The mission remains the same.
And like last year, the Fallon football team will also break in a fresh offensive backfield and several other pieces as the Greenwave aim to break a 30-plus year state title drought.
Despite a lot of talent lost to graduation, Fallon simply reloaded this season with a fresh crop of experienced seniors and juniors stepping up to the varsity level.
Although the team must replace 3,311 total yards of offense from graduates Nathan Heck and Joe Pyle, Wave coach Brooke Hill is confident first-year senior quarterback Connor Richardson and running backs Trae Workman (senior) and Brock Uptain (junior) can handle the load.
Despite the optimism, the club once again must use heartbreak as a motivating factor. Fallon was shutout 16-0 in a DI-A state semifinal loss to Desert Pines to rudely end the season.
“We got over it quickly,” Hill said. “We had a good season and got a lot out of the season. We were able to put it behind us and set new goals and are focused on the season coming up.”
But also like last year, Fallon starts the season with a competitive foe in Tokay (Calif.), who is coming off a 7-4 mark and berth in the DI CIF Sac-Joaquin Sectional playoffs last season. The two teams begin the season today at 5 p.m. at South Tahoe High School. Fallon’s home opener is Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. against Truckee.
The philosophy to open the season with better competition began last year for the Wave as Fallon lost 56-32 to Cardinal Newman (Calif.). The reason is simple, the Wave has been the class of the Northern DI-A for the past three years running circles around their opponents.
But come the postseason and having already faced an equally skilled opponent won’t allow the team to be caught off guard in terms of speed and talent.
“We want to challenge ourselves,” Hill said. “We want to see the best possible talent we can. Tokay is a perennial playoff team out of that region. We’ve seen them at camp and know they are a quality team and well coached. It will be an exciting game.”
Richardson, who saw mostly relief duty last season and appeared in the playoff loss, earned the job in a brief competition with junior Connor Nelsen. Richardson, Hill said, has looked good through summer workouts and fall camp.
Richardson brings athleticism to the position, although success of the offense will depend on his arm moving the sticks and reading the defense.
On the opposite end of Richarson’s arm will be senior receivers Evan and Aaron Bitter, Cameron Beyer and juniors Nelsen and Cade Vercellotti. Beyer is the most seasoned receiver having caught 21 passes for 240 yards and two TDs last year.
“He’s (Richardson) had a really good summer,” Hill said. “He went to some camps … and you’re going to see a real confident football player. We are breaking in more guys on offense than we have before.”
Running through the lanes, meanwhile, may be a platoon system at first featuring workhorse Workman and Uptain.
Workman mostly played linebacker last season, but had 110 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns; however, his role will be increased on the offensive side as Workman brings a powerful, yet speedy option to the backfield.
Uptain, meanwhile, was solid for the JV team last year, but is unproven at the varsity level. Hill, though, expects his newcomer to contribute right away and give the Wave another threat out of the backfield and out wide.
“We got good athletes and they understand our system,” Hill said.
The offensive line, meanwhile, returns three starters, although senior center Braxton Hunter will miss the first several games of the season after recovering appendix surgery.
Seniors Sean and Taylen Cordes, as they did last year, will hold down the tackle positions, while senior Wyatt Hampton and Kaleel Rickerson will suit up at each guard spot. Subbing for Hunter, though, will be Chase Hyde.
Defensively, the line is led by junior end T.J. Mauga, who earn all-league recognition last season. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound lineman is expected to take over where DI-A all-time sack leader Justin Hatfield left off — terrorizing the opponents backfield.
While much of the opposition’s attention will be focused on Mauga, Mike Porras will bookend the line and seniors Branden Beeghly, Edsel Porto, Rickerson and Hampton hold the middle.
The middle of the line is inexperienced, but with the veteran presence of Mauga and arguably the trio corps of linebackers in the league — seniors Riley Williams, Evan Bitter and Johnny Mayo — Hill is confident the line will steadily improve.
“We just have to be a leader,” Bitter said. “It’s our senior year and make sure it’s our best. We will take every game like it’s our last.”
As for the linebackers, the aforementioned threesome along with Uptain and Workman provides the defense with speed, intelligence and swarming presence. Williams, an all-state selection last year, leads the group, while Bitter returns healthy to the lineup after missing the first several games last year due to a concussion.
“I’m ready to go,” he added. “It’s been awesome. I gained my weight back … and the team is looking really good.”
As a sophomore, Bitter was an all-league selection and locks down one of the outside positions. Mayo is another strong presence inside along with Williams and uses his speed to beat blockers and stay in stride with receivers.
“Losing that last game left a bitter taste in our mouths,” Mayo said. “We are going for blood this year. We’re not going to even let anybody run anything on us this year. Everybody loves each other and it’s like we are family.”
The backfield returns just one starter, Aaron Bitter, and will break in several new pieces including Vercellotti at safety and rotation of cornerbacks featuring Nelsen, Kyle Larsen and Dalton Kaady.
Despite numerous position changes, the goal of a state title remains the same for the two-time league champs. Fallon will be challenged by Elko and Fernley for the league title, but the Wave gets both rivals at home this season.
“Once those front guys get used to playing and what they are capable of, we are going to be really good on the defensive side,” Hill said.