Excitement, anticipation abounds in Warrior football program
It’s a cliche to say it, but when the dozen Whittell High School senior football players look at the Warrior program under coach Mike Evans during the day, it makes last year seem like a season of nights.
Coach Evans and Richard Pitts, who together share a career coaching high school football, changed nearly every aspect of the football program, from the pace, to the offensive and defensive formations, to who will play where and when.
Among the biggest improvements is an offensive line built around seniors Jake Summers, Casey Canto, Joe Ilk and Ian Haessly and added depth and starting power from seniors Jordan Duty, Ben Boren and sophomore Tommy Esquivel.
While starting positions are open until the coaches make the final determination, the staff of seniors expect each of the offensive lineman to weigh 190 pounds, but average somewhere closer to 210.
That additional weight and strength should make opportunities for senior quarterbacks Alex Swearingen and Nick Lowe, who are battling for a starting position for the Aug. 29 home opener against Tonopah, Whittell’s first opponent and the first high school football game of the year in Nevada.
Players say the team has come a long way from its 0-9 season in 2001, where the offense scored a lonely, single touchdown, and it’s hard not to believe them.
“We have a nice little mixture of speed and power,” said senior Brian Jones, who will play wide receiver and defensive end.
“We’ve got a lot of plays in in less than a week,” said senior slot back wide receiver and linebacker Matt Johnson, who is wearing the Warrior football jersey for the last of four years.
“This is the biggest squad, by far, that I’ve played with since I’ve been here,” he added.
And that increase is likely attributable to the infectious enthusiasm of coach Evans, who has made Whittell football so much a part of his life that his family is taking vacations around the team’s schedule so that the new coach can scout the competition in Whittell’s future.
But that’s a side note to Evans’ leadership on the field.
During punt return practice Monday, Evans’ voice and whistle had the team hustling from one side of the field to other with little time for banter, which is a lot different from how players describe practice last year.
“We’re better now than we were at the end of last season,” Lowe, 17, said after practice.
Canto said that the team’s improvements all stem from the experience and knowledge of the coaches. That’s inspired the players to recruit their friends, many of whom have never played football before.
In fact, players are still filing in to put on a Warrior uniform.
Freshman Daniel Allen was out for his first day of practice Monday after a friend convinced him the team was on to something good, bringing the current roster up to 27. But even that number is expected to change for the better.
Some players even say they have the kind of leadership and team commitment that could earn them a state championship.
Most, however, are focusing on the immediate future, getting the plays down, executing and working hard for a coach whose experience is backed up by state trophies — one as a player in 1982 and the other as a defensive coordinator in 1999 — at Bishop Manogue High in Reno.
The team’s new goal: making it to zone.
But with a turnout that is the largest in recent years, the 2A Warriors may have the depth to do it.
The turnout has Evans more optimistic than when he took over the summer weight training program with only six to 10 players showing up regularly.
He said he’s happy with how the defense is progressing, attacking the ball, but thinks the offense is a little behind where it ought to be.
“They’ve been running against two different defenses,” Evans said. “Against Tonopah they’ll play against five.”
He plans to run a Wing-T offense, where he says every rule of offense applies to every rule of defense.
“It may not be exciting,” he said of the tendency to call conservative ground plays and throw high-percentage routes, “but bad things happen when you throw the football.”
Head Coach: Mike Evans, first year
Last year: 0-9, Northern Nevada 2A Conference
Key returners: Jake Summers, Joe Ilk, Casey Canto, Matt Johnson, Ian Haessly, Nick Lowe, Alex Swearingen, Ben Boren, Brian Jones, Parker Fox
Opener: Aug. 29 at home vs. Tonopah, 3:30 p.m.
Key to success: Playing good field position defensively, and playing flawless football offensively.
Aug. 29 Tonopah 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 White Pine (Ely) 3 p.m.
Sept. 21 Independence noon
Sept. 27 at Pershing County (Lovelock) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at West Wendover 3 p.m.
Oct. 12 *Mineral County (Hawthorne) 2 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Battle Mountain 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 Silver Stage (Silver Springs) J.V. only 3 p.m.
Nov. 2 Incline 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 League Playoffs TBA
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