Scott Conn did everything in his power to assemble Incline’s first junior varsity football team in memory. The numbers simply were not on his side.
Conn, who is entering his second season as the Highlanders’ head football coach, recruited and “pestered” every available body he could during the offseason, even coordinating a complete JV schedule with optimistic hope.
But at final tally, the Highlanders have 29 players. That’s a 15-14 split between the varsity and JV teams. And that’s not quite enough.
“We’ve been trying to put together a JV team the last three years, and we’re right on the teetering edge of that,” said Conn, who served as an assistant coach before taking over the program before the 2012 season. “We were hoping to get a few more kids out on Monday. But it just didn’t happen.”
While Conn is disappointed about having to scrap the junior varsity schedule — the JV unit will still play a couple of preseason scrimmages, he said — the coach could not be more pleased with his returning varsity squad.
“We look good. We’ve got 12 returning players from last year’s team, and we picked up a couple other kids from other sports as well,” he said.
Among the returning talent, junior Jack Clouthier will step in as starting quarterback after backing up Christian Biscotti last year. Biscotti underwent offseason knee surgery and will sit out his senior year, Conn said.
“He’ll do an excellent job,” Conn said of Clouthier, adding that the 5-8 quarterback, and defensive back, came into camp in superb physical condition. “He got a lot of work last year as a sophomore. He even started the Whittell game, and he played extremely well and made some good decisions.”
Conn said Clouthier has a strong arm and is the fastest player on the team, and the coach hopes to take advantage of it by introducing some read-option plays in which Clouthier can either run or throw. “Very similar to what the 49ers run,” Conn said. “He’ll have full permission to take off.”
Aside from his quarterback, Conn also expects big things on offense from junior tight end Ben Snyder and senior fullback Kevin Kurashewich, as well as senior receiver Masxsimo Battel and first-year junior receiver Alex Zissis. Much of the offense will revolve around Snyder, who earned All-League second-team honors last season.
“We have a lot of plays that feature him,” Conn said. “In my opinion, he is a genuine D1 prospect. He’s 6-4, 235 pounds and getting stronger, bigger and faster as we speak, with great blocking technique and awesome hands. He has the full package, so we plan to feature him a lot.”
Conn hopes Kurashewich, at 5-10 and 150 pounds with explosive speed, can help fill the void left by first-team All-League backs Sean Herrera and Brendon Steinmeyer. He’ll also rely on “up-and-coming” sophomore Owen Graffis, who won the starting tailback job, and Jack Bessette, a scrappy wideout.
While Herrera and Steinmeyer left large shoes to fill, Incline’s offense has on its side a large line that Conn considers the backbone of the team.
“Everything starts and stops with our line. Because we were so young last year, we were struggling there, but this year they’re more experienced. I really think that’s the highlight of our team,” Conn said. “They’re certainly a lot bigger than they were last year — 10 to 20 pounds of man, and a lot more physically strong as well.”
The line includes junior Joe Sunseri at center, sophomore Michael Guymon and senior Kenny Savelieff at guards, Jerry Sanchez at right tackle, and Snyder at tight end. Conn said the starting left tackle position is up for grabs among sophomore Rick DeLarcerda and senior transfers Jason Guth and Zach Ontiveros.
With the line anchoring the team, the Highlanders will look to build on last year’s 6-4 season, which ended with a loss to top-seeded Pershing County in the first round of the Northern Division III postseason.
“Having tasted the playoffs, we obviously want to get back to them,” Conn said. “It would be monumental to be able to host a playoff game at Incline. The difficult task ahead is we still have several really good teams in our league.”
The Northern Division III (formerly 2A) is led by perennial powers Pershing County, Yerington and Battle Mountain, while Rite of Passage always fields an athletic team.
“Any team in the league, including us, could have a breakout year. The challenge is that Yerington, Pershing County and Battle Mountain all have JV programs, and have the edge because of their established programs. So it’s always going to be a challenge against them,” Conn said, adding that Incline has a better shot than last year against Pershing County and Yerington, with those teams traveling to Incline this year.
Other league members include Silver Stage and West Wendover, while longtime Incline rivals Whittell and North Tahoe are out. Whittell dropped to the Division IV, which plays eight-man football, and North Tahoe was granted independent status. North Tahoe and Incline are still scheduled to meet in a nonleague contest on Oct. 19.