TRUCKEE, Calif. — With four consecutive state championships comes high expectations.
Never mind that the Truckee football team lost a coaching legend, its entire defensive unit and a couple of the most clutch performers in the program’s history. The Wolverines are expected to win, just as they have in 47 of their last 48 games.
But first, “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said new head coach Josh Ivens, a former Truckee player and longtime assistant to Bob Shaffer, the third-winningest coach in NIAA history (170-32). Ivens took over the program when Shaffer retired this past winter, after leading the Wolverines to nine state titles in his 18 years at the helm.
While Truckee managed to reload every year under Shaffer, the team faces a nearly complete overhaul this season.
“The senior group, there’s a handful of them who got reps last year, but a lot of them are just inexperienced. And the kids surrounding them are young,” Ivens said, adding that all 11 defensive starters from a year ago graduated. “So we’re learning how to practice right now, learning how to get the intensity up. Right now it’s just not where I want it to be. Being a part of four (consecutive) championship teams, we’re trying to get our level of play up.”
The Truckee program has a different feel in more ways than one.
Aside from their new coach, the Wolverines will not field a junior varsity team, instead opting for only a freshmen squad. Ivens said numbers are way down in the sophomore class, which has only seven players, all of whom were absorbed into the 32-member varsity team.
“I kind of sacrificed that group because we have 28 consistent freshmen, so it was more important to me that they got to play a freshmen schedule instead of getting pounded by a JV schedule — because teams, at least when they’re playing us, are moving five or six juniors down,” Ivens said, adding that he plans to have a JV team next year. “I want these guys to match up against others their age.”
Despite losing much of the talent from last year’s 11-1 squad, which defeated Southern Nevada power Moapa Valley 34-10 in the state championship, hope remains. The Wolverines return a handful of impact players at the skill positions and a large offensive line that can push around its opposition.
“Our strength is definitely going to be that big offensive line that we have. If we stay healthy up front, then we’re going to be just fine,” Ivens said, adding that the size on the line is unusual for Truckee, which normally relies more on athleticism. “We’re used to being undersized. It’s going to be nice to have a line that obviously can push. But at the same time, they’re not as fast as our other lines, so some of the play-calling might be slightly different than the past based on that.”
Leading the way are senior quarterback Louden Smith, who spins a nice ball and saw significant playing time as a junior, senior center and defensive lineman Blake Crosby, who’s 6 foot and 315 pounds, senior halfback and safety Austin Vance, senior fullback and linebacker Lance Bokinskie, and senior receivers Sean Daniel and Thor Retzlaff, also defensive backs. Seniors Nate Golden and Greg Engler anchor the offensive line along with Crosby.
Ivens said Daniel is a completely different player than last year — bigger, more physical and with even better hands. Vance, who put on weight since last season, up to 175 pounds, remains as quick and shifty as ever, while Ivens described Bokinskie, at 5-11, 190, as the most physical player on the team along with Crosby. Golden, at 6-1 and 240 pounds, is another imposing force on both sides of the ball, Ivens said.
Outside of Golden, Crosby and Engler (5-9, 195), Truckee’s offensive line includes senior Scott Womack (6-1, 225), sophomore Erik Swalander (6-1, 190) and senior Mitch Harrity (5-9, 150), while the defensive line is made up of Crosby, Golden, senior Ben Ketron (6-0, 155) and sophomore Conor Jacobs (5-10, 152). Joining Bokinskie at linebacker are Harrity, Engler and senior Logan Nicholas (6-2, 180).
Also unlike most Truckee teams, the offense, with its few returning starters, is ahead of the relatively inexperienced defense in the early going.
“That’s just because most of our experience is on offense. We lost all 11 starters on defense, so this is going to be one of the more challenging defenses of my coordinating career,” Ivens said.
With Shaffer out, offensive line coach Rick Wilson will take over as the offensive play-caller. Ivens said Wilson, who also coaches the running backs, will make for a seamless transition based on his thorough knowledge of the blocking schemes. He said the Wolverines will continue to run Shaffer’s offense, which has elements of both the Wing-T and spread.
“Right now we’ve kind of adapted to coach Shaffer’s offense and are moving forward with it,” Ivens said. “We certainly have the same formations he’s run. Obviously Rick’s play-calling will be different than coach Shaffer’s, but it’s the same playbook.”
As far as the competitive Division I-A, Ivens said he’s not even looking outside of Truckee’s opening game. The Wolverines travel to Winnemucca on Sept. 6 to take on a tough Lowry squad, and the coach will have his hands full until then trying to round his team into form.
High school sports website Maxpreps.com has Lowry ranked eighth overall in Nevada, which is higher than any D-IA team including Moapa Valley, which ranks 11th. Fallon is No. 12 on the list and Truckee 15.
“I expect Game 1 to be the toughest game. That’s all I’m looking at. I don’t care about anything else at this point,” Ivens said. “Lowry is going to be a tough game. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back. So one-hundred percent of our focus is on Lowry. And then we’ll go from there.”