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End of the beginning

Nevada Union's head coach Dennis Houlihan, left, looks on during a game last season. Houlihan's teams have truggled against Sierra Foothill League competition, going 0-9 under his leadership.
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

In a winless football season where a team is outscored 511-134, the only place left to go is up — right?

Now that the 2013 Nevada Union football season is mercifully over, fans can be secure in the fact it can’t get any worse.

This season, the Miners (0-10, 0-5 Sierra Foothill League) began a major overhaul of their football program under first-year varsity head coach Dennis Houlihan, attempting to clean up their reputation in the community and stabilize a program lacking physical size, accountability and talent.



Nobody said rebuilding a powerhouse was going to be easy.

But to Houlihan’s credit, he put his money where his mouth is — never sacrificing accountability and standards for a possible victory. Several notable players missed time while correcting academic issues, and other players were bounced from the team for drug use, showing that football isn’t beyond the rules at Nevada Union. Houlihan also put his players to work in the community, donating their Sunday’s all over Nevada County at nonprofits.




The Miners showed their true character Friday when, down by 42 points in the fourth quarter, they not only cleared the path but rooted on Granite Bay’s Travis Bauer, a mentally disabled player on the Grizzlies’ roster, as he entered a game for the first time and rumbled for a touchdown.

This is the foundation Houlihan was hoping to set in his first year at the helm. He admits a win or two would have been nice, but that simply wasn’t in the cards for NU. In fact, the varsity team was the only team in the program to go winless, as the junior varsity and freshmen teams both tallied one win.

On the field, the Miners will return most of their starting lineups on both sides of the ball. A weakness of theirs this year may be a strength next year, as experience is invaluable in prep football.

Nevada Union’s leading rusher was junior Mo Nieves with 433 yards and five touchdowns. Despite missing four games and seeing limited time in one other, Nieves showed glimpses of the back that went for more than 1,500 yards as a junior varsity player. Travis Owens, another junior, was second on the team with 409 yards rushing and was the team leader in receiving yards with 218 and pulled in a team-high three touchdowns. Sophomore Ed Dardon came on late, a Week 4 call up, and showed a nice mixture of strength and speed with a 141-yard game against Roseville.

Nieves and Owens finished eighth and ninth respectively in rushing in the Sierra Foothill League. Del Oro senior Dylan Kainrath won the league’s rushing title with 1,099 rush yards and 19 touchdowns. Kainrath will be a key cog in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoffs where Del Oro is the No. 1 seed. Rocklin’s sensational sophomore Evyn Holtz was second in the league with 1,043 yards and eight touchdowns. Rocklin finished behind league champ Del Oro and drew the No. 10 seed in the Division-II bracket.

Nevada Union quarterback Justus Spillner went through some growing pains this season, as many would expect to befall a sophomore quarterback at the varsity level.

Spillner finished the season 33-of-88 for 554 yards and three touchdowns to four picks. At times, Spillner’s passes looked crisp with potential, but his presence and comfort in the pocket will need to improve if NU’s pass game will draw any respect.

Spillner finished sixth in the league in passing. Granite Bay’s Josh Neal led the league with 1,953 yards, hitting on 63 percent of his passes and notching a league-high 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Spillner’s favorite target this season was sophomore Drew Daniels, another JV call up. Daniels pulled in 11 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown. Daniels is a little guy but has good hands and works at it non-stop.

The Miners also return an offensive line that started to click toward the end with juniors Enzo Arata, Tyler Droivold and Nick McFall coming together in the final three games. The big loss on the line will be Trevor Moore, who captained the line all season.

On the defensive side, NU loses talented senior safety Gareth Noxon (70 tackles, INT, FR) and senior cornerback Jake Berger (39 tackles, 2 INT). However, the Miners do return hard-hitting junior linebacker Josh Belendez (81 tackles, sack, FR). Belendez was fifth in the SFL in tackles. Granite Bay’s monster middle linebacker Cameron Smith (6 feet, 3 inches, 240 pounds) led the league with 112 tackles. Belendez was second in the league in solo tackles with 50.

The 2013 season will go down as the worst in Nevada Union football history, but it will also serve as the foundation for the future — what that future is, only time will tell.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.


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