Ex-Vikings find calling in college football | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Ex-Vikings find calling in college football

Steve Yingling

South Tahoe High School has always experienced difficulty attracting football players to its program. Some of those players, however, are making the most of their football careers.

The South Shore program continues to produce more than its share of college football players. Five former STHS players will suit up for college teams this fall, and two of them will play at college football’s highest level.

Nick Garratt, a junior, is a reserve linebacker for national title contender USC, and junior Bryan Finkel is a backup linebacker for San Diego State.

In addition, Adam Fountain, who has been a fixture on the Humboldt State University offensive line, is set to open his senior season at the NCAA Division II school on Saturday.

Former STHS star quarterback Mike Van Gorden and two-way standout Kyle Jones are keeping their football dreams alive by playing on NAIA teams. Van Gorden is a reserve wide receiver and special teams player for Azusa Pacific University, while Jones is a reserve fullback for Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore.

Finkel, Aztecs to start with Cal Poly

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Finkel and the Aztecs will kick off their season on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. against Cal Poly at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. San Diego State (4-8 last year) will play at Notre Dame on Sept. 6, then travel to San Jose State on Sept. 13.

The junior linebacker redshirted last year after transferring from Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. The former All-Sierra League defensive player at STHS made two tackles while appearing in four games for the Wildcats in 2006.

Garratt looks for special game

Meanwhile, USC coach Pete Carroll has designs to use former STHS linebacker Nick Garratt (6-1, 235) on special teams. Garratt said he was listed on the depth chart for four special teams.

The Trojans are making one of the longest road trips in week one, traveling to Charlottesville, Va., to play the Cavaliers. Game time is 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Pac-10 favorite USC received a boost earlier this week when quarterback Mark Sanchez returned to practice. Sanchez suffered a dislocated kneecap at the outset of the team’s preseason camp.

“We came out of camp real healthy, and (I’m) looking forward to a tremendous challenge going across the country to play Virginia at their place and in a program that we’ve watched throughout the offseason with great respect,” said Carroll in his pregame comments on Tuesday.

Carroll granted Garratt, a former walk-on, a scholarship during preseason camp. Garratt, a junior, is listed as the Trojans’ third-string strong-side linebacker, backing up senior Brian Cushing and sophomore Michael Morgan.

“Being a walk-on is so much harder,” Garratt said. “You’re not babysat, people aren’t telling you what to do. You have to figure everything out on your own. It was an eye opener.

“I didn’t come out of high school thinking that I wanted money. I came here because I wanted to play football for USC.”

Van Gorden among 54 returners

The 6-foot, 165-pound Van Gorden, a junior, is among 54 returners on a Azusa Pacific squad that went 6-5 last year. Azusa Pacific was ranked 20th in a preseason coaches’ poll. A record 121 players turned out for the first practice earlier this month.

Azusa Pacific will entertain Carroll, Mont., in its season opener on Saturday night.

Raiders, Jones to open season today

Jones, a former student at the University of Hawaii, has found a home on the Southern Oregon football team. The 5-8, 185-pound Jones is listed as a backup fullback.

Southern Oregon opens its season today at Montana Tech.

“The kids are ready to start hitting somebody else,” said Southern Oregon coach Steve Helminiak on the school’s Web site. “We’ve got a hungry football team right now, and we are excited to play Tech again.”

Montana Tech won last year’s meeting 32-30, stopping the Raiders’ attempt to the knot the score with a two-point conversion with 34 seconds remaining.

Jones, a redshirt freshman, will meet up with fellow STHS alum Fountain when the Jacks visit the Raiders on Sept. 6 in Ashland. The Raiders will play at Sacramento State on Sept. 13.

Fountain has new coach

Fountain’s senior season with the Jacks coincides with the start of the Rob Smith coaching era. Smith returns to coaching after spending the past two years as the athletic director at Grays Harbor Community College in Aberdeen, Wash. In his previous stop at Western Washington, Smith compiled a 17-year record of 109-62-1.

Going into Saturday’s 6:05 p.m. season opener at Sacramento State, the 6-3, 289-pound Fountain was listed as the starting right tackle on the depth chart. The Jacks (2-8 last year) are breaking in three new starters along the offensive line since three players were lost to graduation.

“We’re very happy with our first unit,” said Smith in the team’s preseason outlook. “As a group, they’ve come in and worked hard. Now we’ll look to bring in some transfers who will provide depth and also push the starters.”

Fountain is a four-year letterwinner and the Jacks’ 2006 lineman of the year.