Sparks played Truckee in back-to-back weeks to end the season with just 19 players suited up. The result was pair of losses by a combined score of 106-12.
Coach Rob Kittrell is hoping to avoid the injury bug this season, and with 36 players on the roster, that has helped ease the chances of being short-handed for the big games.
“We’ve had more physical two-a-days than we’ve had in a while just because of the numbers,” Kittrell said. “It’s been nice. We’ve had some spirited days of practice. They’re not afraid to get after it. Practice is competitive.”
What Sparks needs to worry about now is figuring out its new offense. The Railroaders are going with the “pistol” formation and likely won’t take many snaps under center this year.
However, that also means an entirely new blocking scheme and the slower learning curve that comes with it.
“The line is inexperienced because of the new blocking system we put in, so we’re all learning together,” Kittrell said. “They’re coming along. The one area we’ll probably struggle with early on is our offensive line because of the new concept we put in. We’ll see how that goes.”
Sparks has three signal callers who could take snaps throughout the season.
Senior quarterback Joe Puccinelli is one of those candidates. He entered last season as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, but suffered multiple injuries and missed the last two weeks of the regular season and the playoff game.
Senior running back Angel Guillen was the backup QB for Puccinelli last year and will likely have a package created for him as a quarterback option.
Then there’s junior Raheel Sadiq, who at 6-foot-4 and with a strong arm, has the physical gifts to be the quarterback of the future. He just needs time to get acclimated to the speed of the game at the varsity level after starting on JV last year. This is only his third year playing football.
Kittrell thinks the team will be strong at skill positions.
Joining Guillen in the running back corps are juniors Anthony Ayala and Henry Banks.
Bryan Orellana has good hands and is a great receiver, according to Kittrell.
Anthony Arroyo will move from tight end to wide receiver after impressing coaches with his work ethic during the summer.
“He is a totally different player than he was last year,” Kittrell said.
Vittawat Sriphong-Ngarm will also be in the wide receiver mix.
Sparks will try to limit players who play both offense and defense. While the offensive and defensive lines should be unique from one another, skill players like Guillen, Ayala, Banks, Arroyo, Orellana and Sriphong-Ngarm will be rotated in and out on both sides of the ball.
Kittrell liked the turnout for the summer program after trying something to increase the competitive nature of the voluntary workouts. Players were divided into teams and rewarded for things like leadership and enthusiasm.
“That carried on throughout the summer and over to the start of practice,” Kittrell said.
Kittrell said Fernley and Truckee are likely to be the teams to beat. However, Sparks doesn’t play them until the final two weeks of the season, making the early games even more important to win in order to secure a playoff spot.
“It’s about getting better and showing improvement every game,” he said. “This year we’re looking for the consistency of getting better every week, not the ups and downs we had last year.”
The Railroaders open up the non-league schedule with 4A Wooster and Fallon and then will take on Virgin Valley, a state semifinalist from 2008.
Sparks recently filled its midseason bye week with 2A state championship runner-up Pershing County.