Football preview: Maria Carrillo counts on speed, experience

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Maria Carrillo running back Alex Netherda breaks a tackle during Maria Carrillo varsity football practice in Santa Rosa on August 22, 2013. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, for The Press Democrat

Maria Carrillo running back Alex Netherda breaks a tackle during Maria Carrillo varsity football practice in Santa Rosa on August 22, 2013. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, for The Press Democrat

A group of talented running backs lead an experienced Maria Carrillo High football team hoping to get back to the North Coast Section playoffs in 2013.

“We reached the postseason the four seasons before last year,” said assistant coach Gordy Ross. “We have good team speed and quickness. I’d guess 65 percent of our 38 varsity players are returnees and that about 10 of them are in their third varsity season.”

Three first-team all-North Bay League selections return. Running back Alex Netherda is a junior who’ll carry a big load. Senior Jake Boes earned first-team honors on the offensive line, while senior middle linebacker Sawyer Thompson returns to head the defense.

“We know that in order to get where we hope to go we have to compete in league with Cardinal Newman, Montgomery and Rancho Cotate,” said Ross while head coach Jay Higgins was away from practice due to a family emergency. “We match up better with them this year than in past years. Our success is going to revolve around our speed.”

Ross, who enters his 13th season at Carrillo working under Higgins, said the Wing T offense will feature a strong set of running backs. The fullback Netherda (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) will be joined by senior running back Garrett Koop and wingback Joe Pinney, who was honorable mention all-NBL last year.

“Netherda’s a big, hard runner,” Ross said. “They’re all fast. We’ve got good speed in the backfield and at the receiver spots.”

The quarterback position is still up for grabs. Seniors Clayton Pool and Evan Bluestone have both played well in practice.

“We have a scrimmage coming up and, I’d think, we’ll be able to make a decision at quarterback after that,” Ross said.

Second-team all-NBL tight end Nate King will be the primary target for either quarterback. He’s a 6-foot-2, 195 senior.

“Our offensive line isn’t really big, but it’s experienced and quick,” Ross said.

Boes and Thompson will be keys on the offensive front. They’re joined by second team all-NBL pick Jake Groesbeck, who enters his third varsity season.

“Our offense has to be more consistent this season,” Ross said. “Last year, we’d get a drive going … string together some first downs … then stall out. We need to string first downs together and then score.”

The defense will feature a four-man front and be asked to slow the potent offenses throughout the NBL.

“We’re going to have a good offense, so the defense really has to be solid,” Ross said. “We need our defense to step up, particularly our pass defense.”

Pinney is a third-year varsity cornerback. Netherda, who is also in his third varsity season, will be the free safety.

“Those two are going to be keys to our pass defense, for sure,” Ross said. “We have to be able to stop the spread offenses and zone reads. We still run into teams that run the veer option, too. Our defense has to be ready.”

Ross said that the defensive line is one place where “we do have good size.” Nose tackle Alex Wrenn is a 5-foot-11, 275 senior.

“He’s a big, strong kid with really good feet,” Ross said. “He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season and it shows in practice.”

Thompson, the middle linebacker, will be asked to lead a group of backers who’ll be tested by a variety of offensive schemes.

“Analy and Benicia are our first two preseason opponents and they both run the spread offense,” Ross said. “Our defense will be challenged right away. Benicia even goes with an empty backfield sometimes. It’ll help prepare our defense.”

Last year’s 4-6 record snapped the streak of four straight trips to the North Coast Section playoffs.

“Our program is strong. Coach Higgins has really built a solid program. Things have been very steady,” Ross said. “We’re just at a point where we want to push up a level and be that team that wins seven or eight games every year, not five or six. We want to take that step up.”

Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at ted.sillanpaa@pressdemocrat.com.

MARIA CARRILLO PUMAS

Coach: Jay Higgins (13th year)

2012 record: 4-6 overall, 3-4 NBL (fourth-place tie)

2012 JV record: 2-8

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sawyer Thompson, Sr., OL/LB — Will man the middle of the defense. A star both ways.

Nate King, Sr., TE — He’s a big target who has speed to get deep.

Alex Netherda, Jr., RB/S — Speed and strength makes him key to Wing T offense.

Joe Pinney, Sr., RB/DB — Enters third year on varsity as a two-way standout.

INSIDE SCOOP

The Pumas have the athletes to match NBL powers better than in seasons past. Consistency of execution on offense and defense will determine their fate.

GAME NOT TO MISS

Friday, Oct. 11, vs. Casa Grande: The Pumas’ goal is to reach the level of NBL’s power trio. The Gauchos show up on the schedule first. Then come road games at Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT

After consecutive league losses, the 2005 Pumas won four straight behind quarterback Adam Froman to earn a North Coast Section playoff spot and finish 5-2 in the NBL and 8-5 overall.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 6 — Analy — 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 13 — Benicia — 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 — at Alhambra — 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 27 — at Santa Rosa — 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 — Windsor — 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 11 — Casa Grande — 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 — at Cardinal Newman — 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 — at Rancho Cotate — 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 1 — Montgomery — 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 8 — at Ukiah — 7:30 p.m.

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