. It’s just kind of weird.”
So what does the Cougars coaching staff know about Bishop Manogue?
“Obviously, not a lot,” He said. “We’ve got 15 plays or so of their No. 1s from their scrimmage last weekend on film. One thing I always know is they’re always good. They are always in the mix, always a regional semifinalist or finalist. They are well put together in the way they do things, crisp and solid. They’ll be a good test for us.”
Spanish Springs, and many prep football programs around the state for that matter, started a weightlifting regimen in the early spring and then had summer 7-on-7 drills as well as non-contact workouts. Then came full-contact summer camp in late July. Lastly, official practice began Aug. 9 and the Cougars have now concluded preseason camp. But are they ready for a game?
“I’m ready for a ballgame,” Hare said. “By this point, you’ve been going so long. The flip side of that is this is the opener. The kids are still going to make mistakes. The coaches are still making adjustments.
“We’ve only been in pads for two weeks, but I feel good. The kids really need to play a game. Ultimately, this is good. We’ll see where we’re at.”
On offense, Spanish Springs will have a much different look than the one it started with a year ago. The Cougars will play with four receivers and one running back in most formations. That’s a far cry from a power I the Cougas used in 2011. The Cougars’ change in scheme is no secret, but Hare says his team must be able to utilize the run game as well.
“You don’t have to look very far than the guys down the road,” Hare said, alluding to Reed’s highly successful spread scheme. “People think of them as a run team, but it’s been the run that keeps opponents off balance.
“There’s no doubt we’re still stressing our run game. In our scrimmage, we were still a 50-50 run-pass team. We’ve spent a lot time on our run game. I don’t believe that as it gets cold here in northern Nevada that you can win consistently if you can’t run the football ... We have a good quarterback and good receivers, but the run is important. I think we’ll be able to dictate when we throw it. And if we’re in second-and-10, it might not freak me out, like it has in the past.”
—Dan Eckles contributed to this story.
Yerington at Sparks, 7 p.m.
The Sparks High School football team entered its final game of the 2011 season having struggled to a 1-8 record but hoping to close out the season on a high note against a winless Wooster squad. Instead of an inspired effort though, the Railroaders came out flat and were handed a 49-7 defeat by the Colts. It is a loss that has Sparks head coach Rob Kittrell ready to open the new season.
“I’m ready. It’s been 10 months since Wooster kicked our butt here, so it’s nice to get back out here and compete again. This year felt longer. For the most part I felt we played pretty hard last year until that last game. Things didn’t go the way we wanted as far as our effort.
“I base a lot on our kids always playing as hard as they can and after that game it was hard for me to sit for 10 months as a coach wondering what I need to do differently, what went wrong and why we didn’t finish the season out as hard as we could. That’s on me. That left a really bad taste in my mouth as head coach of this team.”
Kittrell is hoping to wash that bad taste out of his mouth tonight as the Railroaders return to the gridiron to kickoff their season against visiting Yerington, a team Sparks lost last season’s debut to, 25-24.
“Yerington’s going to be good,” Kittrell said. “They like to run the ball. They’ll spread you out and try to spread you horizontally. Defensively they’ll be in a four-man front and try to take away what you do best. They’re always fundamentally sound. We’re going to see a good solid football team tomorrow.”
While the Lions present a formidable test right from the opening whistle, Kittrell is excited to see how the Maroon and Gold responds to the challenge.
“This is probably one of the harder camps that we’ve had in probably the last eight or nine years,” Kittrell said. “Part of that was because I felt maybe we were a little too soft last year as coaches. We want that toughness instilled back in the program and a strong work ethic for the whole year. They’re just ready to play and hit someone other than themselves.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be a lot more aggressive than we were last year. Now whether we tackle or not, that’s still to be seen. That’s always an issue early on. Offensively, assignment wise and all that, I like where we’re at, but until you see someone comparable or even better, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
–Damian Tromerhauser contributed to this story.