By TED SILLANPAA
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
El Molino High’s football coach Randy Parmeter doesn’t have many varsity players, but he has a bunch of talented athletes. He decided to use an offense that takes advantage of the small, gifted crew.
The Lions have just 16 players on the roster, so Parmeter decided to take an offense intended to make El Molino competitive against powerful Analy last year and make it the base offense.
“We had a small roster, but we had talented kids. Analy was just playing really well and beating up on everybody. We were playing without our star running back,” the head coach remembered. “We put in a double wing offense just to see if we could be competitive.”
The double wing features three running backs and crowds all 11 players, bunched at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback isn’t asked to pass much, if at all.
“We told the kids to milk the clock,” Parmeter said. “They waited in the huddle until the play clock was about run out, then ran to the line of scrimmage and ran the play. We just slammed the ball straight ahead, between the tackles. But, more importantly, we shortened the game and took away the amount of time Analy’s offense had the ball.”
El Molino’s double wing worked. The Lions trailed just 13-0 at halftime, before finally losing 34-6. “We were competitive,” Parmeter said. “Analy pulled away, but we kept the game close. After the game, the players said they wanted to use that offense all the time. So, this year, with only 16 players, I put the double wing in as our base offense.”
The double wing will feature a stable of running backs led by senior Josh Wright. “We expect big things out of Josh,” the head coach said. “But, we’ll use about five different running backs.”
The offensive line, led by two-way star Leo Garza and tight end Mitchell Fricke, will be key to the Lions straight-ahead ground game.
“Anybody, really, can play quarterback in the double wing if he can hand off and toss the ball,” Parmeter said. “We want to avoid turning the ball over by not putting it in the air much. We’re just going to slam the ball at the defense. It just requires some sacrifice from our kids, but they all bought into doing whatever is needed to give us our best chance to win.”
Fricke, a senior, is playing tight end because that’s an important spot in the double wing. “He could start at quarterback for most Sonoma County League teams,” Parmeter said. “He would be the best receiver in the SCL, but we need him to play tight end and concentrate on blocking. He’s doing that and realizes he’s doing what’s best for the team.”
El Molino’s 16-player roster makes for creative practice sessions.
“We just have to put good on good,” Parmeter said. “If we need to work on our defensive line, we might need our running backs to be offensive linemen in a drill. It’s pretty easy to get an offensive lineman to buy into being a receiver to work on pass coverage. It takes a little more sacrifice for a back or receiver to be linemen in practice. But, the kids are doing it and it’s the only way we can progress. We make sure we get all of our best athletes involved in every drill.”
El Molino was 6-5 last year and Parmeter predicts a bright future with increasing numbers filling out the varsity roster.
“We’re about where I want the program to be,” he said. “We have 39 players on the junior varsity team. We have a youth program that started with one team, is up to two teams and expects to have three teams next year. We’re going to have more football players coming through. This year might be a little tough, but next year is when I expect us to be at the top of the league standings.”
With a 16-player roster, every player has to be ready to help the team.
“We had 23 guys last year and 20 contributed every game,” Parmeter said. “We’ll be in the same situation this year where almost every kid on the roster plays a valuable role.”
The El Molino defense will be stout, even with a small roster.
Garza, Fricke and Austin Sani anchor a defensive line that Parmeter considers the best unit on the team. Linebacker Ryan Fernandez returns after earning all-SCL honors with Garza as a junior.
“We have to avoid injuries, but they aren’t something we can control,” Parmeter said. “We have changed things up so that we’re spending more time on strength and conditioning in season and less time in full gear out hitting each other. We just decided that there’s only so much you can ask of 16 kids, so we’re going to keep them as healthy as we can and, ideally, keep them in the best condition. The fatigue on a kid when there are only 16 players can be a problem, so we’re trying something different.”
Parmeter said the seniors will have to carry the club early, but expects a group of gifted sophomores and juniors to be ready by the time the Sonoma County League season starts.
“We’re really relying on our defensive front and linebackers to carry us early,” he said. “Then, we hope the sophomores and some talented juniors are in position to contribute like we expect.”
EL MOLINO LIONS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Randy Parmeter (third year)
2014 record: 6-5, 4-2 in SCL (tied for second place)
2014 JV record: 3-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Josh Wright, SR, RB: Wright backed up last year’s star running back Eddie Taylor, but the Lions’ coaching staff has high hopes for him in the grind-it-out double wing offense. Wright will also play outside linebacker.
Mitchell Fricke, SR, TE-DE: “He’s a really good football player,” head coach Randy Parmeter said. “He can do a lot of things very well.” Frickes will lead the defense from one end position. The defensive front is El Molino’s strength. He’ll be a key to the offense that will try to ground out yards via the rush, blocking more often than catching passes.
Leo Garza, SR, OL-DL: He earned all-Sonoma County League honors as a junior. Garza will be a mainstay on the offensive line at guard, but will headline an extremely gifted defensive line as the nose guard.
Ryan Fernandez, SR, LB: Another all-Sonoma County League pick a year ago, Fernandez stars on defense. He’ll line up at guard on offense in the new double wing attack.
Austin Sani, SR, DL-TE: He broke his leg last season in the second game of the year. “We expect really good things from Sani on both sides of the ball,” Parmeter said.
GAME NOT TO MISS
There are actually two games that head coach Parmeter feels will be key and both come versus North Central League I powerhouses. “If we play well against Middletown, I would expect that we’ll be very competitive this season. Middletown is always a really tough team,” Parmeter said. “Fort Bragg is coming off another great season and has a really outstanding passing attack, so that will give us a look at how we do against a passing team. We’ll know a lot about ourselves after those two preseason games.” The Lions host Fort Bragg on Sept. 12, then travel to Middletown on Sept. 18.
Chet Lambert rushed for three touchdowns, intercepted a pass and blocked punt in 2010 to lead the Lions to their first ever home North Coast Section playoff win. El Molino battled rain and temperatures in the 40s to defeat Kelseyville 35-0 in Division 4 play. El Molino enjoyed it first winning season since 2003 with the 2010 playoff squad. The Lions improved their 2010 record to 7-4 with the win, after finishing a combined 15-45 in the previous six seasons.
Aug. 28, Willits*, 7:00
Sept. 4, at Lower Lake, 7:30
Sept. 12, Fort Bragg*,7:30
Sept. 18, at Middletown, 7:30
Sept. 25, Healdsburg*, 7:30
Oct. 9, at Elsie Allen, 7:30
Oct. 17, Petaluma*, 7:30
Oct 24, Analy**, 7:30
Oct. 30, Sonoma Valley*, 7:30
Nov. 7, at Piner, 1:30
* – at Windsor High School
** – at Rancho Cotate High School