Bruins ready to ‘hit somebody’ as 2014 football season approaches
Special to The Union
BruinNation, the time for kickoff is swiftly approaching and Bear River football is full throttle ahead with success on its mind.
The Bruins break the preseason ice with a scrimmage against Nevada Union and Mesa Verde Saturday and it will serve a dual purpose. It gives players the opportunity to release some of that untapped adrenaline they’ve been storing all summer long, but also, the scrimmage provides a stage for the coaching staff to analyze its talent and finalize roles for gameday.
Co-head coaches Scott Savoie and Terry Logue are still in the process of figuring out some starting positions for their 2014 Bruins. Every practice, every snap, every play, every whistle means the team is that much closer to taking shape.
“We use the scrimmage to find out who is going to be our starters,” said Logue. “It’s the single most important thing since camp (in Reno). Juniors are stepping up to compete to be starters. We see who knows the plays, who runs the right routes, who runs the right gaps, which guys catch the ball, who makes tackles when they have the chance. It’s the biggest evaluation. That zero week game comes really fast.”
Unlike 2013, Bear River opens a week earlier this season with a week zero non-conference game for its home opener. One less week to prepare can be a huge hurdle, but on the flip side it allows the team to take a bye week later during the season to recoup. The Bruins had the extra week off up front last year, but then played 10 consecutive weeks. This time they will play early and have their bye in week three, Sept 19.
It’s simple, whichever team scores the most points wins, but how that unfolds during the course of the game and translates on the scoreboard is to be determined. To be a functioning unit on the gridiron is one thing, but to show up and simply try isn’t what these Bruins are about. Bear River is here to win, to execute on a consistent basis and prove itself as a contender in the Pioneer Valley League.
“I’m pretty good, excited and pumped,” said senior starting center Sam Elizondo, who will provide blocking for the running game and protection for senior quarterback Austin Smith. “I think we’re going to have a great season. There’s two sides to it, winning, and getting out there and hitting people, meshing together. The other guys on the line listen to me, ask me what to do. I’m the voice of my linemen. Everyone wants to win.”
With solid blocking up front any team is destined for success. This year is no exception for the Bruins when it comes to its arsenal of offensive producers.
Smith is confident in his arm and his backfield, which appears to be a triple threat featuring senior running back John Voter III and potential junior playmakers Kyle Uclaray and David Mastrella. Voter had 51 touches and averaged 4.69 yards per carry last season at the varsity level.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into the PVL and (redeeming) what happened to us last year,” said Voter. “I’m glad we have a tougher preseason schedule this year. We breezed through it and it hit us hard. It’s me, David Mastrella and Uclaray. We’re unbelievable. We have way more than we did last year. We want to go hit somebody and show everybody what we can do. We got to get everyone to believe in our first game.”
It all starts from within, and once players believe they can feed off each other and brew a whirlwind of confidence to make great plays and overwhelm opponents. However, running through the trenches isn’t the only way the Bruins are going to dice up defenses this season.
“I’m just going to go out there and catch touchdowns,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Wagner, who has already developed a solid working relationship with his quarterback. “We’ve done some one-on-one throwing. I’m (Smith’s) No. 1 target when we run routes. We call it the ‘7/11 hookup.’”
Wagner will look to surpass his contributions from his 2013 season where he finished as the team’s third leading receiver with 10 grabs for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Turnovers hurt the Bruins down the stretch in PVL play a year ago and costly mistakes will likely make or break any team’s hopes of playing in the postseason. When it comes down to it though, the defense’s execution and desire must outweigh its opponent. Luckily for Bear River it has senior linebacker Kyle Krogman standing in the way.
“I want to carry the team on defense and make sure everyone is doing the right thing so we can win,” said Krogman, who finished with the third most tackles on varsity last year with 51. “I think we have a shot. We’ll do what we have to do to win. We’re getting the season started off right with a scrimmage. Hitting someone will be nice.”
In addition to Krogman sealing the cracks at linebacker, Voter will also be in the mix, helping to orchestrate the defense. Voter led the team in tackles as a junior last season with 80. Up front, pressuring the quarterback will be senior goliath Cannon Fetter (6-foot, 7-inches, 290 pounds) who wrapped up two sacks last season. Behind Voter and Krogman will be defensive back Wagner, who will be on his toes on both sides of the ball all night long.
“It’s a little crazy going both ways,” added Wagner. “We’ve conditioned enough to where it’s not that bad.”
Bear River is coming off a season where it allowed 23.5 points per game, with most of the vulnerability coming against its run defense, which yielded 186.6 yards rushing per game. However it’s quite obvious the PVL packs the biggest punch. In the team’s four PVL losses, the Bruins surrendered an average of 38.3 points per game and 300 yards rushing.
Perhaps the biggest question mark in the blueprints for this season’s Bruin football squad is at kicker. The foot that puts PATs and field goals through the uprights is not to be overlooked, let alone booting the kickoffs and punts to secure better field position.
Recently graduated senior Blake Nielsen provided the Bruins with a strong, dependable leg for the past few seasons, but now someone else will have to step up. The Bruins did have someone in mind, junior Jay Roundtree, who did exceptionally well on last year’s junior varsity squad, booting 30 kickoffs for an average of 36.9 yards. He also converted 33-of-41 on PATs. However, Roundtree is no longer available so the Bruins must find another man for the job.
“Our kicker transferred to Jesuit so we’re having open tryouts,” said Logue. “We’ve always done kicking situations in the scrimmage. Nielsen was solid for us for the last few years. Extra points are critical. We need to find someone who can do that.”
Whoever earns the job will have big shoes to fill, especially in a league as competitive as the PVL. Nielsen was true on 31-of-34 PAT attempts in his 2013 campaign and made 3-of-4 field goals, which included a long of 29 yards. Having that trusted accuracy and power as a weapon influences decisions being made on fourth down. Not having it means Bear River might just have to fight harder for those extra yards.
The Bruins will be tested right from the get-go when they kick off their regular season Aug. 29 at home versus Pacheco (Los Banos). The Panthers are one of three teams in the Bear River’s preseason schedule that made it to the postseason last year, the others being Escalon and Eureka.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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