South Tahoe football sees 2016 season as program-defining, aims to end playoff drought
STHS Football 2016 schedule
Div. 3A Northern League
Aug. 26 at Sparks, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Spring Creek, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Fernley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Fallon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Lowry, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Wooster, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Dayton, 7 p.m. (Homecoming)
Oct. 14 vs. Elko, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Truckee, 7 p.m.
Home games in bold
It’s how the South Tahoe football team’s seniors have viewed the 2016 season since before high school. It means many different things to the leaders of this year’s Vikings, and ultimately represents what they expect to be a program-defining campaign.
“This group of guys has been showing up since freshman year, since Day 1,” said senior quarterback Tommy Cefalu. “In the summer after eighth grade, we all just decided we want to win and we want to be the best.”
For a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003, South Tahoe believes this is the year that streak ends. The Vikings open the season Friday night, Aug. 26, at Sparks — kickoff is at 7 p.m. — and see that as the start of something special.
“It’s the potential of all of us combined and how hard we’ve been working throughout this offseason that’s going to make the season so fun,” senior receiver Noah Jackson said. “This is our chance to be successful and we’re all just really excited for it.”
On the field, a combination of talent and experience is why South Tahoe sees so much potential in this season. And that’s only where it starts.
“We’ve just never had this chemistry with a group of guys before,” senior lineman Anthony Wolfe said. “The senior class is a big group of mean dudes that just wants to get stuff done. Everyone has that fire in their bellies to win and change the culture.”
The Vikings went 4-6 last season, the program’s first under head coach Louis Franklin. After opening with four straight losses, South Tahoe learned how to win and hit its stride — momentum the team plans to carry into this year.
“These kids have seen that, and now it’s their job to carry the torch and show the younger guys — we expect to be here, and this is how we finish the game,” Franklin said. “That’s going to be the big thing this year, focusing on finishing — finishing plays, finishing drives, finishing games.”
South Tahoe has had a year of experience in Franklin’s uptempo read-option offense, and expects that to translate between the lines. Cefalu threw for 2,255 yards and 21 touchdowns in nine starts last season, and the Div. I-A Northern League All-League first team selection will lead an offense loaded with returning skill players.
“There’s some stuff that’s new that’s going to work well, and just having the year under our belt is definitely going to give us the advantage,” Cefalu said. “This offense works so well, but we came into it last year as all new students.”
Seniors Zen Contestable and Noah Jackson were two of South Tahoe’s top receivers in 2015, with Contestable leading the team in receptions and touchdowns. They are part of a deep receiving corps that includes junior McCallan Castles, a 6-foot-5-inch athlete that moved to the area from Colorado and can line up out wide, in the slot or at tight end.
“He’s a game changer,” Franklin said of Castles. “We feel like we can win one-on-one matchups pretty consistently, but to be 6-foot-5 and run and jump and catch like he can — he takes two defenders away, and that should only help everyone.”
The Vikings averaged 138.4 yards rushing per game in 2015, but went away from the run down the stretch. The ground game is a priority this season, led by a trio of seniors — every-down bruiser Jacob Bernal, change-in-pace speedster Dylan Gooding and physical fullback Andrew Herrera.
“This year there’s a relentlessness and it’s a tougher group of kids,” Franklin said. “They understand now that they have to be able to run the ball against the better teams.”
“We’re hoping our run game is really dominant this year,” Bernal added.
Defensively, South Tahoe again plans to use speed to counter a relative lack of size compared to its top Div. 3A Northern counterparts. To simplify things, the Vikings will operate solely out of a four-man defensive front this season after switching between that and a three-man front throughout last year.
“Our linebackers are our best athletes, and we want to keep linemen off them so they can be more aggressive in making plays,” Franklin said. “We’re bigger up front this year, and that should help those backers be free.”
As a result of the defensive switch, the Vikings plan to blitz less in the hopes of allowing less big plays. In the trenches, South Tahoe has a pair of 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound interior linemen in Jackson Binns and Willy Weiburg that will set the tone on every play.
Herrera and Bernal are returning starters in a linebacker corps that features varsity newcomer Gabriel Bueno. At free safety, Gooding anchors the Vikings’ defense from a secondary that features a handful of new players highlighted by junior cornerback Matt Cain.
“It’s a little bit different scheme this year — it’s faster,” Wolfe said.
When South Tahoe kicks off its 2016 season Friday night, the goal will be the same as it is each week — to finish 1-0. The Vikings plan to make each practice, play, drive and game add up to one of the league’s six postseason berths, and ultimately a season that changes the program.
“As hard as we want to work, as intense as we can get at practice is how well we’re going to do this season,” Jackson said. “If we can keep everything at 100, we can go as far as we want.”
“It starts with keeping everyone upright and healthy,” Franklin added. “As long as we do what we need to do, these kids are really going to love the season and look back and really enjoy it.”