Era of change for Nevada Union football program |

Era of change for Nevada Union football program

Nevada Union football players run drills during a summer practice at Hooper Stadium Wednesday.
John Hart/ | The Union

A new era in Nevada Union football has dawned.

The 2013 Miners have a new head coach, a new staff, a couple new quarterbacks and a new philosophy.

Despite the many changes from last year’s team, a lot of familiar faces are looking to make this new era a successful one.

“The biggest thing right now is the kids getting the hang of us,” head coach Dennis Houlihan said. “We have a whole new staff, a staff of 10-12 guys, and we told (the players) they have to adjust to us.”

Many of the assistant coaches are different from the 2012 staff, but they aren’t new to the program. Brad Dal Bon returns as the defensive coordinator after a couple years away from the varsity squad, and Chris Cota, who was once an All-City player at quarterback for NU, is now the quarterbacks coach.

“A lot of the guys are from the 2009 staff,” Houlihan said. “John Keith who was on that staff, Curtis Smith who was on that staff. A lot of guys that had just stepped away for a year or two. I went out and got Chris Cota as our quarterbacks coach, and he’s done a tremendous job with these guys and their mechanics and getting them to the point where they’re at right now. I pulled up Joe Hart from the JV, Justin Noxon who was here last year, Warren Eggar who was here last year and Jamie Wise who will be our trainer.”

With the new staff comes a more regimented philosophy toward practice.

“Hard work and everyone being not as lazy,” is how senior safety Gareth Noxon describes the summer practices. “We’re trying to get back to what it used to be. No slacking off at all. The workouts have been so much harder than they used to be. We are trying to get rid of the laziness and come together as a team. No individuals. We are trying to bond as much as possible.”

One of those bonding agents has been the implementation of more community service performed by the football team.

“It just seemed to me we were always asking the community for money,” Houlihan said. “But we weren’t doing anything to give back to it. So there was a plan to get our kids back into the community. I want them to remember what we do here. In this town, the community loves football and always has, and it was like, ‘Guys, we need to link that bridge back together.’

“And it’s been working. We’re actually booked all through the season. We do it on Sundays, so it doesn’t interfere with football, but we are all booked up pretty much.”

Noxon said the community service has helped bring the team together.

“We’re trying to be involved in the community as much as possible,” Noxon said. “Dennis talks about the days when the away fans had no where to sit in the stands. We want the town to be able to come out and watch because we have affected the community as a football team.”

Part of the new era includes a departure from the shotgun, which was prevalent in the 2012 season, and a return to the more traditional Wing-T offense, said Houlihan.

“We don’t have the personnel to continue with the shotgun,” Houlihan said. “You don’t get (Kyle Cota) all the time in this small community. There will be another one eventually, but it may be eight years from now. We are looking to develop quarterbacks at an earlier age, I got my hands in the Pop Warner programs, but we are a traditional wing now. So it’s fast tempo and hide the ball to give us that advantage.”

There is currently a battle for the starting quarterback position with senior Michael Tapia and sophomore Justin Spillner vying for the position.

“I have no idea who our quarterback is going to be,” Houlihan said. “We have a senior and a sophomore going for it, and they are both dead even right now.”

Chris Cota has been working with both quarterbacks and said they both have potential and bring different things to the table.

“They both have their pros and cons,” Chris Cota said. “They are kind of opposites of each other. So it’s a good battle right now. Tapia has got the experience. He knows the offense real well, he runs the offense real well, he’s a great leader and a smart kid. Spillner, as a sophomore, he’s a little inexperienced, but he’s a great passer and throws the ball real well. So he brings that passing side of it.”

Whoever gets the nod at quarterback will be behind a veteran offensive line, which is a bright spot on the team, said Houlihan.

“We will develop our passing game as we go, but our strength is we have two backs that rushed for over 1,500 yards at JV, and we got studs on the line,” Houlihan said. “Why wouldn’t we go back to the traditional wing?”

Amani Senegal, Trevor Moore, Tyler Stroud and Davi Pettinato all played quality minutes last season and will be integral to this year’s offensive success, said Houlihan.

The Miners also graduated their top rushers in Tanner Vallejo and Hank Humphers as well but have two talented backs coming up from the JV squad.

Travis Owens and Mo Nieves are both juniors this year and combined for 2,971 yards last season and 33 rushing touchdowns. Both backs averaged more than six yards a carry as well.

Coinciding with the loss of Vallejo and Humphers is the vacancies left at linebacker.

A position of leadership and importance that senior Jason Murray said he was excited to take on.

“I’m just trying to be one of the leaders this year,” Murray said. “Lifting hard and leading by example in the weight room. I’m trying to get big. They are some big shoes to fill, and it’s a little intimidating, but I’m looking forward to taking it on.”

Last year, Murray tallied 35 tackles, two fumbles caused, a fumble recovery and an interception as a backup linebacker.

The Miners graduated three all-league linebackers from last season in Humphers, Vallejo and Miguel Espinosa.

The Miners are set to take a short break from summer activities before regrouping in August to prepare for their first game Aug. 30 at McQueen.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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