It wasn’t built to win only one state championship.
No, the Greenwave football team’s foundation was established several years ago with the mindset that state titles would be expected every season.
After holding off Moapa Valley last November for the first state title in 37 years, Fallon begins a new quest to capture another championship and win back-to-back titles for the first time since the school three-peated four decades ago.
“We’re treating it like it’s our last,” said TJ Mauga, a returning senior two-way player. “Going through the past three years being on this team, I’ve learned a lot. Now, we’ve just got to put it altogether this final year and hopefully repeat.”
Fallon, though, will have to replace a strong 25-member senior class that guided the program to the monumental win last November. Although the pressure of ridding a 37-year-old monkey from their back is gone, Brooke Hill and his Greenwave will begin its defense tonight with several unfamiliar, and unproven, faces when it travels to Fernley.
“To me, it’s getting right back in the mode of it all and being consistent in approach,” Hill said. “We feel like we built a pretty solid program (Winning state) doesn’t help us win a single game this year. This team has got to develop an identity. This team needs to develop the tone and ability to win football games. It’s a different team but good team.”
The league looks to be more even balanced this year with new coaches at Dayton and Wooster but with the new playoff format, the extra two spots could make teams even hungrier. Spring Creek, Truckee and Fernley are capable of challenging Fallon for the top spot, while Dayton, Sparks, South Tahoe and Elko are in the fight, as well.
“I think the league is more balanced out than it’s been,” Hill said. “Our first game is a league game. You can’t have a bad week. That’s what I like about this league. It’s a challenge every week.”
But Fallon’s goal is clear as it’s been the previous season.
“Our goal is to win the league and play in the title games,” Hill said. “Our measure of success is pretty high. For us, we don’t want to give anything back. We try to go 1-0 each week.”
While Fallon lost its gunslinger, MVP Connor Richardson, and eight starting defenders to graduation, the Greenwave aims to still be a force in the 3A. Three of the top five receivers return, along with the top running back to help ease the new quarterback Christian Nemeth’s transition.
“With all the experience we have, it takes a lot off his shoulders to know he has receivers who know the reads,” senior receiver Conner Nelson said of the junior quarterback. “Having Cade (Vercellotti) in the backfield takes a lot of pressure off of us. It definitely helps having these key pieces back on the offense.”
Seniors Brock Uptain, who led the team in receiving with 877 yards and six touchdowns, and Nelson, who had 701 yards for 13 touchdowns, lead the experienced receiving corps along with running back Cade Vercellotti, who hauled in 21 passes for 304 yards. The senior back also ran for 1,150 yards on 181 carries and 19 touchdowns.
Nemeth has an arsenal of receivers and running backs, who will also play on defense in the secondary and at linebacker.
Senior Dylan Ernst and sophomore Sean McCormick return at receiver and defensive back, while senior Jack Swisher, junior Trent Thorn and Uptain will share time in the backfield with Vercellotti.
Replacing Richardson at quarterback will take time for Nemeth but Hill isn’t worried. Nemeth has a similar skill set as he can throw and run well for Hill’s pistol formation.
“He’s a similar type of quarterback,” Hill said. “As far as skill level, he’s still got to go out there and prove himself. He’s got big shoes to fill. In terms of skill set, very similar skill set. He can run it. He can throw it. We want athletic guys who can make plays with their legs and their arms.”
Vercellotti and Nelson will return punts and kickoffs again after they combined for more than 700 yards. Vercellotti was also the team’s place and field goal kicker but Hill will count on junior Anthony Freeman and Uptain to handle the punts.
“We’ve got really good team speed again,” Hill said. “That’s just something we’ve been able to continue in the program the last five, six, seven years. I’m pleased with that. It’s all about execution still and you can look faster when you execute well.”
The biggest question mark for Hill will be the defense as he lost most of his starters to graduation.
Only three of the team’s top 10 tacklers return, including seniors Mauga and Uptain. Mauga, who was second with 87 total tackles, though, led the team in tackles for loss with 26 and sacks with 10. In the secondary, Nelson’s the only returner who had multiple interceptions while Uptain snagged a turnover.
Along with Nelson in the secondary, senior Dalton Kaady, junior Tallon Amezquita, sophomore Sean McCormick and Swisher will cover. Senior Chase Hyde, Uptain and Thorn will compete at linebacker.
“That’s our most inexperienced side,” Hill said. “We’re having to replace eight starters who played a lot of football games. We’ve seen improvement from them. They’re getting better every time. We’ve still got some talented kids on that side of the ball. In terms of experience, we lost quite a few.”
Mauga’s the staple on the defensive line and will play on the strong side, while seniors Justin Marlin and Chandler Clevenger and sophomores Trey Rooks and Nick Delago will line up.
Like the defensive line, the offensive line is new but it makes up for the inexperience with size as they average around the 6-foot, 1-inch mark.
“We’ve got two veterans and three new guys mixed in fairly well,” Hill said. “They’re a physical group and that’s good. We’re a little young on the offense line. We’ve made some young mistakes. They’re already getting better from camp to the first scrimmage.”
Hyde and Mauga (left tackle) return to the offensive line with Hyde switching to center this season. The rest of the line is new, including junior Tyler Word (right tackle), Delgado (right guard) and lone freshman Sione Otuafi (left guard).
“It’s one of the bigger lines we’ve had,” Hill added. “They’ve done a good job of running the offense. It’s nice to hand it to a kid like Vercelletti. It’s still going to come. So far, they’re where we expect them to be for the group that we have.”
Hill returns his staff from last year, including Lalo Otuafi (offensive coordinator), Tom McCormick (receivers), Jim Wisdom (offensive and defensive lines), Ryan McCormick (linebackers) and Trevor de Braga (running/defensive backs). Hill is also the defensive coordinator and coaches the linebackers and quarterbacks.
Fallon opens with Fernley tonight at 7 p.m. on the road before traveling to Truckee next week. The home opener is Sept. 9 against Wooster and homecoming is two weeks later against Dayton.
“I’m definitely excited to play against them for the first game,” Vercellotti said. “It’s going to be an adventure to see how we do against another team in competition and full pads.”