By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
2012 isn’t just a rebuilding year for Piner; it is hopefully a transformative season for the long-suffering program.
Coach John Antonio, who is in his second season at the helm, has a huge task ahead in bringing Piner back from the malaise of recent years. The Prospectors finished 2-8 overall last season, going 1-5 in the NBL last.
Piner had some staggering losses, including 54-0 to Rancho Cotate, 49-0 to Cardinal Newman, and 48-14 to Montgomery.
Keeping kids motivated during such lopsided loses is a difficult task for any coach, but Antonio seems upbeat about it.
“What happens is kids get used to losing and get complacent,” he said. “These kids (on Piner) are fighters. This is a great school and community. These kids want to turn this football program around and they are doing it.”
The new beginning for Piner may be kick-started by switching to the less competitive SCL, which has schools with smaller enrollments and, unlike the NBL, is not packed with traditional Redwood Empire football powers.
Like Elsie Allen, also a former NBL team that is embarking its initial season in the SCL, Piner is counting on being competitive in more games and matching up talent-wise and depth-wise more favorably with SCL teams.
“The NBL is so much more competitive. We were trying to compete with schools that were twice our size in terms of enrollment,” Antonio said. “In the SCL the rosters are going to be the same size. The school enrollments will be the same size. We should be competitive.”
To stay in the mix, Piner will have to rely on a lot of players coming up from the ranks of the JV team from last season. The Prospectors lost 21 seniors from last year’s squad. Piner has 33 roster players and only 11 seniors this season.
“Inexperience and depth are issues for us,” Antonio said. “We aren’t any deeper this season than we have been in the past.”
Piner, however, has experience at quarterback. Junior QB Noel Hernandez took almost every offensive snap last season and will be a leader operating an I-formation, pro-set spread offense.
Antonio said there are still personnel question marks at the center position and with the kicking game. He said the offense is slightly ahead of the defense as far as development since the Prospectors have a new defensive coordinator and an expected learning curve.
Even with the unresolved personnel assignments and the recent struggles of the Prospectors program, Antonio insists that a new day has arrived for Piner football as shown by the newfound continuity demonstrated in spring football and camp this summer.
Last season Antonio was hired at a late juncture and the team didn’t have its full practice regimen before the season.
Piner will get the chance to show skeptics it is no longer a push-over when the Prospectors open at San Rafael on Friday night.
“San Rafael will be a good challenge for us,” Antonio said. “You are going to see (Piner) players that have passion and heart and are there for a reason and not just to wear a jersey. You are going to see a different type of kid step on to that field.”
Coach: Rick Krist (third-year varsity head coach, 22 years with the program)
2011 record: 2-8, 1-5 in NBL (sixth)
2011 JV record: 1-9
OFFENSE (6): WR Natu Hezchias; WR Austin Nahmens; QB Noel Hernandez; OL Jimmy Arango; OL Alex Pulley; OL Tyler Pulley; DEFENSE (6): DB Hezchias; LB Nahmens; LB Dominic Wilson; DT A. Pulley; DT T. Pulley; LB Jacob Pilisdorf.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
WR, DB Natu Hezchias — Good speed and a phenomenal receiver according to coach Antonio. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior. Above average speed can stretch the defense on pass routes.
WR, LB Austin Nahmens — The versatile team captain and three-year varsity starter provides leadership on both sides of the ball and provides mentorship to younger players.
QB Noel Hernandez — After taking a pounding last season playing almost every offensive down for the Prospectors, the junior signal caller has a year of experience under his belt. Coach Antonio said Hernandez is the prototypical pocket passer who throws a great ball, reads defenses well and stays calm and under control when pressured.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
WR, DB Niko Formosa — The junior missed last season as he took a year off to travel playing baseball. Very fast with solid hands according to Antonio. Multi-faceted athlete plays varsity baseball and basketball for the Prospectors. Best friends with Hernandez a plus when plays break down since Formosa and Hernandez know and trust each other so well.
OL Victor Maldonado — The 6-1, 295-pound junior isn’t fast but makes up for it with massive size at left tackle. Antonio said Maldonado has great footwork, is a hard worker and has great strength, which will help since he is protecting Hernandez’ blindside from speed-rushing defensive ends.
8/24 at Santa Rafael, 7:30 p.m.
9/1 vs. Drake (San Anselmo), 7:30 p.m.
9/7 at Justin-Siena (Napa), 7:00 p.m.
9/15 vs. Hercules, 2:00 p.m.
9/21 at Petaluma, 7:30 p.m.
9/29 vs. Analy, 1:15 p.m.
10/5 at Sonoma Valley, 7:30 p.m.
10/20 vs. Healdsburg, 1:15 p.m.
10/26 at El Molino, 7:30 p.m.
11/03 vs. Elsie Allen, 1:15 p.m.