It’s been awhile since the 12-time state champion Wolverines entered a season as anything but the team to beat.
A year after struggling to a 3-6 record and failing to make playoffs for the first time in 25 years, however, they appear to have lost that distinction.
High school sports website MaxPreps has the Truckee football team ranked 59th in the state of Nevada, 22nd among the Division I-A ranks and eighth out of 10 teams in the Northern Division I-A.
“I take offense to that more than anything,” said second-year Truckee head coach Josh Ivens, adding that, despite the low ranking, the Wolverines’ longtime foes have not likely forgotten about their past success.
“I certainly think that, while we might not be the team to beat, we’re definitely the favorite team to beat just based on our success in the past and stuff. And I feel like because of that, we still kind of wear that target. I’m guessing teams won’t underestimate us in that regard.”
Before enduring last year’s down season, the Wolverines had won 47 of 48 games en route to earning four consecutive state titles. The pressure to bring home a fifth straight championship weighed on last year’s young and inexperienced squad, which could not deliver after essentially losing its entire starting unit from 2012.
“I think the pressure of that five-peat is definitely off their shoulders, and they’re more relaxed in that sense. But I think that the tradition at Truckee is something that the kids know and understand, and that pressure always remains,” said Ivens, who played for the Wolverines from 1988 to 1991 and took over for longtime head coach Bob Shaffer last year. “We have a certain way of doing things and a tradition, and we talked before the season about preserving our tradition and preserving the game of football in our town.
“We are approaching the year the same as we always do. We’re shooting to be tops in the division and make the playoffs.”
While making the postseason will be no simple task in the competitive Northern Division I-A, Ivens has reason to be optimistic about this year’s group. The team returns many juniors and seniors who saw significant playing time last season, including a handful of speedy play-makers. In addition, the squad has already shown a strong team chemistry in the early going, Ivens said.
“We’re a tight group right now,” he said, explaining how the Wolverines bonded at a three-day, full-contact camp in McKinleyville, where they also impressed the coach with their competitiveness.
Truckee has nearly the same size roster as last season, with 31 players compared to last year’s 32. But even that was a stretch, as Ivens had to call up five sophomores while recruiting five others who did not play last season. He wanted to keep the cohesive and promising sophomore class together, but necessity forced his hand.
“I took the five kids I knew could physically handle a varsity season,” Ivens said of the sophomores, who include Tyler Davis (QB, WR, FS), Wulfe Retzlaff (LB, FB), Jose Araiza (LB, T), Jayme Nelson (TE/DE) and Orlander Simms (T, DT).
Aside from the sophomores, the roster breaks down to 14 seniors and 12 juniors.
Truckee would have had 15 seniors with the addition of Brandon Hayakawa, a fast and athletic player who starred as North Tahoe’s quarterback last season. Hayakawa was allowed to transfer to Truckee after North Tahoe canceled its season, and he was on the team until Thursday, when Ivens was informed that he was forgoing his senior season and returning to North Tahoe.
Leading the charge
Although the Wolverines have yet to choose team captains, Ivens said senior skill players Carson Cottel and Gabe Deiro and senior big man Baldo Ramirez seem to be leading the way in terms of leadership. Cottel and Deiro play running back and defensive back, and Ramirez, who’s listed at 6 foot 3 and 295 pounds, is a two-way lineman.
Junior Sean Bokinskie was handed the reigns as starting quarterback, taking over for recent Truckee grad Louden Smith. Ivens said the team has been quick to rally around Bokinskie, who got in a few reps at QB late last season.
“He definitely has the team’s respect, so he leads the huddle, and he has knowledge of the playbook and the language that goes with it,” Ivens said. “I think passing-wise, he’s still working on making his reads. But he’s athletic, so if there’s not an open receiver, he’s going to take off and run, and we feel pretty confident that he’s going to be able to make plays with both his arm and his feet.”
Davis, one of the sophomores, was brought up as a backup QB but will likely play receiver, Ivens said.
Senior Tanner Sawyer, who was Truckee’s leading receiver last year, returns to the same position — a 2 back in Truckee’s Wing-T offense — while backs Eli Delauney (senior) and Deiro are perhaps the fastest players on the team, Ivens said.
“We’ve got some pretty good speed and experience at the halfback spot,” the coach said, adding that junior Conor Jacobs will help anchor the offense at fullback.
Other impact skill players include receivers Joe Ketron, a senior, and Jordan Jepsen, a junior.
On the defensive side of the ball, Deiro, Delauney, Sawyer and Cottel will hold down the defensive back positions, while Ivens said that Retzlaff, Erik Swalander, JJ Bellon and Adam Crosby are fighting for starting linebacker spots.
Unlike past seasons, Ivens, who served as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator for years, will take over the offensive play-calling. He’ll hand over his defensive coordinator role to coach Jim Doughty. Coach Rick Wilson, who called the offensive plays last season, did not return to the team for personal reasons, Ivens said.
“I’m taking on the offense for the first time. It’s kind of rejuvenated me a little bit. I’ve been doing defense for a long time now, so it was kind of hard to disconnect from that, but I feel that me and coach Jim Doughty are one in the same. We’ve been working together so long and know how each other think. So I feel like we’re not going to lose anything on defense with me stepping away from that side of the ball as a coordinator,” Ivens said, adding that he plans to use the same Wing-T offense that Shaffer used.
“I just wanted to progress as a coach this year and kind of take on coach Shaffer’s offense and keep it going. I feel very good with what we have offensively.”
Ivens also brought onto the coaching staff Matt Estabrook, son of former Truckee head coach Ron Estabrook, and former Truckee player Travis Dwyer.
A tough test
The Wolverines will find out just how good they are in Week 1, as they take on defending Division III champion Yerington to open the season next Friday.
The Lions looked more like a Division I-A team last year, when they marched to their title with a perfect 11-0 record. They outscored their opponents 501-85 along the way, averaging more than 45 points a game.
“A lot of our league is stepping up to go play the Division I schools, but I felt like Yerington is going to give us all we can handle,” Ivens said. “They’re kind of like Truckee. They’re a small town with a lot of pride, and they’re closer to our enrollment than any other team we’ll play, other than Dayton. Just because they’re Division III doesn’t mean anything to me. They’re very capable. I know coach Neville is going to have them physically ready. They were very impressive last year. They have speed, and they’re very aggressive to the football.”
Truckee’s schedule gets no easier after Yerington. The Wolverines host defending Northern DI-A champion Fallon in Week 2, then travel to Lowry and Dayton before hosting Elko on Sept. 27.
“I’m uncertain about how things are going to go. I felt like last year’s division was as strong as it’s ever been,” Ivens said, adding that despite losing seniors to graduation, Fallon and Elko are large enough schools to rebuild, while Lowry has developed into a perennially strong program. He also expects Fernley and Dayton to field solid teams, as well as Wooster and others. “I don’t think there’s going to be an easy game this year.”