New head coach Dennis Houlihan and the 2013 Nevada Union football team are setting the foundation for a new era of Miner football.
They lay the first brick tonight.
“I’m definitely nervous stepping into the limelight,” junior running back Mo Nieves said. “But I’m definitely prepared for it. The coaches have done their best to prepare me for it. I really can’t wait.”
The Miners will host the McQueen Lancers at 7:15 p.m. inside the friendly confines of Hooper Stadium thanks to the poor air quality in Reno, which has forced all outdoor prep sporting events to be suspended.
The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association announced Thursday it was canceling all outdoor events today and Saturday involving its member schools in eight counties in Nevada and California, but Nevada Union and McQueen came to an agreement to have the game played at Hooper Stadium.
“What a blessing,” Houlihan said. “Maybe it’s coming from up above from someone who knows we need this first one.”
Houlihan went on to explain that getting the season off on the right foot is very important to the psyche of the team.
“You don’t want to go into a season, and all of a sudden, the kids start doubting,” he said. “You’re talking about having no doubt, you’re talking about getting to a certain level, and they are going to believe that. It’s gotta show in the product on the field.”
For Houlihan, who has been a player for Nevada Union and the junior varsity head coach before taking the varsity job, he said he wants to expand on the legacy former head coach Dave Humphers has left.
“I want to be able to continue what Dave has done,” he said. “I want to continue to do what I grew up with.”
The path to continuing that legacy begins today, and Houlihan said he is looking forward to watching his team compete for the first time when it counts.
“I just want to see them compete,” he said. “I told them a lot of the time, 80 percent of Nevada Union teams that I know, and even before me, on paper, we shouldn’t have won one game. But we overachieve, we over-work and out-work our opponents, and that’s what I want to see from our team.”
For senior captain Gareth Noxon, tonight is something he has waited for his entire life.
“I’ve waited my whole life to play center stage,” he said. “Senior year, in front of the whole county, I just want to start it off right and win and make our county proud.”
In order to win, the talented safety along with the rest of the NU defense will have to shut down the McQueen offensive attack.
McQueen, which last season ran a power offense that averaged 31.8 points per game, has changed offensive coordinators and will now run a more spread, pass-heavy offense, said Houlihan.
“They’re are going to run a spread-zone read,” Houlihan said. “They have a fast running back, and they’re going to throw the ball. So you’re not going to see a wing or a power game. They are big, and I think our main focus will be where can we put pressure on them and where can we box in that quarterback?”
The Miners were susceptible to the pass last season, but with a veteran secondary that includes Noxon, senior Jake Berger and senior Zach Alcantara, the Miners should be better against the pass. They will also rely on the pass rush abilities of senior defensive end Davi Pettinato to wreak havoc on the quarterback.
Offensively for the Miners, there is still no clear-cut front-runner for the quarterback position, and both senior Michael Tapia and sophomore Justus Spillner will see plenty of action in tonight’s game, Houlihan said.
“(Tapia) and Spillner are still right dead even,” he said. “You will see both of them, so we can bring them along, and hopefully, one gets ahead of the other before league.”
With the transition back to the run-heavy wing-T offense, Houlihan said he expects to see nine McQueen defenders in the box on a regular basis.
“They stack eight to nine guys in the box, especially knowing that we run the wing now,” he said. “I have widened out our offense to get those two safeties out, so that we can pound it inside if we have to.”
The key to winning the opener lies with whatever team works the hardest, said Noxon.
“Just flying around, working harder than the other team on every play,” he said, “and at the end of the game knowing you went harder than the other team.”
A couple of other things going the Miners’ way, besides getting to play at home, are that the Lancers are learning a new offensive system and that they have had to host practices in gyms due to the poor air quality, said Houlihan.
Win or lose, tonight marks the start of a new era in Miner football. An era that many in Nevada County are interested to see play out on the field.
“If we do our best like I know we will,” said Nieves, “we’re going to take a win home.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.