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Football preview: Undermanned El Molino braces for challenges

By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The upcoming season for the El Molino football team will be a lot of things, but it won’t be boring.

The Lions face several challenges — a head coach who will be leaving the program at season’s end; a roster with half as many players as other SCL competitors; and a dearth of new talent on the squad due to the school not fielding a junior varsity in 2011.

Coach Matt Transue, in his second season as head coach, will be in a tricky situation. After being pink-slipped on a seniority basis as a teacher at El Molino, Transue took a teaching position at Rancho Cotate, his alma mater, but arranged an agreement with both schools to coach the Lions for this season.

“I wanted to give another year to El Molino as coach to work with the seniors one more year,” Transue said. “I’m looking forward to being back at Rancho but it is bittersweet because I’m leaving a place I have worked at for 10 years and have fond memories of.”

Transue said not teaching at El Molino during the day adds a new dimension of challenges since the players will not be in his classes and they can’t watch game film in his classroom at lunch.

Another issue is the pipeline of kids that typically prepare for varsity by playing junior varsity. That is not a resource for the Lions this season due to a poor turnout last season that canceled the JV season. It was reinstated this season.

“It hurts,” Transue said of not having had a JV team last season. “It’s going to make next year even tougher.”

With no underclassmen coming up through the JV ranks, El Molino has to rely on almost all seniors who played last season. While most teams in the SCL have 35-40 players on their rosters, the Lions have 18 (16 seniors). The school has been shrinking in enrollment, so this trend will likely continue.

“It’s going to be a lonely sideline,” Transue said. “Sometimes the cupboard is stacked and sometimes it is bare. It is what you make with it.”

Clearly the small number of players leaves the Lions with almost no depth and a likelihood of fatigue in the second half of games due to the lack of substitutes.

“My focus is on the guys that are out there,” Transue said. “There is a strong core of seniors that understand what I’m asking for and the struggles we are going to see.”

Although the Lions finished in fifth place in 2011 (2-4 in the SCL), including a 38-0 loss to archrival Analy, they can take solace that they rose to the occasion to upset powerhouse Casa Grande 20-13.

“For us, that was a huge win,” Transue said. “We showed ourselves we can play with anybody.”

The offense — a flex-bone triple option formation — is heavily reliant on its running game. Junior fullback Owen Sunke will lead the ground game behind an experienced offensive line.

The defense — a 4-4-3 set with frequent blitzes — has a new coordinator at the helm andis led by senior defensive end Taryn Christiansen.

El Molino begins its 2012 season this Friday at Fortuna and opens its SCL campaign on Sept.28 hosting Elsie Allen.
Transue said his final season at El Molino will surely be emotional.
“I want to make this year the best year possible by giving everything I’ve got,” Transue said. “I want to go out with a bang.”

EL MOLINO LIONS

Coach: Matt Transue (second year as varsity head coach, 10 years with the program)
2011 record: 4-6, 2-4 in SCL (fifth)
2011 JV record: No team last season

RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (4): RB Owen Sunke; C Monico Guttierez; OL Baxter Ming; OL Ryan Holden
DEFENSE (2): LB Kasey Mancini; DE Taryn Christiansen

PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB Owen Sunke — A hard runner at fullback makes up for lack of size (5-foot-8, 180 pounds). A team leader with good instincts who likes contact. Had some big games in 2011 and has worked hard in the off-season.
C Monico Guttierez — The 5-10, 260-pounder anchors the offensive line, a strength of the team. Made some improvements in strength and speed in the weightroom. A vocal leader with good instincts. Transue said Guttierez is a “student of the game.”
DE, OL Taryn Christiansen — An all-state wrestler plays with leverage, understands balance and footwork. Will anchor the defense and likely get double-teamed on many plays. Has an explosive first step and is very physical. Handles long-snapping duties.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

OL, DE Will Durkin — The 6-3, 230-pound senior sat out last year and is eager to join the team again. He adds size and athleticism to the offensive line and is a good run stopper on the defensive front.
WR, FS Dylan Weese — Also sat out last season and is rejuvenated to rejoin the team. Good vertical leaping ability and aggressive nature at safety. Working on improving his run blocking on offense and getting his hands back at receiver.

SCHEDULE
8/24at Fortuna7 p.m.
8/31at Justin-Siena (Napa)7:30 p.m.
9/7vs. St. Bernard’s (Eureka)7:30 p.m.
9/14vs. Middletown7:30 p.m.
9/28vs. Elsie Allen7:30 p.m.
10/5at Petaluma7:30 p.m.
10/12vs. Analy7:30 p.m.
10/19at Sonoma Valley7:30 p.m.
10/26vs. Piner7:30 p.m.
11/02at Healdsburg7:30 p.m.