This season is brought to you by the letter ‘D.’ |

This season is brought to you by the letter ‘D.’

The first objective for South Tahoe High’s football team isn’t merely clear, it’s stenciled on the back of the defense’s black practice jerseys: “Defense Wins Championships.”

For all the excitement multitalented quarterback Tim Sprinkles, the best receiver corps in the school’s history and a capable running-back-by-committee can generate, the Vikings’ fortunes largely will depend on what happens when the offense doesn’t have the ball.

“At this point in time, or defensive staff has done an outstanding job, but there’s a lot of things to work on,” said head coach Tim Jaureguito after his first-team “D” held Wooster’s first-team offense out of the end zone in a scrimmage Saturday.

The offensive line may be the team’s second-biggest concern, with only one returning starter, but defense is the biggest question mark for the Vikings, Jaureguito’s pick to finish seventh in the seven-team Northern Nevada 4A Division II.

Enter the Sierra Swarm: Defensive coordinator Mike Makley said his Vikings played well Saturday – for a scrimmage. But if Saturday was any indication, the defense intends to earn its nickname by moving as many helmets as possible to the ball, and hitting early, hard and often.

“Everyone on the defense likes to hit, that’s for sure,” said senior captain Ian Price. Price, a division two honorable-mention selection, anchors the front seven from one defensive end position, with Marty Avila on the other side. Tamzi Garza and Bucky McGrath – star of Saturday’s film review session – fill the middle at tackle.

“He’s so quick, you don’t see him, and he’s making the play in the backfield,” Makley said of McGrath, who impressed the coaches with his quickness in getting into the Wooster backfield.

Makley anticipates using multiple formations, with four linebackers seeing time as starters: Ryan Griffith, Justin Murray, Mario Guerrero and Micah Hoffman – who came up with a fumble recovery Saturday. Saturday’s scrimmage gave the defense a chance to show what it can do out of its base formation. Sparks will be the first team to travel into what the players are calling the “VOD” (Valley of Death) and see what the new defense unleashes.

“We’re going to be coming out with some crazy stuff they haven’t seen before,” said Murray, a a senior middle linebacker.

To improve the defense, the players took on a new attitude, a new dedication to hitting, and better communication – which the players fostered drilling together in the spring and summer.

“We all know each other pretty well,” said Guerrero, a senior outside backer who earned honorable mention on the division team last season. “We know what the other is thinking. We’ve got a new passion for the game. We love coming out here.”

Better depth than last year could keep the starters loving life as the year wears on. A number of players could push for playing time.

“Coach Jaureguito and I were talking about it (Friday) night, and we’ve got some good depth, and it’s really going to help us,” Makley said.

That depth extends to the defensive backfield, where senior Matt George, an all-division second teamer and junior Chas Tanner anchor the corners, bookending safety Sean Kezer, a junior. However, Chris Seals could be an impact player on both sides of the ball: Seals looks to be a part-time player at slot receiver and made two highlight plays on defense Saturday, coming up from safety for the hit that caused the fumble Hoffman collected, then later picking off a deep pass. But even though the defense played well Saturday, it still has work to do.

“The kids also are really self-motivated,” Makley said. “All our guys want to get better and push ourselves.”

The defense didn’t fail to make an impression on offensive coordinator Todd McIntyre’s unit, which lines up against the defenders every day in practice. McIntyre’s offense did pretty well itself, whether Sprinkles, an honorable-mention all-conference performer – was at the controls, or junior backup Jarrod Uppendahl. The passing game’s timing was off, which McIntyre attributed to early season nerves. But with Wooster daring the Vikings to pass, South Tahoe’s running game proved it too could be effective.

“I think the offensive line and the running backs did a really good job,” McIntyre said. “All in all, I think our running and passing worked really well.”

The offensive line returns just one starter after losing all-conference first-teamer Ryan Souza and guard Richie McGuffin, an honorable-mention selection. Senior Billy Humes lines up on the same side of sophomore Garrett McIntyre, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound blocking tight end. Jake Bobman completes the strong side of the defense. Center Nick Barclay, guard Matt Ring and tackle Mark Capatani, all juniors, fill out the rest of the line.

When the Viking offense struggled last season, the team turned to an extra back for better blocking. But the Vikings worked out in a three-receiver, one-back set Saturday, and appear ready to give it a try, with running backs Jake Hurwitz and James Fabrizio, both of whom scored Saturday, splitting time behind the quarterback.

Sprinkles is the centerpiece of the offense, a quarterback who can throw as well as create on the run – which serves him well if the line breaks down.

Sprinkles called Monday’s practice, when the offense worked out on the sleds, a “turning point.”

“It really started to happen,” he said. “The line started to block, the backs went through the holes hard, and the receivers caught the ball and ran good routes.”

Sprinkles’ backup, Uppendahl, will split time with Seals at slot receiver, along with 5-7 speedster Matt Arzio. They head six or seven receivers Jaureguito has called the best corps in the school’s history, along with Casey Kaczmareck, Ryan Hickey, Jerry Seeley and Emanuel Williams, who is new to the game, but impressed McIntyre with his speed and hands.

If the offense can’t finish off scoring drives in the end zone, the Vikings have a new kicker, Carlos Romero, to rely on. Romero hit three out of four field goals Saturday – as far as 47 yards out – and reportedly was good from 58 in Monday’s practice.

Ian Xavier handles the punting duties, and all the special teams players may be more important near the beginning of the season.

“Early in the season, special teams can win you a game,” Jaureguito said.

Jaureguito anticipates using the pass to set up the run. But while the timing of the passing game was off, the Vikings managed to run it in twice against Wooster. Despite having only four days left to prepare for Sparks, time seems to be on South Tahoe’s side this instance: Neither the Sparks game or the team’s second game, against Lowry Sept. 3 at Douglas High School, count toward the division standings, which gives Jaureguito and his staff a chance to tinker.

Saturday’s game is the first of those chances: Sparks returns six starters – five of whom play both ways – from last year’s 2-8 team for the second year under head coach Rob Kittrell. Sparks changes last year’s near-formation offense to the I behind returning linemen Adam Seelye and Jason Molino. Chad Lexa rushed for 543 at fullback, and blocks for halfback Andy Johnson, also a returning starter. Lexa’s production equaled that of Mark Westhoff, who had 39 receptions for 543 yards at wideout.

For South Tahoe, all the games are big ones, and a few stand out in particular: a Sept. 10 matchup at rival Douglas, which Jaureguito picked to win the league; a trip to Reno Sept. 24 to avenge last year’s loss, in which South Tahoe blew a 26-point lead. But South Tahoe – and the Sierra Swarm – have just one chance to make that crucial first impression, and that’s Saturday against Sparks.

“A new year is a new year,” said defensive captain Price. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

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