PREP FOOTBALL: Determined Miners focused on returning program to prominence
This year’s group of Miners are a determined bunch.
They’re determined to snap the program’s six-season playoff drought, determined to post their first winning season since 2011 and determined to provide their fans with high-quality football every Friday night.
“They want to win,” said Nevada Union football head coach Brad Sparks. “Probably just as bad, if not more than I do.”
Sparks, now in his second season at the helm of the NU varsity team, leads a group of Miners focused on rekindling the storied program’s tradition of winning.
“Our biggest goal right now is to make the playoffs,” said junior captain Jaxon Horne, who will be featured at running back and free safety this season.
Senior captain Matthew Dal Bon added, “It would be nice to give the city some hope, and let them know the Miners are back.”
After a summer in which the team implemented a new offensive scheme and had varying levels of success in 7-on-7s and scrimmages, the Miners are optimistic this is the season they turn things around.
“It’s really important for us to flip that switch and start winning,” said senior captain David Rueckert. “We want the playoffs and we will do everything we can to get there.”
The path to achieving their goals is a long and difficult one, but its a challenge they are excited to take on.
“We’re going to compete,” said Horne. “We’re not going to give up.”
Horne showed flashes of what he is capable of a season ago, and is poised to have a breakout year as he moves into a more featured role on offense.
Last season, the talented running back accounted for 1,009 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s also a standout from his safety position on defense, where he was a 2018 All-Foothill Valley League selection.
Horne is one of multiple returning starters on the defensive side of the ball which has the Miners confident they can improve on a 2018 season in which they allowed 37.1 points per game.
The Miners also return defensive all-leaguers in Dal Bon (DE), Duke Morales (LB) and A.J. Meyer (CB).
“I feel really good about what we’re doing defensively,” said Sparks. “We’re physical. We’re big. We cover well. We’re smart and we tackle really well.”
Other Miners who are poised to be impact players for NU’s defense include Gabe Baker (LB), Landon Low (DL), Tino Sanchez-Lane (SS), Zach Ehrlich (CB) and Drake Schlachter (CB).
On the offensive side of the ball, the Miners have shifted to the spread, leaving behind the wing-T, which was a staple of NU football since the mid-80s.
Nevada Union has two talented, but young, quarterbacks in junior J.T. Conway, who was the JV starter a season ago, and Baker, who was the starting QB for the freshman team last season. Conway will likely get the start today when the Miners open the season against Yuba City, but Sparks is confident in both players’ ability at the position.
The Miners have a handful of talented, but unproven, receivers they will be rolling out this season. Senior captain Benji Taylor along with Meyer, Ty Daugherty, Ayrton Swasey and Angel Carrillo have all shown promise this summer.
At the running back position the Miners have Horne, who is a threat to break off a big play on any given play.
“I expect him to be that guy, the guy who wants the ball,” said Sparks of Horne. “When we need it, he needs to be the guy who wants that ball, whether we are handing it to him or passing it to him, he needs to be that guy.”
Fellow running backs Sanchez-Lane and Jeremy Nettles will bring depth to the position.
Anchoring the offensive line is Rueckert, Isaiah Carter and 2018 all-leaguer Sam Slay.
As a whole, Miners are a tight-knit group. The summer training sessions and field trips like the one they took to Beale Air Force Base have helped unite this squad.
“We have a really good bond with each other,” said Taylor. “We’re a bunch of brothers who love football.”
The Miners’ first chance to showcase their love for the game and what they can do on the gridiron will be today against the Yuba City Honkers, who shut them out, 39-0, a season ago.
The Honkers, who went 7-5 and made the playoffs a season ago, figure to be the Miners toughest non-league opponent. NU’s next four opponents: Napa, Harbor (Santa Cruz), River City (West Sacramento) and Fairfield all finished with losing records in 2018.
The Foothill Valley League will pose a far more difficult challenge. League foes Placer, Rio Linda, Lincoln and Ponderosa all made the playoffs a season ago. NU and Oakmont were the only two FVL teams not to earn a postseason bid last season.
The path through the season and to the playoffs will be a long and arduous one, but it’s one Sparks said his team is ready to embark upon.
“I feel very good about where we are at,” he said. “And, I know we’re only going to get better as we go.”
The Miners host Yuba City at 7 p.m. tonight at Hooper Stadium.
vs. Yuba City, 7 p.m., Aug. 23
at Napa, 7 p.m., Aug. 30
at Harbor, 5 p.m., Sept. 14
vs. River City, 7 p.m., Sept. 20
vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m., Sept. 27
vs. Placer, 7 p.m., Oct. 4
at Oakmont, 7 p.m., Oct. 11
vs. Ponderosa, 7 p.m., Oct. 18
at Lincoln, 7 p.m., Oct. 25
at Rio Linda, 7 p.m., Nov. 1
Game times subject to change
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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