Miners’ O-line comes together in leading team to four-straight wins
Special to The Union
Nick LeDuc is a fairly soft-spoken fellow. He does most of his talking on the gridiron. He is part of a brotherhood known as the “O-Line” of Nevada Union football.
When LeDuc talks, people listen. He is intelligent and knowledgeable, simply part of what makes this Offensive Line squad truly unique.
“We put these guys before anyone else,” he said.
As if on cue, it was the combination of Mike Champagne, Cody Long, and Collin Subbotin who added, “We are more than family. We have a brotherhood with the whole team. However, it is just different with our ‘O’ line. We work for a common goal.
“There is a closeness we have formed as a group, with each other.”
So it is that this year’s Nevada Union High School football team is beginning to make its mark. A 4-1 start might be more than most expected from a team with just three returning starters. After an opening-week loss against Reno’s McQueen, some feel this team has overachieved.
Part of the reason for the somewhat-surprising success has been the efforts of fellows like Long, Champagne, LeDuc, Subbotin, Alec Sarner, Blake Smith, Harris Volheim, Taylor King and Dominic Pettinato. Touted as the main cog of the NU offense at the outset of the season, this squad came out and visibly struggled against Nevada powerhouse McQueen in the opener.
LeDuc called it a “reality check.”
Champagne added “we held ourselves to a higher regard.”
“We do make mental mistakes because we are a young team,” Long said. “We need to get better each week.”
Regardless, in a campaign that has reached its halfway mark, McQueen was an early turning point. The following weeks have experienced a new, more intense focus for this group. Champagne talked about how coaches threatened to take quarterback Josiah Paye out of that McQueen game if he did not get more support. Veteran coach Rayce Lucas was all over them.
Practices were rigorous, to say the least.
The ship needed to be righted.
“That week we did a lot of work,” said Lucas. “We knew we could be much better.”
In the sweltering heat of week two, Ponderosa felt the effects of a rejuvenated squad. It was surely the breakthrough performance for this offensive line. The Miners dominated. Paye had time to throw and Connor Keith had a stellar performance as a result of the gaping holes through which he ran.
As strange as it seemed, most pointed to the Monterey Trail mammoth clash of week three as a real defining moment. There was deep conviction that this was a point of no return.
“We had so many chances to give up,” LeDuc offered, “but we didn’t.”
Long, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 270-pound college prospect in his senior year, added, “Our ‘O’ Line really wanted that game. And we ran over them. It really brought us together.”
“It was a game where we took two steps forward,” Champagne concluded. “That is what we have done each week.”
And now the heart of this season, the games that really count, begin tonight as the Granite Bay Grizzlies visit Hooper Stadium.
The Sierra Foothill League is one of the most treacherous leagues in California. Each week is a dog fight. Roseville, Woodcreek, Granite Bay, and Rocklin are all big games. Del Oro is a red star contest. This represents the game for which these players have great passion. It will help define the success of their season.
This will not be an easy road to postseason. There are no cupcakes along the way, not a single rollover game. Each week will present a challenge, truly a rough road to the defense of NU’s Division I section championship and a potential bid to the California Bowl.
“Preparation is so intense,” LeDuc said. “We must face the next five games with this intensity.”
Another soft spoken junior, center Alec Sarner said, “We know every week we must practice even harder. We will have to bring it all.”
This offensive line is coming of age. It has matured through its hard work and the brotherhood of which each, to a man, speaks. As Devyn Grimes has produced several stellar games and Paye has excelled, it is the offensive line that has silently sat in the background.
However, it is men like Champagne, LeDuc, Sarner, Long, Pettinato, and the balance of their “O” line partners who will lead the Miners into league play.
“These guys make me feel like coaching is worth it,” Lucas said. “This is a fraternity that never goes away.”
And so it is. Week one of the real thing. The Granite Bay Grizzlies. The first major challenge of five in a row, and then a potential defense of a section championship.
Watch for the “O” line, the brotherhood of two handfuls of motivated players, the contributors whose names seldom rise to the forefront, to lead the way.
“We have the drive our team had last year,” Champagne said. “This is not a rebuilding year. It is a reloading year.”
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The Nevada City Brewers left no doubt they were the top Junior Division team in Little League’s District 11.