Colfax Falcons are hungry to get 2014 season started
If there’s one thing Tony Martello wants his team to show as he enters his 19th year as Colfax’s head football coach, it’s pride.
It comes up numerous times when he talks about his players, such as defensive back Sam LaHaie who is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield and one of the unquestioned leaders on the defensive unit.
“He was one of our better defensive players last year. So he’s going to do what’s expected of him, and I know we don’t even have to talk to him because he just has so much pride, it comes internally and so naturally,” Martello gushed. “He understands he’s now a senior…and he’s doing a good job.”
Birds of prey
It will be up to LaHaie and others to help fill the holes left by some of the departing starters. There may be no greater loss to Colfax’s defense than All-league linebacker Jake Medeiros, a player Martello said was one of the best he’d ever seen come through the program and not replaceable. They do bring back fellow linebacker Beau Baggett, who ended last season second on the team in tackles with 98 (62 solo).
“We’re going to expect Beau to play like a junior. Last year he was a sophomore. That means he’s going to have to be a leader,” Martello explained. “He’s going to have to understand his reads and his keys. He’s going to have to make plays. He’s going to have to make tackles and he’s going to have to help get the front adjusted. So he’s got a lot of responsibility.”
The team is also high on Dakota Barnes, who will be learning how to play the mike linebacker position on the fly. LaHaie was quick to mention Barnes as a player that would make an impact for the team, and Martello agreed.
“(He) is a great athlete, strong and physical. He’s learning how to play the (linebacker) position and I think as the season progresses he’s going to be really good,” Martello said.
The defense wasn’t the only side of the ball to lose key starters to graduation. Colfax’s offense was a dominant force last year, scoring nearly 37 points per contest, but will be missing signal caller Michael Wilson, who threw for 46 touchdowns and 3,560 yards. The job now falls to Marcus Jackson, a converted wide receiver who showed the coaches enough as the scout team quarterback to convince them that he could head the offense.
“He’s athletic, he’s got a strong arm, he’s got a good command of the game. Those elements are really important,” Martello said of Jackson’s abilities. “We just felt with the players that we had that he would be the best player for the job, and I think it’s turning out that we’re spot on. We got that one right.”
Though Jackson moonlighted as a ball carrier as well in his junior year (49 rushes, 313 yards), Martello said he wouldn’t call many designed runs for the new starter, instead allowing him to demonstrate his athleticism from the pocket. Martello also dismissed the notion the Falcons’ gameplan might lean more heavily towards the run, considering senior running back Tim Rawlins is a known quantity and Jackson is not.
“I think we’ll be more run-oriented but I wouldn’t say we’re going to lean heavily on the run. We’re maybe going to be maybe 60-40. I think we’re going to be fairly balanced,” Martello said.
It could be considered a gamble, as several of Colfax’s top wide receivers are also gone. But Jackson, to his credit, is not concerned.
“I feel we’ll be good. We’ve got a lot of young players, but we’ve got a lot of starters coming back as well. Our team is well put-together. We’ve been together for a long time,” Jackson said. “I feel like we all know each player. I feel like I know each player, and I know what people can do on the field and how they come out and play. I know all my receivers, I know what they do and what they can do. I just feel like we’ll be a really good team, and I’m just excited for this season.”
Jackson also noted how the team’s mindset might change on offense to gel with his particular skill set.
“I feel our run game will be really good, probably better than last year. We have more of an attack offense than a pass offense, but I feel that if we need to pass we can do it and we can get it done,” he said.
If the ground game is as good as Jackson prognosticates, Colfax fans will be in for a treat. Rawlins had trouble staying healthy as a junior, only playing in eight games. Still, he amassed 1,014 yards and gave the Falcons another facet to an already-explosive offense when he was on the field.
“I think (Rawlins has) worked hard in the offseason. He’s gotten stronger. I think he’s got a better command of the game, I think he wants to be a leader,” Martello said. “He wants to be the guy out there, so I think we’ll just see a more confident player this year.”
Of course, the halfback is only one factor in the running game. Just as important is the offensive line, a point Martello stresses heavily.
In the trenches
“I think if this is like every year I’ve been here for, I would say there’s always a unit that has the most pride and the highest expectations and the most demands and very few people understand how hard we coach them, and that’s that offensive line. It’s every year. Last year, I heard people say, ‘Tim Rawlins, Tim Rawlins.’ Tim is a great player, but our line blocked well,” Martello said. “There were times where, I mean, I could have ran through those holes. It was synchronized, it was exactly as prescribed, and nobody knows that. They just see the running back go through and say, ‘Wow, that Timmy Rawlins is great.
“I think our offensive line is going to be pretty good. I like their speed, I like their strength, I like their pride. I think they want to be good, and I think they will be good,” he added.
Any football fan worth their salt knows a team is only as good as their line on both sides of the pigskin. Martello was also happy with the way the defensive line was showing in practice, noting their aggressiveness and strength, and the attention to detail they demonstrated; their pad level in particular. Brian Little, a new addition, has impressed LaHaie so far.
“He started at guard last year and is playing on the defensive line this year. He’s going to be excellent,” he said.
Tough road ahead
The Falcons face tough challenges on their schedule, made only tougher as the team tries to balance the growing pains that come with new starters with their playoff aspirations, a fact Martello acknowledges. Still, after seeing their season come to an end against Central Catholic in the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Football Playoff last year, Colfax is hoping to improve on their finish.
“The toughest game we’ll play, on paper, will probably be in-league. Placer is very, very good. Very talented. They have a very gifted football team. We’re a school of 600, they’re a school of 1,400. So, I mean, for every one athlete we have they have two. So that’s always fun. It’s exciting. You know, with a young team, I’m looking forward to every moment. The scrimmage Saturday against Oakridge; I’m fired up about it. We’re going to go one game at a time,” Martello said.
“I hope the kids we feel are going to be significantly good players, will be that. I think we’ve got a vision on how we want them to grow and how we want them to improve, and they are high expectations. It’ll be fun to watch it all happen,” he added.
Spencer Kellar is an intern with The Union, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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