Sharpe observations from ‘back in the day’ at NU |

Sharpe observations from ‘back in the day’ at NU

Editor’s note: As part of its annual fundraiser banquet on Sept. 25, the Nevada Union Football Boosters will present a “Back in the day” program that seeks to spark debate over who were the top Miners of all-time.

Today, longtime NU coach Gary Sharpe shares his thoughts on the best players and moments he witnessed in nearly a half century of involvement with NU football. To share your thoughts or for information on next week’s dinner, go to

After being connected to Nevada Union for 45 years and coaching football for 37 years I have seen thousands of athletes go through the program and have watched or coached several hundred games. I realize the sport has changed immensely since the ’60s and you always tend to remember recent athletes and games better than ones in the long-ago past.

I am sure I have forgotten and left off many deserving athletes and I apologize for that. These are my picks and I’m sticking to them! I welcome any discussion with those who disagree:

QB – This is a tough one. But my pick is Broughan Jantz (’09). He separates himself from the rest of the pack with his great running ability. Also possesses an incredibly accurate arm and a ring to go with it. A close second is John Sheets (’02), Josh Roenicke (’00), Thor Larsen (’93), Chris Cota (’82), Dave Heppe (’78), Gary Mitchell (’69), and Randy Humphries (’66).

RB – This one is easier than others. Jefferson Heidelberger (’00) is the most dynamic and explosive running back I have every seen at the high school level. Every time he touched the ball there was a good chance he was going all the way. Other great backs that take a close second are: Rich and Ryan Herrera (’04), Matt Massari (’99), Bryan Dwyer (’96), Isaac Ostrom (’94), A.J. Kunkle (’93), Tim Trokey (’90), Jeremy Monroe (’89), Dennis Houlihan (’87), Pat Birdsong (’85), Armin Anderson (’80), and Jay Wilcox (’71).

WR – I am going way back on this one. Butch Ellis (’67) was a big time wide receiver in a small package. Full ride to San Jose State Great hands and a tremendous quick athlete. Others that come to mind: Josh Noxon (’05), Joe Dolan (’02), John Link (’95), Pat Williams (’93), Mark Landon (’92), Brian Steber (’81), Pete Phelan (’78), and Noel White (’69).

TE – This is a very difficult one to pick. The best combo of blocking and receiving tight end I can recall is Dan Pettinato (’09). Others are: Brennan McFadden (’04), Gabe Whittler (’93), Nate Allen (’94), Brian Van Norman (’88), Kent Nelson (’81), and Grant Core (’83). Also Spencer Havner and Logan Carter (’00), played some TE.

OL – Andrew Jackson (’05) was the best leader I have ever seen at NU. He was also a stud of an offensive lineman. Others are Taylor Dever (’06), Jason Leach (’00), Randy Gates (’99), John Salcedo (’96), Brian Steger (’93), Jacob Bartrug (’91), Tobin Molica (’86), and Steve Gordon (’86).

DL – Brian Steger (’93), was a absolute terror on the field. He was a great combination of speed, strength, and nasty motor that was always in high gear. A close second are: Dan Pettinato (’09), Zach Masch (’06), Andrew Jackson (’05), Warren Jackson (’99), Rob Trokey (’87), Nate Deaton (’83), and Chris Nite (’78).

OLB – NU has had a lot of great linebackers over the years. One that sticks out in my mind in Nate Allen (’94). He was 6-4 and 220 pounds and very athletic. Other excellent one are: Eric Niederberger (’08), Dan Graning (’05), David Zealer (’05), the Whittler brothers (’93 & ’96), Brian Van Norman (’88), Don Johnson (’87), Grant Core (’83), and Ken Buck (’78).

ILB – This is the toughest position to pick because there is so many good ones to play for NU. I am going with Matt Beck (’94). I have never seen anyone able to pursue from sideline to sideline like Matt. Great size 6-4, 215 and FAST! Other great ones are: Zach Vallejo (’09), Tucker Colomb (’07), Ty Still (’01), Josh Van Matre (’99), Spencer Havner (’00), Logan Carter (’00), Justin Benecke (’93), Curtis Vals (’88), Troy Spangler (’88), Leslie Figuero (’86), and Joe Hedges (’78).

DB – This is another easy one. James Brindley (’05) is the only defensive back that I have ever seen that could dominate and control the outcome of a game. Others are: Cole Stanford (’08), Jason Snavely (’02), Jason and Josh Roenicke (’03 & ’00), Brian Dwyer (’96), Pat Williams and Scott Heilman (’93), Chris Nixon (’83), and Pete Phelan (’78).

All-time biggest win – It has to be game 10 in 1978 against Placer for the first varsity championship in school history. In those days only league champions went to playoffs and NU stayed home for many years with a 9-1 record, only losing to Placer in the last game. Other huge wins are: Beating Elk Grove at Woodland in ’89 with both teams 11-0, beating Davis in the ’89 City Championship with Curtis Vals tackling future NFL player Jason Fisk for a loss on the one-yard line at end of game; Jason Youngman blocking a short field goal with one second left to beat Del Campo in ’90 for the championship; beating Grant at Grant with Chad Elliott, Ontario Smith and Donte Stallworth in (’96); shutting out Grant twice in one year, including the City Championship in ’05; and beating an undefeated Jesuit at their place on the way to section title game in ’04.

All-time toughest loss – Has to be the Del Campo game with Matt Barnes catching a TD pass with 1 second on the clock to knock NU out of the playoffs in ’97. Others are the ’77, ’80 and ’81 Placer games; the ’00 Elk Grove City Championship game; the ’01 Elk Grove playoff game; the ’88 section title game against Merced; and the ’03 Jesuit playoff game,

All-time greatest play – It has to be the pass play of Jarad Van Matre to Steven Davis to Van Matre on the last play of game to beat Grant in 03

All-time best run – A.J. Kunkle against Merced in the ’93 section title game. Broke about a dozen tackles (one guy twice) in an absolute amazing run.

All-time best kick – Easy. Grant Watkins against Grant in 2000 to win with no time left.

All-time best small defensive lineman – Rob Trokey ’87. Defensive player of the year at 150-pound nose guard. Others are Scott Cloud (’89) and Mike Fouyer (’94) and Conner Klauer (’09).

All-time best family duo – Too difficult to pick. Nominations are Rich and Ryan Herrera; Jefferson, Ryder, and Adhem Heidelberger; Josh and Jared Van Matre; Tim and Rob Trokey; Thor and Brock Larsen; Gabe and Micah Whittler; Josh and Jason Roenicke; Dennis, Tyler and coach Pat Houlihan; Kemp and Cole Stanford; James and Thomas Brindley; Andrew, Sean and Warren Jackson; Broughan and Steele Jantz; Nate and Glen Deaton; Andy, Chuck, and Drew Hoskin; Kevin, Mike, and Joey Bratton; Zach, Tanner and Cody Vallejo; Hank, Gabe and coach Humphers; Forest, Eyler, and Roland Harrison.

Best team NOT to win a section title – 2000 team of Spencer Havner (UCLA), Jefferson Heidelberger (Montana), Logan Carter (UNR) Jason Leach (UCD), Josh Roenicke (UCLA). Others are: 1981 team that was 9-0 going into Placer game and got upset and missed playoffs. Team was loaded with Chris Cota, Brian Steber, Steve Hund, Kent Nelson, Nate Deaton. The 1986 team did not even win league and had five D-I players: Steve Gordon (Cal/49ers) Tobin Molica (Idaho St.), Jesse Moore (Utah St.) John Hottinger (UOP) and Alan Flemming (UOP).

Best over-achieving team – 2004 team that looked like it would not even qualify for playoffs. Led by Nick Cartan and the Herrera brothers, they came within a play of winning section title against St. Marys

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