Despite once again fielding the lowest enrollment of any school in the SCCAL, the Falcons’ hopes for post-season glory were flying high at practice this week following last Friday’s jamboree of SCCAL teams at Cabrillo College.
Louie Walters, the only gridiron coach the school has known since its inaugural season in 1999, sees this year’s squad more than making up for what they might lack in size through pure athleticism — speed, instincts, and energy that lasts through all 60 minutes of the game.
It starts with defense
As has been the case through most of the school’s short history, a stingy defense is paramount to the Falcons’ hopes in 2014.
Defensive Coordinator Jeff Metter, a former NFL linebacker who, like Walters, has held his position since Scotts Valley’s inaugural campaign 15 years ago, expects a different look from last year’s team, most notably when it comes to size and speed.
“We have a ton of athletes,” Metter says, emphasizing that size is not as critical in high school football as it is in college and the pros. “If we can get all 11 going to the football on every play, we’re going to be tough.”
Anchoring this year’s defense is returning all-league tackle Jonathan Velez. He’ll be joined by nose guard Tyler Stone and Ethan Harris holding down the other tackle position, with Orllie Herrera, Conner Engler and Chris Wright also seeing significant playing time on the line.
Linebacker should be another strength, led by returning all-league starter Tristan Leonetti and Connor Van Valer. Inside linebacker Leonetti in particular drew Metter’s praise: “Tristan can be the best linebacker in the league,” he said, especially if he can contain his instinct to try to do too much. He will be complemented Beau Lawrie and Troy Menna, who are competing for the second Inside Linebacker slot, while 6’ 6” Tanner Spence will join Van Valer as Outside Linebacker in Metter’s 5-2 set.
The secondary is solid and showcases lots of depth, led by the return of David Snyder, Dalton Locke and Nick Reyes. Twins Logan and Colin Sorensen, Kyle Giguiere, Timmy Wagner, Jordan Tuck, Dawson Danner and Liam Rapoza all give Metter plenty of options and ensure fresh legs are always available.
“I could put any of those kids on the field and not see a drop-off,” he said.
Special teams should be a stand-out for Scotts Valley again this year, with former San Francisco 49ers great Joe Nedney having spent considerable one-on-one time with kicker Logan Sorensen and punter Nathan Kingsley over the summer — help Walters calls “invaluable.”
Wagner, Snyder, Reyes, Tuck and David Rosen are all expected to share return duties.
Offensively, 2014 isn’t likely to feature a dominant running back as Scotts Valley has enjoyed in the recent past in the form of Ari Wargon, Jake Rehnberg, Collin Corbella and Kyle Hardwick.
But returning all-league quarterback Jake Lobo should more than take up the slack, with Walters foreseeing an offense operating 50-50 between passing and running thanks to Lobo’s strong and accurate arm, with Nick Reyes in the backup role.
“Jake’s a linebacker playing quarterback,” Walters says of his three-year varsity QB. “He is tough, fast and very smart.”
Velez will see most of the time behind Lobo as fullback, while Snyder, Menna and Leonetti will handle halfback as a committee for now. Each has different strengths, Walters says — Menna is good between the tackles, Snyder’s a slasher and Leonetti has quick feet — and playing time will be driven by the situation and who’s hot.
Scotts Valley regularly runs a two-tight-end offense when the talent pool allows, and Walters expects to see lots of double tight end sets this year. Walters praises Spence’s soft hands for a big man and he is expected to share playing time with Matt Murray and Ethan Emmanuelson as well.
The team’s depth at tight end was responsible for the decision to move last year’s all-league tight end Dalton Locke to wide receiver for 2014. He’ll be offset by a combination of the MVP from last year’s 8-2 JV team, Wagner, along with Danner, Giguiere, Tuck and the Sorensen brothers.
Engler anchors the offensive line at center, while Wright, Van Valer and Herrera will fill the two tackle slots, and Stone, Harris and Bradley Mead split time at guard.
The first test of the Falcons comes this Saturday, Sept. 6, at 2 p.m. at Scotts Valley High against Los Banos.