PREP FOOTBALL: Offensive playmakers to keep an eye on when the Miners take the field
When the Miners line up on offense this season, it will look quite different than it has in years past.
After more than three decades of running the Wing-T offense, or some version of it, the Nevada Union football program is taking a new approach.
The Miners are spreading things out.
“Full bore change. We don’t have a Wing-T play in,” Nevada Union head coach Brad Sparks said in June. “It’s the spread. It looks closer to what Folsom High School runs.”
The team has embraced the new system, which Sparks said is simpler and will get more players opportunities to touch the ball.
“It’s exciting and we’re coming along,” said Sparks, who noted the Miners have a strong group of playmakers who can be successful in the new system.
With the Aug. 23 season opener against Yuba City just two weeks away, we take a look at some of the offensive players poised to have breakout seasons.
OUT OF THE BACKFIELD
While the Miners are moving to the spread, an approach conducive to moving the ball through the air, Sparks knows his team will still need a productive run game to be successful.
“This offense is really about running the ball to set up the pass, and we have a really good group of backs,” said Sparks.
Leading that group is Jaxon Horne, who is coming off a solid sophomore season in which he tallied 351 rushing yards, 303 receiving yards and scored seven total touchdowns. The 6–foot, 190-pound Horne is strong, fast and has great hands out of the backfield.
“I expect more of a leadership role for him,” said Sparks. “I expect him to be that guy, the guy who wants the ball. 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.”
Another running back the Miners are excited about is Tino Sanchez-Lane. After missing his junior season with an injury, Sanchez-Lane is back this year and turning heads.
“He’s 200-plus pounds, probably the third fastest guy on the team and he’s an absolute load,” said Sparks. “He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
PLENTY OF PASS CATCHERS
The Miners have a large group of receivers looking to have breakout seasons in the spread offense. Receivers Ben Taylor, A.J. Meyer, Ty Daugherty and Ayrton Swasey have all shown promise this summer and Sparks expects good things from them across the board.
The Miners’ most experienced receiver is Meyer, a senior who is entering his third year of varsity football. As a junior, Meyer pulled down six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
“A.J. is a remarkable weapon,” Sparks said. “He’s got great hands, and he’s probabaly got one of the highest football IQs on the team. He understands our offense and he understands the defense, and we just need him to be the guy we know he can be.”
Taylor, a senior, didn’t log a catch last season, but has impressed teammates and coaches with his approach to the game this summer.
“I don’t know that there is anyone who has worked harder to become a starter than Ben,” said Sparks, who noted that Taylor is a team captain this year. “He runs great routes. His hands continue to get better. He’s fast, he’s smart, he understands coverage and he’s physical. He’s got some moxie. He’s scrappy and that makes for a good football player.”
The 6–5 Daugherty has looked good in summer 7-on-7s and offers a big target to throw at.
“He’s aggressive,” said Sparks. “He will go up and get it. And, what I love about him is he’s always coming back to me after every play saying throw me the ball. I like that. I like kids who want to be that guy, who want to make the play.”
Swasey was a standout at the junior varsity level a season ago and Sparks is looking for big things from him this season.
“He understands the game, runs great routes, has great hands and he’s also really physical,” said Sparks.
Other pass catchers to keep an eye on include senior Anghel Carillo and tight end Matt Dal Bon.
The Miners have yet to determine who will be their starter at quarterback in the season opener, but have two options in junior J.T. Conway and sophomore Gabe Baker.
“It’s a really great problem to have,” Sparks said of having two viable candidates for the starting position. “What I’m looking for are guys who are coachable, who are going to learn from their mistakes, have a short term memory and be able to move forward.”
The 6-6 Conway was the starter on NU’s junior varsity team a season ago, throwing for more than 1,500 yards and accounting for 19 touchdowns.
Baker, who stands 6–3, was the freshman team starter last year, leading the Miners with his ability to run the ball as well as throw it.
IN THE TRENCHES
Anchoring the Nevada Union offensive line on opening day will likely be team captain David Rueckert. The 6–0, 265-pound senior center has impressed during summer workouts.
“I’m really excited about him this year,” said Sparks. “I think he’s going to do great things for us this season.”
The Miners also have returning starters in senior guard Sammy Slay and senior tackle Isaiah Carter.
MEET THE MINERS
The football program will be hosting its annual “Meet the Miners” Blue and Gold inter-squad scrimmage today at Hooper Stadium. The junior varsity and freshman teams get things started at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity game at 6:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend the event.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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