PREP FOOTBALL: Reasons to get excited about Nevada Union football in 2017
For the Nevada Union football team, the goal this year is to leave a legacy. It’s their mantra, it’s emblazoned on their workout gear and it’s the reason they are spending their summer working tirelessly on their game.
What that legacy will be, though, has yet to be determined for the current batch of varsity Miners.
After several losing seasons, the Miners are confident this is the year they turn things around and leave their mark in the program’s lore, said Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan, who has a 6-34 overall record since taking over the program in 2013.
Nevada Union will have an experienced team heading into the 2017 campaign, including 16 returning starters from last season, including a handful of seniors who will be third-year varsity starters.
“Those kids came up with “Leave a legacy,” Houlihan said of how the team’s credo came to be. “They want to make a difference on the field. I expect them to make big plays, not get down and just to keep grinding. We played with a lot of juniors last year and they showed the capabilities that we have. We are a little more mature this year and should be able finish things out. They will give us chances in games.”
The Miners are at a four-team non-contact 7-on-7 camp in Aptos this weekend, hosted by former Nevada Union head coach Randy Blankenship, who runs the Aptos program. In addition to the camp in Aptos, the Miners have hosted a non-contact 7-on-7 matchup with Bear River and players have put in countless hours in the weight room in preparation for the upcoming season.
“Every year we’ve gotten a little bit stronger,” Houlihan said. “It’s been one of those things that we have been lacking. We go up against some pretty big teams… This group overall is one of the strongest we’ve had in a while and we just want them to show it on the field.”
As the Miners’ varsity team works throughout the summer, there has been a very noticeable difference in the program — the lack of a junior varsity team.
Nevada Union nixed the junior varsity team this season due to low participation numbers.
“It’s a numbers thing,” Houlihan said. “At one point we had bout 40 guys signed up, but a lot of them weren’t showing up. I think a lot of them wanted to play, but not a lot wanted to put in the commitment it takes to play. We ended with about 20 guys, and we lost some guys to grades and we had about 15 guys showing up regularly. I thought on it and discussed it with (athletic director) Jeff Dellis and the parents, and we thought what would be best was to not do what we did last year which was play with 16, especially in our league, so we pulled them up.”
The program does plan to field a freshmen team, Houlihan said.
It’s still too early to know what the Miners will be able to accomplish on the field in 2017, but with less than 50 days left until the season kicks off (first game is Aug. 25 at Antelope), here are some reasons to get excited about Nevada Union football:
REBUILDING THE RIVALRY
The Miners will face the Placer Hillmen for the fourth straight season after the storied rivalry was reignited in 2013. Nevada Union leads the series, 2-1, since its return, including a thrilling come from behind victory over the Hillmen last season in which the Miners trailed 12-0 heading into the fourth quarter but scored 16 unanswered points to grab the win on the Hillmen’s turf. This year’s game is set for Sept. 1 at Nevada Union’s Hooper Stadium. Of note, since the return of the rivalry the away team has won all three matchups.
SOLID SENIOR CLASS
The Miners boast a strong senior class with lots of experience. In addition to returning their starting quarterback from last season (Owen Dal Bon), their best receiver (Hayden Fay), top rusher (Tyler Nielson) and starting middle linebacker (Justin Houlihan), the Miners also return most of their starting offensive line and half of their starting defense from a season ago. Key returners on the interior offensive line include: Cole Johnson, Ethan Garrity, Reid Pearcy and Ben Leitherer.
“We have a lot of seniors, a lot of returners,” Dennis Houlihan said. “A lot of which have been up for the last two years, so we will have a lot of guys going into their third year of varsity. A good senior class that is leading and looking forward to this season.”
In all, the Miners have 10 returning starters on offense and at least six on defense, Dennis Houlihan said.
Nevada Union has a pair of impressive running backs in senior Nielson and junior Dawson Fay. Nielson, a vigorous runner, led the Miners in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as a sophomore and as a junior. Last season he scored a team-high 10 touchdowns on the ground to go with 766 rush yards. Fay, a 6-foot, 1-inch, 185-pound back, is coming into his junior season and second with the varsity. As a sophomore, Fay scored nine rushing touchdowns and tallied 736 yards on the ground. Both Nielson and Fay averaged more than six yards per carry a season ago.
DAL BON/FAY CONNECTION
Senior quarterback Dal Bon and his favorite target senior Hayden Fay had a breakout season as juniors and will look to build on that. Dal Bon, who shared time at quarterback as a sophomore, took the reigns as a junior and passed for 1,430 yards and eight touchdowns, which was the most by a Miner since 2012. Grabbing more than half of Dal Bon’s completed passes was Hayden Fay, a 6-foot, 2-inch speedster with a good feel for the ball when its in the air. As a junior Hayden Fay grabbed 47 passes for 951 yards and eight touchdowns. The two averaged 20.2 yards per connection.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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Grass Valley native Brad Sweet drove past the competition and into victory lane last week, snapping his longest winless streak of the season.