PREP FOOTBALL: Defensive players to keep an eye on this season |

PREP FOOTBALL: Defensive players to keep an eye on this season

As the old saying goes, “Offense may win games, but defenses wins championships.”

If the Nevada Union Miners and Bear River Bruins want to rise to championship levels, their defenses will need to be impressive in the 2017 season, as both teams have schedules littered with opponents boasting high-powered offenses. Luckily for the Miners and Bruins, they each have several talented defenders looking make a stand and help their team win. Here is a list of players on the defensive side of the ball to keep an eye on.

Justin Houlihan, Nevada Union, senior, middle linebacker

Houlihan is coming off an outstanding junior year in which he tallied 129 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, three sacks and an interception. For those efforts he was named to the All-Sierra Foothill League First Team at middle linebacker. In 2016, Houlihan tallied double digit tackles in seven of the 10 games with a season high 22 against Rocklin. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 230-pound backer will be Nevada Union’s defensive anchor once again this season.

“Justin is trying to take that next step in following the greats that have played before him,” Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan said in July. “He’s going to be the anchor of our defense.”

Luke Baggett, Bear River, Senior, defensive back

In addition to taking over Bear River’s starting quarterback position this season, Baggett will resume his role as one of Bear River’s better defenders. He was an All-Pioneer Valley League First Teamer a season ago, posting a team-high 95 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

“Hes a tough kid,” Bear River co-head coach Scott Savoie said of Baggett. “He’s going to be something.”

Garrett Graves, Nevada Union, Senior, Defensive back

Graves has quickly carved out a spot for himself in the Miners’ defensive backfield. The senior sat out his junior season due to a medical issue, but is healthy now and expected to be a playmaker in the Miners’ secondary.

“I really think we will see some good things out of Garret Graves,” Dennis Houlihan said.

Josh Zimmer, Bear River, Senior, Defensive Back

Joining Baggett in the Bruins’ secondary will be Zimmer, who is coming off a junior season in which he made 23 tackles and grabbed an interception. Savoie said he likes Zimmer’s athletic ability and expects him to be a playmaker this season.

“He’s one of those tweener guys; he may play some backer too,” Savoie said. “He’s a good athlete, he can do both.”

BrEndon DiPietro, Nevada Union, Senior, Defensive line

DiPietro didn’t get a lot of defensive snaps in 2016, but as he heads into his senior season, the 5-9, 220-pound interior defensive lineman is set to be NU’s starting nose guard.

Jake Leonard, Bear River, Senior, Defensive end

Both Savoie and fellow co-head coach Terry Logue are high on Leonard’s ability at the defensive end position. The 6-4, 153-pound Leonard only had four tackles a season ago, but look for him to be an impact player in 2017.

“Looking for big things from him,” Savoie said. “He’s worked very hard.”

Jace Wheeler, Nevada Union, Senior, outside linebacker

Wheeler had his junior year cut short due to injury, but he’s back for his senior season and showing he belongs on the field. Originally a defensive back, Wheeler has impressed at the outside linebacker position this season.

“Jace started as a corner, but right now he’s doing such a good job at outside linebacker, we have him starting at outside backer,” said Dennis Houlihan. “He’s smart and athletic, so we will find a spot for him.”

Austin Baze, Bear River, Senior, defensive line

The 6-1, 230-pound Baze tallied 77 tackles, a sack and four fumble recoveries in just seven games last season. In Baze’s varsity career (he was called up near the end of his freshmen season) he has 104 tackles and seven sacks.

Garrett Pratt, Bear River, Junior, Defensive line

Pratt made an impact as a sophomore a season ago and will look to do the same as a junior. The athletic defensive lineman wrapped up 40 tackles, including a sack as a sophomore.

“I think he will be a great player for us on the defensive line. Who knows, you might even see him play some linebacker for us also. He’s a big, strong, strapping kid.”

Even though the season doesn’t get started until Aug. 25, there are a couple of events leading up to it that will help fans get acquainted with this year’s squads. Nevada Union will be hosting the annual “Meet the Miners” Blue/Gold Scrimmage at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Miners will then head to Bear River High School Aug. 19 for a 9 a.m. scrimmage against the Bruins.

Nevada Union opens the season on the road at the Antelope Aug. 25. The Bruins kick off the season at home against Orland.

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

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