Ukiah prepared for improvement

Ukiah running back Ben Brooks. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD, 2010)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Looking to run more and boasting a formidable defense up the middle, Ukiah is aiming for the North Bay League’s top tier after posting only three wins last season.

The Wildcats have experienced skill position players. A first-year quarterback and younger players on the offensive and defensive lines will be tested, head coach Jeff Schueller said.

In his second year at the helm, Schueller has one advantage over last year — preparation. He took over the program just months before last season. With a full offseason conditioning program and work on the playbook, Schueller and his players are ready to surprise some opponents.

“I think we really are building a foundation here,” he said. “We’ve got some key veterans coming back and some junior guys filling in. I feel we can have a good year. We could pull off an upset here or there.”

Leading the offensive punch are running back Ben Brooks and fullback Will Laster, a tough duo that also are among the region’s top prep wrestlers. Brooks was a second team all-NBL running back a year ago.

“I want to try and get over 100 yards each game,” Brooks said. “If you’ve got a good running game, it will set up for the pass a lot better.” Add talented first year varsity back Chris Berg, another wrestler, and Ukiah should have a strong running game.

“We’ve got some strong, tough runners. If people start bringing an extra guy in the box to play the run and put someone out there one on one, we think they’re going to have some problems on defense,” Schueller said.

The prime pass catching threat is second team All-Empire receiver Aaron Dhuyvetter, who averaged more than 21 yards a catch and scored six touchdowns a year ago.

The young offensive line is anchored by center Trevor Morris. Taking the snaps will be Trevor Taylor, who led a very good Ukiah junior varsity squad a year ago.

On defense, Brooks at linebacker is the top returner after finishing third in tackles for the Wildcats last season. Cornerbacks Mason Colombo and Nestor Garcia also lead the unit.

While not a big football player, Brooks knows how to hit and finish a defensive stop. Wrestling develops toughness. “It helps you to keep in really good shape and stay aggressive and stuff,” Brooks said.

After earning a starting spot several games into last season, Brooks has become a team leader, showing younger players the value of hard work. Over summer Brooks went beyond the team’s offseason conditioning program, running a steep hill behind his home and additional weight lifting.

“He’s pretty quick and he’s pretty tough. He can deliver a blow and he can make you miss also,” Schueller said. “He’s a quiet kid. I didn’t know he even had a voice until halfway through last season. But he’s got an attitude for football.”

Playing hard and with confidence should be a Ukiah staple this season. “When you play us, you know you’ve been in a game,” Schueller said.

TEAM PREVIEW

UKIAH
Coach:
Jeff Schueller (2nd season, 3-7 record)
2009 record: 3-7, 3-4 NBL (5th)
2009 JV record: 7-2-1
Returning Starters: OFFENSE (5): RB Ben Brooks, SR.; FB Will Laster, SR.; WR Aaron Dhuyvetter, SR.; OG Gayo Bulshields, SR.; C Trevor Morris, SR. DEFENSE (5): LB Brooks; LB Laster; FS Dhuyvetter; CB Mason Colombo, SR.; CB Nestor Garcia, SR.
Players to watch: RB/LB Brooks is an impact runner, averaging 7 yards a carry after winning a starting spot and finishing as Ukiah’s leading rusher a year ago. WR Dhuyvetter is arguably the Empire’s top prep wide receiver entering the season and also is a skilled free safety.
Newcomers to watch: QB Trevor Taylor led a standout Wildcats’ junior varsity and has many good offensive options. Also up from junior varsity is OL/DL Addison Eaqunito, a load at 6-5, 270 pounds.

SCHEDULE
Date – Opponent – Time

9-10 – vs. Casa Grande – 7:30 p.m.
9-17 – at Petaluma – 7:30 p.m.
9-24 – vs. Eureka – 7:30 p.m.
10-1 – vs. Montgomery – 7:30 p.m.
10-8 – at Santa Rosa – 7:30 p.m.
10-15 – at Cardinal Newman – 7 p.m.
10-22 – vs. Rancho Cotate – 7:30 p.m.
10-29 – at Maria Carrillo – 7:30 p.m.
11-5 – vs. Elsie Allen – 7:30 p.m.
11-13 – at Piner – 1 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
6: Touchdown catches for Dhuyvetter last season. He also averaged more than 21 yards per reception.
4: Ukiah’s first four opponents were the final four in last season’s North Coast Section Division II playoffs: Casa Grande, Petaluma, Eureka, Montgomery.