Now, Sparks is hoping it can prevent its skid of missing out on the playoffs from increasing to three straight years. While that’s the goal, there will be very little margin for error.
After fielding a team of over 40 strong a year ago, the Railroaders’ numbers on their varsity squad have dwindled to 25 for the 2011 campaign due to an anticipated small junior class.
Still, that does mean the team is predominantly seniors.
“We’re small in numbers, so we don’t have a lot of depth,” Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “The fortunate thing is we have a lot of kids who had some good game-playing experience. A lot of those kids played a lot last year, so they know what it’s all about. They can use that for leadership.”
The Railroaders’ offense will go through junior returning quarterback Geo Vasquez. In his first year starting, Vasquez looked poised to put up big numbers.
When Sparks started the season with three consecutive wins, the Maroon and Gold put up 29, 22 and 31 points. Two of those wins were league victories, but the Railroaders went winless in their next six games — all of which were against league losses. Sparks did end the season with a non-league win over Wooster.
During its string of six straight losses, Sparks was held to a touchdown or less five time. The Railroaders will run the same offense, and Kittrell is confident in Vasquez‘s ability to lead the team.
“He has a lot more confidence, The game has slowed down for him,” Kittrell said. “He’s doing well. He’s also not being as hard on himself.”
James McCarty, Mario Guadron and Steven Peterson will share ball-carrying responsibilities in the backfield. All three are hard runners, who are not afraid of contact and have good vision.
At wide receiver, Sparks has several speedsters in Esteban Bravo, Erik Garcia, Quinn Lightfoot, Cody Swanson and Ramon Covarrubias.
Kittrell is very pleased with the offensive line. Vance Bow was the only non-senior to earn all-league honors last fall, and he will cement the line along with Andrew Beaver and Edgar Palacios. Kittrell said those three started every game on the line as juniors.
Chris Motter saw a good amount of playing time last year on varsity and Tanner Webb was a solid lineman on JV. Barry Bow also played a lot on the offensive line, but is currently the sixth lineman and will be used as a utility player to spell the starters.
“Andrew and Vance have been with us since they were sophomores, so with those two, combined with Edgar Palacios’ improvement from last year to this year, and all the playing time he got, I really like the way our line has looked so far,” Kittrell said.
McCarty and Garcia will play both ways and lead the defense at linebacker and safety respectively.
Withjust 25 on the roster, they won’t be the only guys competing on both sides of the pigskin. Currently, four Railroaders are locked in on both sides of the ball. Injuries could change that, but Kittrell is also working to interchange different players in multiple positions in order to make sure the team is prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Most of the returning starters saw the majority of action on offense, so the defense still has a little catching up to do.
“The defense has a ways to go to get to that point. I think Erik, James and Barry are the only three returners on the defensive side of the ball, who started and played the majority of the time,” Kittrell said. “So a lot of those kids, as far as getting a starting role and playing the whole game, that will be good for them.”
A year after going 4-6 overall and 2-6 in the 3A North, Kittrell believes making the playoffs is a realistic goal.
“Staying healthy is going to be a big key,” he said. “That kind of hurt us last year. Our run game was hurt when Henry (Banks) got hurt in the Truckee game. It kind of took our run game away from us a little bit. We really struggled and almost became one-dimensional. It probably put too much pressure on Geo.”
Kittrell expects Truckee, Lowry, Fallon and Elko to be the top four teams in the league.
Sparks opens the season at home Friday night at 7 p.m. against Yerington.