Warriors expect to go deeper in postseason
August 15, 2009
There has been too much work and sweat for the Whittell High football team to be “one and done.”
Holdover football players from last year’s unexpected playoff team are determined to make qualifying for the postseason the norm.
“We’re definitely going to go a lot deeper into the postseason this year,” said senior running back Cody Nelson. “We’re going to come out a lot stronger. We have the experience from that last postseason run, and now we know what’s coming.”
At first glance, opponents may think the Warriors won’t be able to overcome the graduation of all-everything quarterback Roberto Concha-Foley, the Northern 2A League most valuable player and the state’s offensive player of the year.
But the Warriors return a pair of running backs/linebackers who were just as important as Concha-Foley (now at Cabrillo College) in transforming the Warriors from one of the state’s worst into one of the state’s best. Nelson and fellow senior running back Phil Gielow give the Warriors senior leadership and experience that every coach covets.
“I think some of those coaches think we’re a lot more one dimensional with just Roberto, but they forget about the games where each of the running backs had 150 yards and two touchdowns,” Nelson said. “We also have a lot of new people – juniors and seniors – coming out, who saw that we had a winning season. I feel they are going to be a big help, too.”
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Another significant leader for the Warriors has been two-way lineman Nick Warner. Warner’s leadership qualities were recognized earlier this summer when he was selected as the first recipient of the Gene Upshaw Scholarship Award at the American Century Championship. Senior linemen Sam Harris and Michael Koskin have also made major contributions throughout their Whittell careers.
“This will be hands down the greatest group of leadership in my four years of coaching,” said Whittell coach David Atherton, who assisted John Summers for two years before taking over as head coach last year. “So many people who don’t like football, they think it’s violent. My players are growing into successful young men because of their high school football experience.”
Atherton has always envisioned Gielow or Nelson breaking his school single-season rushing record of 1,622 yards. Both backs are expecting more of a workload in 2009, and they are excited.
Besides the comfort of a solid running game, Atherton is upbeat about the school’s next quarterback. Freshman Austin Buyak will succeed Concha-Foley and has the credentials to eventually fill his shoes and then some. Buyak already has the size – he’s 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds – and the speed – he won the Tah-Neva League 100-meter dash title last spring – to take over behind center.
“This kid is a man child. He will be the fastest player on our team,” Atherton said. “It’s going to be interesting. We’re making sure he understands that he has a lot of work to do.”
What Buyak lacks is experience. He’s played very little organized football the past several years because he’s been too big to play in the youth leagues.
“I’m not making any judgments until he puts his pads on,” Gielow said.
“He’ll earn the respect, then we’ll give him all he deserves, but right now he’s on the same level as everybody else,” Nelson said.
Without Buyak, who was considering attending South Tahoe High School earlier in the summer, the quarterback duties would have split up the Warriors’ special running back tandem. Nelson was going to assume the role.
“It feels more at home,” Gielow said. “I feel so much better having Cody back with me as a back and having someone else be able to step in as quarterback.”
The Northern 2A may think it’s getting a break with Concha-Foley gone, but Buyak may cause just as many defensive adjustments.
“When Concha-Foley started scrambling, all heck broke loose,” said Battle Mountain coach Tim Knight. “When somebody can run and pass, you get stretched pretty thin. Most of Whittell’s success came from that last year. You couldn’t load up with a nickel package, or he’d take off on you. If you didn’t, he’d pass on you. Those kinds of players are terrible to defend.”
Knight’s Longhorns found a way to stop Concha-Foley in a 44-8 playoff victory.
“We just attacked them. We disrupted them before they set up, and it worked,” he said. “I had all of the big horses that I could do that with.”
Atherton has several pleasant surprises going into the preseason. Senior Adam Laub, a three-sport athlete, and junior Matt Schorr have joined the team. Laub has spent the past three seasons helping the Warriors’ cross country team earn state trophies, while Schorr has put much of his athletic effort into baseball and skiing.
“Adam has been hitting the weights and Matt, you can tell with him that he’s going to prove to you that he’s a starter. You look at the focus in his face, it’s a coach’s dream,” Atherton said.
Junior receiver Austin Norton has also made big strides in the offseason. Norton has sprouted to 6 feet and should lessen the loss top receiver Rio Delucia to graduation.
Knight won’t have the same large and aggressive cache of players this season, so Whittell could very well contend with the Longhorns and Lovelock for the league title.
“It’s pointless to coach this game if the sky isn’t the limit,” Atherton said. “We are going to state, that’s it. Last year was fun and we were happy to get to the playoffs, but my group of seniors were (mad) that it lost to Battle Mountain in the playoffs.”
Whittell hasn’t made the state finals since 1991 when Mike Crawford, a former NFL player for the Miami Dolphins, was a senior.
“Same old song and dance,” Gielow said. “We go out there every day and do our job, and as long everybody does their job like they are supposed to, we can do whatever we want.”
Atherton has announced that this is his final season leading the program. To ensure that the Warriors’ 2009 season will leave lasting memories, Atherton is planning to make a documentary of the year.
“I want to show this group of seniors how they made football a great thing here,” Atherton said.
2009 Whittell Schedule
Sept. 5 at Silver Stage Noon
Sept. 10 Dayton JVs 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 at ROP 1 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Lovelock 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 Incline-h 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 North Tahoe 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Battle Mountain 6 p.m.
Oct. 30 Silver Stage 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 7-21 Playoffs TBA
Note: Whittell’s Sept. 18 game against Independence has been canceled because the Colts have dropped athletics this year.