Warriors come out to play Saturday against Rite of Passage
Early rumors of Whittell High School’s demise as a football program have been greatly exaggerated.
There were times in the past month where it looked doubtful the Warriors even would be able to field a football team for the school’s final year in 3A. However, with 19 players in pads Wednesday and a road game at ROP on the schedule for Saturday, football season finally is here for the Warriors.
An analysis of Whittell’s prospects must begin with a careful weighing of positives and negatives: On one hand, the Warriors nearly have tripled the number of players from their first preseason practice, and enter play against teams also facing shortages of manpower. On the other, the Warriors are trying to change their fortunes from successive 0-9 seasons with a roster that doesn’t allow the team full 11-on-11 scrimmages, many youngsters and players still getting used to new positions.
“There’s a lot of bodies out there, but they’re not bodies you can really practice against,” said John Summers, who enters his second year as head coach of the Warriors. Summers has not been able to practice with his full squad, which he rates at 21 players.
Some Warriors who earned recognition at the skill positions – like junior Joel Warnick – have moved to the line to shore up the shorthanded team. Because many of the players who have helped Whittell flesh out its team are young holdovers from the disbanded junior varsity, there are few perfect substitutes available for positions that demand size and strength.
“Those older guys are going to have to gut it out, play with a little pain,” Summers said.
The team, though, has a few definite strengths in the form of veterans who have returned to their old positions. Senior Matt Miller might be more than the team’s geographic anchor. The senior is the only returning starter on the offensive line, as center, and the only returning starter on the defensive line, as defensive guard. Mike Kiger and Jake Summers line up alongside the 6-3, 220-pound Miller in the guard spots, and Warnick, a quick blocker who beefs up the front with his 190-pound frame, and Matt Lincoln take the outside spots at tackle.
Miller knows his unit’s task is cut out for it. But he likes Whittell’s prospects.
“I think we can do it if we just execute,” Miller said.
“A lot of teams in our division are struggling like we are,” he said. “Everybody is beatable.”
The offensive line is still shuffling, and Warnick’s new task is to protect the men who will succeed him in the backfield. Whittell lines up two halfbacks behind quarterback Trent Gordon: 5-11, 170-pound Matt Wiggins, who moves over from tight end, and 5-6, 135-pound Chauncey Lane. With the line still learning new positions, Whittell is keeping its offensive scheme simple and safe. In practice, the team appeared to be working on timing routes from Gordon to wideouts Richard Fore and Luke Forvilly. The biggest of the team’s three receivers, senior Jake Corners, mans the tight end position.
The task of protecting the team’s veterans falls to its young players. Miller has been helping the new linemen perfect their techniques.
“We have a lot of talent in the backfield, and we just need our line to come through,” Miller said. “They’re learning it. They’re getting it. Just some time, and we’ll be fine.”
With the Warriors playing two-way ironman football out of necessity, Miller also is the centerpiece of a defensive line he anticipates will be stout against the run. Lincoln and Kiger will join their offensive line-mate on the front of Whittell’s 4-4 defense, and a few players still are competing for the remaining spot. Warnick and Gordon man the inside linebacker slots, while Corners and Fore will play outside. Forvilly and Lane defend the pass at corner, leaving Wiggins as Whittell’s lone safety.
Summers anticipates Rite of Passage’s offensive unit will test the defensive unit early. He said the key is keeping the Raiders in front.
“All their touchdowns in the last game were big-yardage things,” Summers said. “We pretty much just have to contain them.”
It’s no secret Whittell’s numbers are down. As a result, the Warriors are starting the season late, and after forfeiting a game to Battle Mountain, being the season at 0-1. Rite of Passage presents an important measuring stick early in the season. With many of the teams in the division facing similar personnel crunches, Whittell’s perspective to break its 19-game losing skid is surprisingly bright.
“I told the kids last year: Incline, Lovelock, Hawthorne and even Yerington … they’re all kind of in the same boat,” Summers said.
The two ripest opportunities may come against Incline at Whittell on Sept. 18 and against Hawthorne, which visits Zephyr Cove on Oct. 23. The team’s lone remaining home game is Oct. 23, against Bishop Manogue, the team four league coaches picked to win the Nevada 3A Division II and upset defending state champion Truckee last week. The Miners bring back some significant starters from last year’s team, which finished 10-2 after losing to Truckee in the 3A state championship game. Hawthorne, Lovelock and Yerington were a combined 12-15 last season.
“It’s kind of like a war of attrition,” Summers said. “Whoever has 11 left standing might be the winner.”
Whittell travels to Yerington Saturday to open the season against Rite of Passage at 1:30 p.m.
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