Little did Scott Conn know, the Incline High football team would be dropped in his lap a week before fall practice began.
“It was quite a shock,” said the former offensive assistant coach, now officially the Highlanders' interim head coach.
Conn took over the Incline football program in early August, replacing Mike Evans after the would-be fourth-year head coach was forced to step down due to a scheduling conflict with his job.
Evans, a teacher at Little Flower School in Reno, said he now teaches a class the last period of the day, which prevents him from making it up to Incline in time for practice.
“I've always been a math and P.E. teacher, and all my classes were early, which allowed me to get up there in time,” Evans explained. “I found out my school schedule in July and I tried to finagle it, but there was just no way I could because my schedule completely changed. I was hoping there would still be a way to do it.”
Left with few options, Evans turned to his trusted assistant of the past two years — one he knew was familiar with the program, and who has prior experience in a similar role.
“Scott's been a head coach in the area in a different sport (basketball), he knows the program, and his philosophy is identical to what we've been doing,” Evans said. “He's been a great asset. He's a perfect fit.”
Conn, while caught off guard by Evans' request, said he looks forward to the challenge, particularly after watching his team perform well in a scrimmage against league rivals North Tahoe and Whittell this past weekend.
“I'm very encouraged,” he said. “We're ahead of where we were last year at this time, and I think that is largely due to the kids getting together over the summer, and to Mike Evans encouraging that and keeping them motivated. Mike played a tremendous part in building the program up to where it is today. So I'm inheriting a program on the rise, mainly due to Mike's work and effort.”
Although the Highlanders lost a handful of seniors at the skilled positions, including quarterback Patrick Murray, the Northern 2A Offensive Player of the Year last season, they return several impact players both at the skill positions and on the offensive and defensive lines. Incline suited up 17 players in Saturday's scrimmage, compared to Whittell's 19 players and North Tahoe's 13, and looked the sharpest of all three schools, Conn said.
“I could not have been more proud of them with the way they performed in the scrimmage,” the coach said. “They performed well offensively and defensively against both North Tahoe and Whittell. We scored multiple touchdowns against both teams and only allowed one against us, by Whittell. So I was very, very pleased.”
Conn will rely on senior team captains Brendon Steinmeyer, Mike Wegener and Ben Reber to help lead the team, as each brings valuable skills to his respective positions. Steinmeyer will serve as the Highlanders' speedy halfback and return man, as well as linebacker or strong safety, while Wegener is a sure-handed receiver and cornerback, and Reber a bruising lineman.
Junior lineman Sam Reber will line up alongside his brother, where he should be able to cause havoc, Conn said, and 6-2 sophomore Ben Snyder has already proven himself as a trustworthy tight end.
New transfer student Sean Herrera from Lassen should also help bolster the Highlanders' running game, as Conn described the 5-7, 165-pound fullback as a “load.”
“He is tough at the fullback spot to bring down. If you hit Sean, you know you hit something,” Conn said.
The hardest-fought position was perhaps at quarterback, as junior Christian Biscotti and sophomore Jack Clouthier battled it out to earn the starting job in place of Murray. After studying both QBs, Conn made his decision Wednesday to start Biscotti.
“They competed to a virtual tie,” he said, emphasizing how difficult the decision was. “Both have done everything I've asked of them, but Christian is a little bit physically larger (6-3, 180 pounds), and he was the backup last year, so I think we owe him the opportunity to show us what he's got. But both of them are fierce competitors.”
With Biscotti earning the starting job, Conn said he'll use Clouthier as a split end, where he can take advantage of his ability to catch the ball and elude tacklers in the open field with his shifty quickness.
“He handles the ball extremely well and he's fast and elusive, so he'll be tough to cover out there,” Conn said.
The Highlanders also benefit from added size on the lines and across the board defensively compared to last year, according to the coach, despite the fact that sophomores Adam Swick (6-3, 220) and Tommy Dolan (6-3, 190) did not come out for the team.
“I hold our defense up as a strength. It just seems like we have the right guys in the right spots, and at the right weights and heights and speed levels and everything,” Conn said. “We have more molding to do on the offensive side than the defensive side. We're quick and aggressive and have some decent size for 2A ball.”