By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The 2015 Piner Prospectors are rich with athletes — so much so that fifth-year coach John Antonio is still working on where to slot guys even long after the conclusion of summer passing league and workouts.
For Antonio, it’s a good problem to have.
“I feel good,” he said. “It’s funny, usually I feel horrible this time of year. I feel good.”
Antonio has at his disposal a number of standout athletes who will be called on to come up big on both sides of the ball.
Leading that group is Scott Simpson. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Simpson can fire off a 4.7-second 40 yard dash, according to Antonio.
A three-year starter who is expected to line up at linebacker and running back, Simpson will be a central figure in whatever the Prospectors throw at opponents.
And among those expected to show up big for the Prospectors this season are wide receiver and defensive back Satidit Phiakeo, linebacker and running back Anesi Ahching, linebacker Ronnie Cummings and running back and defensive back Jose Ramirez.
Who will start at quarterback remains a question.
The Prospectors must replace the solid passing of Tony Martignoli, who graduated in the spring.
In the hunt for the starting job are senior Dillon Riveras, back in pads after taking a year off, and Fernando Ortega, a lanky sophomore who can throw the ball well, according to Antonio.
“(Ortega) and Dillon Riveras — there is not necessarily a winner or loser there,” Antonio said.
Riveras is an all-around athlete who came into the season in “phenomenal shape” giving the coaches ample opportunities to use his athleticism all over the field, not just behind center, Antonio said.
“He’s ready to play wherever,” Antonio said. “He’s such a great athlete … this guy’s been huge for us.”
“Our biggest thing is a lot of conditioning,” Riveras said. “Most of the players have to go both ways. It’s going to be tough but we are more than ready for it.”
The Prospectors are less likely to throw this year than last, but have some bruising backs that should who up the slack.
What is less of a question is the Prospectors’ defense.
Big and quick, Piner hopes to set the tone with its defensive play — at least early on.
“We are a big team this year, that’s for sure,” Simpson said.
With Analy and Petaluma expected to be the cream of the Sonoma County League, the fight for third could be balanced and fierce.
“I feel like we can have a good season,” Simpson said.
In years past, Antonio said his squads have been a tale of two teams — 15-20 guys who can flat out play, along with 10-15 guys who are more like role players.
Not this year.
“Everyone on this roster is going to play,” he said. “Everyone on this roster can get a starting role. Every kid has worked hard all summer. It’s a small roster, (but it) feels the most like family we have had in five years.”
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.
PINER PROSPECTORS AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Antonio (fifth year)
2014 record: 5-6; 3-3 in SCL
2014 JV record: 5-5; 3-3 in SCL
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Scott Simpson, SR., LB/RB: Three year starter, all-around athlete with strength and speed. He’s the Prospector’s on-field and locker room leader. “Anything I need done, I shoot him a text,” Antonio said. “It’s like having an on-campus coach.”
Dillon Riveras, SR., QB, safety, receiver: Excellent all-around athlete who can take snaps but also shines anywhere on the field. “He came in in phenomenal shape,” Antonio said.
Fernando Ortega, Soph., QB: Just a sophomore, Ortega can toss the ball and is expected to fight for the starting job.
Satidit Phiakeo, SR., corner, receiver: Small in stature, big in presence, Phiakeo, nicknamed “Saturday” is a three-year starter. “The kid can run,” Antonio said. “He’s fast, can stop on a dime and reverse direction like no other. And he delivers hits like he’s 6-4.”
GAME NOT TO MISS
The matchup with Healdsburg on Oct. 30 could get chippy. The Prospectors beat the ‘Hounds 31-14 last season and threw the ball deep into the game. Healdsburg might be looking to return the favor.
In 2013 the Prospectors returned to the NCS playoffs after a 10-year absence. They defeated host St. Patrick-St. Vincent, of Vallejo, 43-29, in a first-round game. “That was a turning point for this program,” Antonio said.
Aug. 29, Emery, 2 p.m.
Sept. 5, Santa Rosa, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 11, at Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19, at Burton, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 25, at Elsie Allen, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3, Petaluma, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, Analy*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17, Sonoma Valley, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, at Healdsburg, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7, El Molino, 1:30 p.m.
*at Rancho Cotate High School