South Tahoe football looks to take big step, reach playoffs
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A year older. A year smarter. And a year stronger.
South Tahoe football is back on the rise.
After suffering through a one-win season a year ago, the Vikings return almost their entire roster that was dominated by sophomores and a budding freshman star quarterback.
“They’ve matured mentally and physically and are more ready to go this year than they were last year,” said South Tahoe fifth-year head coach Louis Franklin. “It’s going to be awesome. The kids are better at what we’re asking them to do. Last year we saw a lot of guys fade at halftime. They were sophomores playing against seniors and it’s tough. This year I don’t see that happening.”
Junior receiver and defensive back Giovani Medina Morales says the intensity at practice is way up compared to last year.
He chalked it up to a learning experience. His season was cut short due to injury but he was still the team’s third-leading receiver (23 rec, 275 yards, TD).
“Last year we were all just small and scared because it was our first year on varsity,” Medina Morales said. “But now we know what to expect. We’re confident. We put in a lot of work in the offseason. We all got stronger and bigger so it should be more fun this year.”
Vikings return nearly entire roster
The Vikings offense starts with second-year signal caller Jake Tarwater.
The sophomore went through some growing pains last year with mostly inexperienced receivers and offensive linemen.
When Tarwater would have time to throw, a receiver would run the wrong route. When the receivers were on point, the line would break down and Tarwater would run for his life.
He still finished the season completing 58% of his passes for about 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Vikings this season have started where they left off and Tarwater and his mates have a better grasp on the playbook. He’s ready to get his sophomore party started.
“I’m really excited for this thing to start,” Tarwater said. “We’ve got a good team. We’re turning into a family and we’re putting in the work. We’re more on the same page. We have a lot more experience and know what we’re going to be up against. We’ve been trying to work hard so we can beat all those teams.”
Franklin said Tarwater traveled all over California in the offseason attending college ID camps, honing his skills and now has full command of the playbook, which has given him more confidence.
“Jake is amazing. His IQ is off the charts,” Medina Morales said. “He knows everything about the offense and he has a great arm.”
Juniors Mason Hage, Jeremy Smiley, Brandon Ruiz and first-year player Carl Valiente should be in line to catch a lot of passes.
Hage caught 25 passes last year for 174 yards in six games and Smiley and Ruiz each made a handful of receptions.
Valiente, one of the school’s best athletes and a basketball standout, could make an impact.
“I’m glad to have a kid like that come over to our program,” Franklin said.
Junior Kaden Leake and sophomore James Adams are expected to handle most of the rushing duties.
Leake is the team’s returning leader (32 car, 162 yards) and Adams started as a freshman on the junior varsity team.
“James is one of the top three strongest kids on the program pound for pound, and he has some burners for us,” Franklin said. “And we should be able to run the ball more effectively with our stronger line this year.”
The line will be anchored by three two-way starters senior Hilario Nunez, junior Bryan Aguilar and sophomore Leif Ferrier.
Franklin said returning senior Drake Lathrop will be a key defender.
The right players and high expectations
Franklin wouldn’t mind more players on the roster, but he loves the 30-35 players that are in camp.
He said many players maintained above a 90% attendance rate in offseason workouts.
“They’ve been putting in the time and effort since November,” Franklin said. “We don’t have 40 or 50 guys on the roster, but we have the right guys out here.”
There were 16 sophomores on the roster last year and two freshmen and they are all back with a year under their belts.
With that, the expectations rise.
“This year the expectation is to get to state,” Franklin said. “They are really a great group who has bought in. They’re focused on football and grades.”
Medina Morales and Tarwater are both being fueled by last year.
They’d both like to get rid of that nasty taste from losing nine games.
“It drives me everyday to put in extra work and go 100 percent all the time,” Tarwater said. “And I’m sure with all those guys it does as well.”
“It’s what we use to motivate us,” Medina Morales said. “It wasn’t fun last season and I know for sure we are all working hard and we don’t want to end up like that again.”