Maria Carrillo, Messerschmitt rarin’ to go

2009 NBL MVP Sam Atoe, left, returns for the Pumas this season. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat, 2010)

By ERIC BRANCH
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two years ago, Andrew Messerschmitt was learning how to play football. Last year, hobbled by a bum ankle, mostly he had to watch his teammates play the game. This year, it’s safe to say Maria Carrillo’sJ senior linebacker is more eager than most to hit the field.

After a promising sophomore season on the junior varsity, Messerschmitt was expected to play a significant role for the Pumas in ‘09. But his season never really got started. He suffered a severe right ankle sprain in a scrimmage against Rancho Cotate. After missing the first four games, he returned to action — again against Rancho — and promptly reinjured the ankle. He managed to eventually return in a limited role, but was on the field for only about 40 plays during the season. His injury, combined with his inexperience, left him feeling he had plenty to prove to his teammates in the offseason.

“I thought that they were probably thinking that I’m the biggest wimp out here,” Messerschmitt said. “I busted my butt to show them how much I wanted to be out there.”

The Pumas clearly noticed. Messerschmitt is one of Carrillo’s three captains this season, an honor bestowed by the players. Pumas coach Jay Higgins didn’t have a vote, but he clearly agrees with his players’ decision.

“Last year was kind of a frustrating year for him and I really think it added some fuel to his fire,” Higgins said. “He’s always been a great worker, but I really appreciate the way he’s prepared himself for his final go-around.”

Of course, Messerschmitt isn’t too far removed from his first go-around. He played organized football for the first time as a sophomore after Higgins noticed his athleticism in P.E. class. Raw? Yes, Messerschmitt had plenty to learn.

“I remember putting my hip pads where my knee pads go,” he said. “A friend looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing?’”

But Messerschmitt was a quick study and was practicing with the varsity by the end of his sophomore season.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Messerschmitt’s blend of strength, quickness and speed will make him an intrguing player to watch this season. In addition to linebacker, he’ll also play fullback and see time at nose tackle.

He’s one of just three Pumas who return with starting experience, but he’s one reason Higgins is optimistic about the future.

“There’s no question we’re going to be smaller and younger,” Higgins said. “But I don’t think there’s any question we’ll have more athleticism.”

TEAM PREVIEW

MARIA CARRILLO
Coach: Jay Higgins (10th season, 43-49 record)
2009 record: 4-7, 4-3 NBL (T3)
2009 JV record: 7-3
Returning starters: OFFENSE (2): RB Sam Atoe, Sr.; RG Jimmy Conklin, Sr. DEFENSE (2): ILB Sam Atoe, Sr.; OLB Andrew Messerschmitt, Sr.
Players to watch: RB/OLB Sam Atoe: Last year’s NBL MVP has scholarship offers from San Diego State and Sacramento State. ILB Anthony Ezirm: Six-foot-2, 220-pound junior impressed after midseason call-up from JVs in ‘09.
Newcomer to watch: QB Nick Pinney: Last year’s JV signal-caller expected to challenge for starting spot.

SCHEDULE
Date – Opponent – Time

9-10 – at Petaluma – 7:30 p.m.
9-17 – vs. Casa Grande – 7:30 p.m.
9-24 – at Windsor – 7:30 p.m.
10-1 – vs. Cardinal Newman – 7:30 p.m.
10-9 – at Piner – 1 p.m.
10-15 – vs. Santa Rosa – 7:30 p.m.
10-22 – at Elsie Allen – 7:30 p.m.
10-29 – vs. Ukiah – 7:30 p.m.
11-5 – at Montgomery – 7:30 p.m.
11-12 – vs. Rancho Cotate – 7:30 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
3:
Losses by three points or less in ‘09.
5: All-Empire players who graduated from last year;’s team.
8.5: Yards Atoe averaged per carry last season. He had 876 yards and 13 TDs.