Fernley coach Dave Hart knows what a playoff football team looks like because his teams qualified for the playoffs eight times in the 90s. Hart also knows what a playoff team doesn't look like because his teams haven't been there for the past four years. He thinks the 2003 Vaqueros are a playoff team.
"The league is loaded again but top six make the playoffs and I think we'll be in that group," said Hart, whose 2002 team went 2-6 in the Northern 3A and 2-7 overall. "This is just a good bunch of kids. I don't know if athletically we're as good as in years past but this is the hardest working group we've had. The attitude has been great so far. They're definitely eager."
Of course, there are only eight teams in the Northern 3A this season since Yerington is playing an independent schedule. So each team has decent odds to make the playoffs. How quickly Fernley finds replacements for linemen Cody Wagner and Travis Bennett, and linebacker Lonnie Hatcher, will dictate how soon it will qualify for the postseason.
"We're hurting on the line a little bit," Hart said. "Wagner was a two-way guy for us and was an all-state guy. He's going to be a real tough guy to replace. We have a couple seniors who played last year but it's no guarantee they're going to be all the playing time. We had a few juniors who have some good size that will be competing for some starting spots. We do have some competition for spots and that's good."
The most notable competition is at quarterback. Mike Lambeth, the younger brother of former star Matt Lambeth, is competing for the starting job with Tim Reeder. Reeder, a junior, didn't play as a sophomore but has returned this season.
"The quarterback spot is kind of up for grabs right now," Hart said. "Neither kid has done better than the other. Tim Reeder was one of those kids who was a freshman starting quarterback on the junior varsity and that can be a tough job. He got beat up a little bit."
Last year's quarterback, Danny Regalado, will move in the backfield and Ryan Clifford and Derek Barney will be either Lambeth or Reeder's favorite passing targets. But Hart isn't inserting new players into the lineup as much as he's inserting experienced players into new positions.
"We lost four starters on offense but not all the returning guys are going to be in the positions they were in last year," Hart said. "Corey Ryan might move over to tight end this year and some things like that."
On offense, that might be true. But defensively the Vaqueros, who open the season next Saturday at Truckee, have some holes to fill on the line.
"We lost about five guys on defense but we've got a lot of returning players in the secondary," Hart said. "Matt Kramer and Danny Regalado were both all conference guys last year and they're back and so is Ryan Clifford and Derek Barney. So our secondary is going to be pretty loaded. Barney and Clifford we expect to have big years for us. They both were starting wide receivers last year and we expect them to have good years defensively. Kramer will be our focus at the linebacker position since he played there last year."
With all his uncertainties at important positions Hart isn't exactly looking forward to opening the season against the Wolverines. Truckee advanced to last year's 3A state title game and has won three of the past seven state titles. Of course, defending state champion Manogue again looks to be the front runner to win the league.
"Truckee is suppose to be loaded which kind of scares us," Hart said. "They just have such a solid program. Manogue is obviously on top. I don't think their JV or freshman teams even lost last year. So you got those two everybody will be chasing. You never know what some teams are going to have but I like our chances to make the playoffs."