Football preview: Rancho Cotate might not miss a beat

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Center Steven DeSouza and the rest of the during Rancho Cotate offense practice in Rohnert Park, Friday Aug. 23. 2013.  (Photo by Kent Porter, The Press Democrat)

Center Steven DeSouza and the rest of the during Rancho Cotate offense practice in Rohnert Park, Friday Aug. 23. 2013. (Photo by Kent Porter, The Press Democrat)

With more than half last year’s team that went 13-1 having graduated, this figures to be a rebuilding season for Rancho Cotate football. Right?

“Not so fast,” coach Ed Conroy said with a chuckle. “Yes, we lost a lot of players but from what I’ve seen in preseason, this isn’t going to be a rebuilding year.

“At this point, we’re further along than I thought we’d be and I like the effort I’ve seen. We’re going to be a pretty good team.”

Conroy has been around long enough to be an accurate judge of talent. This is his 26th season leading the Rancho program.

Still, nineteen of the 37 players on last year’s North Bay League championship team have graduated and there are some big shoes to fill.

Among those having collected their diplomas are: halfback Jalon Luque, last year’s All-Empire large school offensive player of the year. Also needing to be replaced are big-time players like Michael Courchaine, Thomas Sory, Fono Misi, Rodrigo Perez, Carlos Soto and Nick Reynolds.

Luque, who rushed for a school record 2,071 yards last year, will be replaced by a committee of three.

Malik Newton, who is faster than Luque but not as strong a runner, will get a lot of touches. Also being counted on are Josh Belda and Carlos Franco.

At fullback will be returning starter Tanoa Peleti.

“He’s a tough kid and has an excellent football IQ,” his coach said.

Who will replace Courchaine at quarterback is still being decided. Cooper Nicks, who began last season as the junior varsity signal caller and then was brought up to the varsity, is in competition with Gunner Mefferd, who backed up Courchaine.

Sophomore Chris Taylor Yamanoha will be the primary receiver. He was one of only a handful of freshmen to play varsity ball during Conroy’s reign.

The 2012 team averaged 30 points per game, so it was surprising what the coach said about his current offensive players:

“We’re faster and a little more athletic than last year,” he said matter-of-factly.

With the season opener against Vallejo coming up on Saturday, the coaching staff’s biggest concern is the offensive and defensive lines.

“We’re inexperienced at a few positions, but the ability is there,” Conroy said. “We’ll get better as the season progresses.” Steven De Souza, a starter last season, is back and will anchor both sides of the line. Guards Joel Auerbach and Oscar Nava have impressed in practice and pre-season scrimmages.

Conroy is as anxious as his players for the season to start.

“I don’t know if we’ll be as a good as last year,” the coach concluded. “I just have a feeling that when all is said and done, we’re going to be pretty good.”

RANCHO COTATE COUGARS

Coach: Ed Conroy (26th year)

2012 record: 13-1 overall, 7-0 NBL (champions)

2012 JV record: 7-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Josh Belda, Sr., DB — Confident and a good athlete. Excellent cornerback.

Steven De Souza, Sr., OL, DL — All-Empire first team last year on offense. Explosive off the line.

Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, Soph., WR, DB — First team All-Empire on defense last year. Best freshman ever to play varsity for Cougars.

Tanoa Peleti, Sr., FB, LB — Team leader has great football IQ.

Austin Nava, Jr., LG — Played JV last year. He’s big, strong and getting better.

INSIDE SCOOP

Talented first-year starters are prevalent on offense and defense (especially both sides of line). With improvement during season, this group capable of defending NBL crown.

GAME NOT TO MISS

Sept. 20 at American Canyon. The final non-league game will be a tough test and will indicate if Rancho is one of the top teams in the Empire. AC was 11-2 last year and is stacked again this season.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT

In 2001 and ’02, Cougars took home North Coast Section titles. Montgomery was on the losing end both years.

SCHEDULE

Date — Opponent — Time
Aug. 31 — Vallejo — 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 — Alhambra — 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 — Pinole Valley — 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 — at American Canyon — 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 — Windsor — 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 — Ukiah — 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 — at Montgomery — 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 — at Casa Grande — 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 — Maria Carrillo — 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 — at Cardinal Newman — 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 — at Santa Rosa — 7:30 p.m.

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