PREP FOOTBALL: Miners bulk up during offseason, ready to dig in |

PREP FOOTBALL: Miners bulk up during offseason, ready to dig in

Nevada Union Miners played the Lincoln High Fighting Zebras, Friday evening, Lincoln High School, Nevada Union's James Schnitzius #11.
John Hart/ | The Union

Playing in the Sierra Foothill League is no easy task. It’s a league riddled with section and state champs. It’s an undertaking the Nevada Union football team is all too familiar with. Miners head coach Dennis Houlihan knows to even be competitive in the SFL, he needs his team to be in the best shape possible.

That’s why the Miners have been hard at work this summer getting bigger, stronger and faster in preparation for the 2015 season.

“Our kids are eager,” said Houlihan. “They have put in the work and are ready to go.”

Houlihan and the Miners spent the summer logging hours in the weight room, participating at padless camps and facing off in 7-on-7’s with teams ran by former Miners.

After a summer that included a camp with Randy Blankenship’s Aptos team, and multiple 7-on-7’s with Tim Trokey’s Foothill team and Brennan McFadden’s River Valley team, Houlihan said he is pleased with how far his group has come.

“We’ve had a really good offseason,” Houlihan said. “We are bigger, stronger, faster at all levels.”

With the season opener against Placer just 20 days away, the Miners (and every other team in the section) are currently in a “dead period” which prohibits members of the coaching staff to have any contact with his/her athletes until Aug. 10. Players are allowed to hit the weight room during the dead period. A place the Miners have spent a lot of time in the offseason.

“We have made big gains in the weight room,” said Houlihan. “We’re also very focused on nutrition. We want to be durable due to our lack of depth and the high quality of our league.”

The Miners have 43 players on the varsity team this year, around 30 at the junior varsity level, and about 40 on the freshmen team, said Houlihan.

Houlihan also confirmed that he and his coaching staff will be pulling double duty this season, running both the varsity and the junior varsity teams.

“We made this decision to try and close the gap,” he said.

Houlihan said coaching both teams is a 2-3 year experiment and results will not be seen immediately, but in years to come. Chris Buti had been the JV coach for the last two seasons, going 2-18 in that span.

Brad Sparks, who led the NU freshmen team to 9-1 record last year and a share of the Sierra Foothill League title, remains the head coach of the freshmen squad.

The Miners varsity team is coming off a 3-7 season in 2014, which was an improvement from the season before (0-10), and have lots of new names filling vital roles.

With last year’s quarterback gone, having transferred to Colfax, the Miners have tabbed a sophomore and a senior as their front runners for the position, said Houlihan. Senior James Schnitzius and sophomore Owen Dal Bon are both vying for the starting spot.

“Don’t be surprised to see both of them starting at quarterback through the first couple games,” Houlihan said.

Schnitzius is a very athletic player who wore many hats for NU last season, taking snaps at quarterback, running the ball, catching passes and playing defense.

Dal Bon had an extremely efficient year at quarterback in 2014, and he helped the freshmen squad to a share of the SFL title.

Nevada Union also added former Miners quarterback and 2005 Sac-Joaquin Section champion Chad Mason to the staff to coach quarterbacks.

Last year the Miners leaned heavily on their running game with Mo Nieves (1,139 rush yards, 15 TDs) and Travis Owens (970 rush yards, 6 TDs), but those guys are gone now, and Houlihan has a young and unproven stable of backs as he heads into the season.

On the defensive end, the Miners are looking to a handful of seniors to lead the way with James Schnitzius’ brother Andrew Schnitzius at linebacker, Kase Scott in the secondary and Anthony Carcamo along with Caleb Paterson on the defensive line.

“He’s hungry,” Houlihan said of Paterson, who was an impact player as a junior until an injury derailed his season.

The Miners get back to practice Monday and have a scrimmage with Bear River and Kennedy Aug. 22 before opening the season at home Aug. 28 against Placer.

“Really for us, what’s left to do is execute,” Houlihan said.

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

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