YERINGTON -- Without a league or state championship to play for, some people thought it might be difficult for Yerington's players to be excited about playing this season. Obviously those people never have seen the Lions practice.
"There's been no problem at all motivating these kids," said coach Cody Neville, who is going his fourth season as Yerington's coach. "This season's schedule has had no effect on the kids. These players have been motivated from the start. They know they're going to win some games this season. The character on this team has been tremendous. If I knew a team would be as hard working, and have the kind of character as this one, I would never stop coaching."
Yerington dropped out of the Northern 3A in football this season and will play an independent schedule. It could be the first move toward becoming a 2004 member of the Northern 2A in football for the Lions, who would still stay compete in the 3A in every other sport.
Their 2003 schedule still has five 3A schools on it, but gone are games against Truckee, Lowry, Manogue and Spring Creek. The Lions opened the season against 2A Lovelock Friday night and play 2A Hawthorne on Sept. 12. There are also two games against small California schools Mammoth and Chester.
But it's not like Neville put together this schedule to go undefeated. Wins against 3A schools will be just as hard to come by for the Lions as they were in 2000 and 2001, when they went winless in the Northern 3A.
"I think the 2A is a very competitive league," Neville said. "There aren't any easy wins but we know that every time we step on the field we have a chance to win. And that's a nice feeling because we haven't had that for a while. There's no doubt we'd be a contender but there are some tough teams in the 2A. The community is always behind us, they don't care about what league we are in. They're real excited and we're real excited to get started."
If Yerington is to put together a winning season, it will have to quickly replace four key starters from last year's team that went 3-6. Adam Ledbetter, who played fullback last season, is replacing Shawn McCarty at quarterback and looks to have a strong enough arm to make the Lions a solid passing team. Tom Menesini is switching from tight end to fullback, which should bolster a back field that was damaged when running back Randy Shumate graduated. And Menesini's switch to fullback opened the tight end position for Aaron Roots. The 6-foot-3 senior, who is the younger brother of former basketball star Zach Roots, should cause mismatch problems for whoever lines up against him.
And, finally, Neville has some size on the line. Bobby Sanchez, Lucas Mudloff, Jay Summerville, Everett Willie and Cody Collins are all big linemen that shouldn't have a problem opening up holes for Ledbetter and Menesini. Four of those players weigh over 200 pounds. Two years ago, the average weight for Yerington's linemen was 160 pounds.
"The line is finally going to have some size this year. You can never count on that but this is just one of those years where we got some size," Neville said. "Four of those guys are at least 200 pounds, so that's really going to help both our running and passing game."
Linebacker Doug Paine is another big loss for the Lions. But perhaps the biggest hole for this year's linemen to fill will be the one left by Josh Farler. A two-time all-league pick, Farler was the leader of the Lions. But Neville believes there are several players capable of filling that role.
"Obviously our biggest losses were Shawn McCarty, Doug Paine, Randy Shumate and Josh Farler. Those four guys are going to be tough to replace," Neville said. "Shumate was one of the fastest guys in the state at 3A and McCarty was a second team all-state player. It's the same situation on defense. All those guys were standouts for us on defense. But we have some younger guys who are going to be able to fill those roles and their excited about that. Zack Heath I feel is one of those players who is going to have a good year. He's really improved, as has everybody. Kyle Myers is another guy who should have a good year for us and Everett Willie is going to move into linebacker. It should be an exciting year."