The smoky haze that blanketed the skies above the Truckee Meadows shows no signs of moving on. It’s brought on poor air quality that wiped out scrimmages across the region last Saturday and forced teams to practice indoors over the past week. If unhealthy conditions continue, prep gridiron matchups scheduled for Friday night may not go off as planned.
If they do, all three Rail City schools will be in action. Here’s a closer look at the trio of games scheduled for opening weekend, involving Sparks-area schools.
Spanish Springs at Bishop Manogue, Friday 7 p.m.
•This game is a rematch of a first-round regional playoff affair between the two schools last November. Spanish Springs rolled to a 26-6 road triumph in the postseason tilt, its first-ever playoff win, and the Cougars would like nothing more than to hand the Miners another loss on their home field in south Reno.
It’s been a long offseason for the Cougars who fell to eventual North champion Reed in the regional semifinals after having blown a three-score lead in the second half. But eighth-year SSHS coach Scott Hare insists his team has made good use of the down time. In fact, he stressed that in football players need to be ready for long stretches of practice and willing to work on improving their games, the gridiron game does not have the luxury of summer scrimmages or a 25-game regular season schedule. Then he stressed that’s he’s excited he start of the season isn’t much farther off.
“I told the team the other day, if you don’t like getting better, than football is not the sport for you,” Hare said. “You practice five times more than you play, and that’s just in the regular season. “You practice in every sport, but in basketball and baseball you play Tuesday and Thursday, sometimes Friday and maybe Saturday. In football, you practice every day and play Friday. Then you start over Saturday. If you don’t enjoy the small nuances of football you’re in trouble.
“I enjoy the summer, getting to know the guys and getting around them, but it’s nice to know we’re here now. The intensity gets going now at a much higher level and we all need to be prepared for that.”
Hare can sleep easy knowing he’s got one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever play high school in football in northern Nevada on his roster. Hunter Fralick is back under center for his senior season at Spanish Springs, his third year as the Cougars’ starter. Fralick, who has given a verbal commitment to play his college football at Nevada, has pin-point accuracy and will look to carve up the Manogue defense Friday and the rest of the opposing defenses he sees later in the year.
But what makes him so good?
“First, it’s his preparation,” Hare said. “I’ve had some good quarterbacks and some mediocre quarterbacks. What sets Hunter apart is long before gets on the field, he puts in his time off the field. He is the least of my concerns.
“Secondly, he has the ‘It factor.’ He can make throws you can’t coach or teach kids to make. There’s some things you can put into that as a coach, but he just flat makes throws you can’t coach and it’s no accident. That’s why he’s going to the next level and it wouldn’t surprise me if in five years, he was preparing for the (NFL) draft.”
While Hare feels confident about his offense against Manogue, with Fralick at the helm, if he has a question going into the 2013 debut, it’s about his defense and secondary specifically.
“I think our secondary is young, one returner out there of the four and that’s Jacob Allen,” Hare said. “He’ll be solid but the other guys will be in positions they don’t have a lot of experience at. That’s kind of where I think we may have some growing pains. You have to coach them up and by the time we get to league with five games under our belt we’ll be better. There may be a mistake or two in the secondary, but you chalk it up to inexperience. You move on. You learn and grow.”
Reed at Foothill, Friday 6 p.m.
Friday night’s scheduled gridiron battle was supposed to be the return trip from a year ago when Reed played at the Palo Cedro, Calif. school and was thumped 50-33. However, due to the ongoing poor air quality locally, athletic officials at the two schools reached an agreement to send Reed back to Foothill this weekend.
Foothill, of suburban Redding, is a perennial northern California power and the Reed coaching staff expects the Cougars to be just as good as they were a year ago.
On top of facing a good team, Reed won’t even be on even footing with Foothill from a game prep standpoint. The Raiders have not been able to practice outside since early last week. The team has been forced inside to workout in the gym, leaving them in non-contact workouts.
Still, the RHS girders are anxious to suit up Friday.
“We’re excited to see Foothill,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “They’ve got great coaches and kids. It will be a huge challenge for us and were excited for that. I told the kids, ‘here’s some early adversity. Here’s a program getting to practice every day in full pads and we still have to find a way to get it done.’ This is part of learning. I love getting some adversity early on. Would I have chosen to not be able to practice outside? No. But we’ll roll with it.”
Foothill coaches have dealt with the wildfire/smoke-in-the-air issue in the past and know the challenges Reed is facing. Officials at both schools even discussed playing the matchup again at Foothill.
“We talked on Sunday about the situation,” Howren said of his discussions with Foothill coaches. “They appreciate it. They have been there and done that. They know where we’re at. Coach (Joey) Brown understands the situation we’re in and he knows we’re making the best of it. He knows we’ll wait until the very last second before we cancel.”
So how did the two schools agree to flip the venueback to California for the weekend?
“I know our AD looked at every option at this point. I had not heard anything about playing at a neutral site. And we’re in a very unique situation. We haven’t scrimmaged … we have a bye to follow this up. So for us, we really want to get this game in.”
Ultimately, the situation Reed’s in, even though it gets to play the game is far from optimum. The indoor practices have put a crimp in game prep efforts. Still, Howren won’t make excuses and he says his club must do the best it can, because it has no other choice.
“If we were preparing for an arena football league game we’d be set,” the Raiders’ veteran coach quipped. “Practicing in the gym has been adequate, but the reality is it’s not a football field. It’s been difficult to adjust … This game is about speed and you have to practice at game speed. At this point, playing in the gym, we’re not getting the opportunity to play at game speed.”
Sparks (0-0) at Yerington (0-0), 7 p.m.
The Sparks football team sat on its winless 2012 campaign all offseason. Railroaders Rob Kittrell and his club get their first crack at erasing that memory Friday, opening their season at Yerington.
It is Sparks’ lone non-league meeting of the year before starting its nine-game league marathon next Friday, playing host to Elko.
“They (Yerington) are going to be pretty tough,” Kittrell said on the phone Wednesday morning. “They have a lot of kids coming back, their leading rusher, leading thrower and leading tackler.”
The Lions finished 8-2 last season before losing in the state quarterfinals.
It is the fourth consecutive season Sparks will open its season with Yerington. The D-III Lions used a 20-point first quarter to cruise to a 58-21 win over Sparks last season. The two teams split the first two meetings.
Like all three schools in Sparks, the Railroaders have been forced to practice in the school’s gym with the smoke in the area. Kittrell spoke with the Yerington athletic director on Wednesday, who said the Lions have also been pushed inside but were able to practice outside Tuesday.
“It gives them a little advantage,” Kittrell said. “We have never been in this situation. It will effect our timing offensively.”
When it has the ball, Sparks is going to simply try to find out what works. Not surprising after a rough go in 2012.
“We are going to be focusing on our new quarterback (senior Mastor Sells) and getting comfortable running our new offense,” Kittrel said.
Sparks will also be using several new running backs, with Zach Hix getting the nod to start.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sparks will be given the assignment of stopping the pesky jet sweep offense. After allowing 58 points to the Lions last season, that is no simple task.
“They run the jet sweep very effectively sideline to sideline,” Kittrell said.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. for a Sparks squad that is undoubtedly excited for a clean slate.
Nathan Shoup contributed to this story.