By PETER FOURNIER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Though the Rancho Cotate High football team reached the 2013 North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs, it wasn’t a season that longtime coach Ed Conroy is accustomed to, especially one season after an NCS championship appearance.
This season, he’s making no secret that the Cougars will be a contender, and may be the team to beat in the North Bay League.
In an interview with The Press Democrat, Conroy listed numerous offensive players he believes have the ability to score on every play. The key wasn’t who he named, but rather what each could do that impressed him.
“Every kid I named there can score on any play,” he said. “We’re so talented at receiver, running back, quarterback — this might be the most potent offense we’ve ever had. Literally, you can get the ball in those guys’ hands and any single one of them can score on any play. I mean it’s scary.”
The offensive arsenal begins with quarterback Gunner Mefferd and wide receiver Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, with Conroy adding “those two guys truly shined for us” in a recent practice.
Mefferd is the focal point of the offense, coming off a sophomore season during which he passed for 23 touchdowns but also threw 14 interceptions. He says he’s worked on calming himself and reading defenses.
“I’m seeing a lot clearer now. It’s just slowed down a lot more,” Mefferd said. “I’ve been able to see more and be able to do more with it.”
Conroy says Mefferd might be one of the best quarterbacks he’s ever had.
“When you just stand and watch him some games, or when we’re doing 7 on 7 or whatever, it just looks like this kid is unstoppable,” Conroy said. “His understanding of what we’re doing has come so far besides his mechanics.”
And there’s Taylor-Yamanoha, the Cougars’ leading receiver who doubles as a defensive back. It’s his third season on the varsity squad, and he is Mefferd’s top target.
“I think we’re going to connect really well, especially with Gunner,” said Taylor-Yamanoha, who’s 6-foot-2. “ . . . We’ve been playing since eighth grade, so we’ve always had a good connection. Timing is down and everything.
“We can look at each other and know what we need to do without saying anything. So we just have that special connection.”
Conroy said about the tandem: “On our offense, those are the two where it starts.”
The defense looks to rebound after allowing an average of 40 points per game in its five losses but just 17.8 in six victories.
Though Conroy says the defensive line will be played by committee, there may already by a bright spot at the end of it.
Junior defensive end Carson Caveney recorded 10 “tag-offs” of the quarterback at a multi-team scrimmage at Marin Catholic recently. Said Caveney of that performance: “I just felt really good.”
The performance surprised Conroy. “I watched him play as a JV and at times he played really well but he was kind of inconsistent when he was tired or took plays off. But man, he is just a dynamo. It’s exciting to watch him because he plays so fast and so hard.”
Conroy hopes his attitude translates to the rest of the defense.
“We tell the kids ‘be the little pebble that starts this ripple that gets infectious,’ ” Conroy said. “They see him playing that hard and the other kids say, ‘man, I got to keep up with that,’ and you try to build on that as you go.”
The Cougars’ preseason schedule includes jousts with Vanden of Fairfield and American Canyon; the latter defeated Rancho soundly, 56-12, last season. The NBL schedule kicks off with Casa Grande, followed by Montgomery and then Cardinal Newman. “I think our first seven games are going to be maybe the toughest first seven games we’ve played . . . in a long time,” says Conroy.
There’s been a pattern with Conroy’s teams in recent years. A disappointing season is usually followed by a playoff run. Though Conroy doesn’t like to look at that, he agreed that appears to be the trend, and then reiterated one of the top expectations for 2014.
“I think we have the talent to challenge for our league title, there’s no question, I think,” he said.
You can reach Peter Fournier at 521-5261 or email@example.com.
RANCHO COTATE COUGARS
Coach: Ed Conroy
2013 record: 6-5, 4-3
2013 JV Record: N/A
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gunner Mefferd, Jr., QB — He’ll be one of the best quarterbacks in the NBL and perhaps the section if Conroy’s predictions and analysis are correct.
Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, Jr., WR/DB — A tall, lanky receiver who’s already catching the attention of several Division I schools.
Joey Trono, WR/DB — According to Conroy, he’s an “under-sized slot receiver,” but he was the No. 2 receiver last season.
Carlos Franco, RB/LB — Fell just short of a 1,000-yard season in 2013 and Conroy says he’s the second-strongest guy on the team.
GAME NOT TO MISS
The NBL opener, vs. league-champion Casa Grande on Sept. 26. Can the Cougars avenge their big defeat to the Gauchos last season?
Rancho defeated Montgomery for the Redwood Empire Class 3A section title in 2001 and 2002, the latter capping a perfect 13-0 season. The Cougars have made two appearances in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship, once against Concord in 2010 and once more against Clayton Valley in 2012.
Sept. 5, at Alhambra, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12, at Vanden, 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 19, American Canyon, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26, Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3, at Montgomery, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, Cardinal Newman, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17, at Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24, at Windsor, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31, at Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7, Santa Rosa, 7:30 p.m.