A Miners’ road show
Nevada Union’s 2002 football team will blend experience with new talent, and do so in a new conference.
But before this year’s Miners can think about claiming titles in the new Metropolitan Conference, it must squarely face a preseason schedule against established programs that will waste no time in testing the home team.
Tonight, nearly four hours from Grass Valley, Nevada Union’s junior varsity and varsity programs will begin their respective football seasons with games against Merced High School.
The games, to be played at Merced College, are scheduled to begin at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
It is a long way to go for a first test, but NU coach Dave Humphers looks forward to putting this year’s program to the test after months of pre-conditioning, camps and practices.
“(NU safety) Matt Sharpe said he remembers going to the section championship games in 1993 and 1994 and seeing us win it,” Humphers said.
“He said it is one of the goals, to go all the way, and now this is his last chance to pull it off. The kids realize that this is a special time they will remember the rest of their lives.”
Nevada Union returns both its offensive and defensive leaders from last year. Senior quarterback Jon Sheets (6-foot, 160 pounds), a first-team all-Capital Athletic League member last year, will look to improve upon his impressive junior campaign, which led to a 9-3 record overall and a trip to the second-round of the Division I playoffs.
Sharpe, who roamed the secondary at safety last year, also returns.
“Last year, it was a personal success that I started as a junior and had a feel for the flow at the varsity level,” said Sheets, who threw for 1,406 in 2001. “But knowing we could have won the Elk Grove (playoff) game and possibly the section was a disappointment. But last year gave me a lot of confidence going into this year.”
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this year’s offense. In addition to Sheets, who is as dangerous on the run as he is when he passes, the Miners return second team all-CAL fullback Vu Pham (5-5, 170) linemen Shane Curry (6-3, 200) and junior Ian Pilcher (5-10, 215), as well as tailback Chris Thibodeau, who saw a good deal of action late in the season last year.
In addition to Curry, the backs will gain ground do in large part to the efforts of guard Stephen Glazier (6-foot, 220), center Mark Ryan (6-0, 190,) and tackles Sean Jackson (6-2, 210), Greg Carmichael (6-2, 200) and Josh Stover 5-11, 250).
Wingback Joey Bratton (5-9, 170), tight end Beau Groo (6-3, 230) and wide receiver Joe Dolan (6-2, 195) will be prime receivers for Sheets. Humphers said that Dolan, with his combination of size and speed, is a collegiate prospect.
“We are still in the development stage of the season, but we are very excited about this offense,” Humphers said.
“This is going to be an exciting, more wide open kind of offense to watch. This year’s team will be more of a kick the ball out on the flank, and throw the ball downfield and beat people with our speed and quickness.”
NU’s defense will be anchored by the return of Sharpe (6-2, 185) at safety, and outside linebacker Travis Toll (6-3, 205). Sharpe, who put on 20 pounds in the weight room, made 63 tackles, third best on the team in 2001, earning first team all-CAL honors. Toll, who was seventh in tackles last year, said this year’s defense should be very bit as quick as last year’s squad.
“I think as long as our inside linebackers step up, we will do all right,” said Toll, who was seventh on the team in tackles last year. “We have to be aggressive, fly to the ball, hit hard and make people scared of us.”
Helping Toll in the intimidation category will be linebackers Steve Kenny (5-9, 175), Brett Morgan (5-11, 180), and junior Corey Holland (6-1, 175). NU graduated three first-teamers from last year’s defensive line, and will look to fill the void with a defensive front that features tackles Brandon Julian (6-1, 200), Eric Harvey (5-9, 150), and bookends Ron Speights (5-11, 180) and Adam Strain (6-2, 210).
NU will have a pair of Jasons working as cornerbacks. Jason Snavely (5-9, 160) led the team last year with five interceptions, and will be joined at the other defensive wing by junior Jason Roenicke (5-11, 170).
“Matt is very aggressive and will knock somebody down,” Humphers said. “And Snavely was a small guy who teams went after last year, and he turned around and picked off five passes.”
Nevada Union and Merced may be about as far away as two teams can get in the Sac-Joaquin section, but the two football programs are hardly strangers.
In fact, the two football programs have clashed in each of the school’s most storied football seasons.
In 1993, NU and Merced met for the Division I Sac-Joaquin title game.
It was the first of consecutive section titles for the Miners, which also won the 1994 with a title victory over Napa. The 1993 title was twice as sweet for NU, for in 1989 and 1990, the Miners reached the section championship games, only to be defeated both times by Merced.
Merced’s football program had also reached the title games in 1978, 1988, and 1992.
In tonight’s game, Merced will test NU with the return of senior quarterback Corey Brown, who threw for 1,040 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2001, and a defense that returns six starters..
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