Fallon quarterback Keaton Williams looks downfield for a receiver in a Friday night scrimmage at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex.
For the first time in two years, football returns to the Lahontan Valley when it should: under the lights on a Friday night in the late summer and fall.
After the Greenwave won the 3A Northern East division last season, which was delayed from fall 2020 to March and April of this year, Brooke Hill’s program is back to continue building on its successful, COVID-shortened schedule.
“It’s not the same. Friday night is when everybody is there. It will be fun,” Hill said. “Last year, we were under the sun (Saturday afternoon starts). The seniors were sophomores the last time we were able to (play under the lights). Friday night is the main show and it’s going to be exciting for them.”
Fallon, which finished undefeated and knocked off Spring Creek twice for the division title, opens the 2021 fall season under the lights when Reno of the 5A comes to town on Friday in the Hall of Fame game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex. Larry Barker and Randy Beeghly return to call the game on KKTU 99.5. The game also will be streamed on the NFHS Network.
The Greenwave welcomed a trio of teams last week when Carson and Manogue of the 5A and cross-valley rival Fernley visited for a Friday night scrimmage. Hill, in his 13th year at the helm, is excited for the season, which opens with a pair of games against 5A opponents followed by a trio of cross-league contests. Fallon opens the 3A East season against Dayton in late September.
Fallon will field 35 players, including six sophomores, on varsity while the junior varsity squad had 45 players, including 15 sophomores. Hill said this past spring’s season saw Fallon not get too advanced with “its schemes because of the short time (six weeks).”
“We did lose 23, 24 seniors from last year’s team,” Hill said. “I think that there’s some pretty strong carryover. We thought there would be. We’re trying to expand on that more. We didn’t go as advanced as we did because of the lack of time. I felt like they returned the base stuff we wanted to do last year. We’ve got some sense of normalcy in that aspect of what’s going on with football.”
Here’s the 2021 season outlook for the Greenwave, who’s looking to return to the state championship this fall.
Hill’s used to having multiple weapons at quarterback, but this will be the first year that two lefties will be directing the offense.
Filling the void of Offensive Player of the Year Avery Strasdin, senior Keaton Williams and sophomore Bryce Adams battle for the position after both played well in Friday’s scrimmage. Hill said Williams is mobile and has a strong, accurate arm, while Adams is a pocket passer as he’s 6-feet-2 and weighs around 215 pounds.
“Keaton’s been in the program for four years and has a decent grasp of the offense,” Hill said. “Bryce has a really big upside. Because he’s a sophomore, we’re looking to him as the future.”
A decision had not been made for who will start against Reno, but Hill said the non-league schedule gives him time to work out both quarterbacks before the 3A East schedule opens.
Like the quarterback position, Fallon has a big void to fill at running back.
Gone is the 3A East’s MVP Levi Andrews. But coming into help fill the hole are juniors Tristan Hill and Everdmar Garcia, and sophomore Roland Grondin.
“We feel like we have three good running backs,” coach Hill said. “We ran the ball physically with them. They did a good job reading our zone scheme and being a real consistent between the tackles, which is what we want them to do. They had good scrimmages.”
Williams and Adams will not be short of weapons in the air.
Seniors Tyler Austin, Jace Nelson and Reese Kincaid lead the receiving corps. Junior Isiah Diaz will back up Austin while sophomore Ethan Tarner will back up Nelson in the tight end/slot position. Kincaid returns to the Z position and on the opposite side will be junior Steven Moon.
“That whole group had a really strong scrimmage. I think we caught seven touchdown passes,” Hill said. “We did a good job catching the ball and being real explosive.”
Without the line, Fallon is not explosive like previous seasons. And it starts with three all-league returners.
Senior Damein Towne is a three-year starter at right tackle, senior Damien Nestlerode comes back at guard and senior Garrett Jarshcke returns at left tackle. At left guard is a combination of seniors Jose Marcado and Colton Tousignant. Sophomore Rafe Brown starts at center with senior Cody Shelton backing him up. Junior Alan Barrera and sophomore Sean Reeder will see time at guard.
“A lot of them are interchangeable,” Hill said. “We feel really good that the strength of our team coming back is our front. We’re very pleased with our front.
“They protected the quarterback very well and did a pretty good job at running the football. We were pretty pleased overall. We have to get better, but everybody does.”
Fallon returns one of the best overall players in the league in Nelson, a defensive end who was a first team selection last season. Also returning are senior ends Keith Heckathorn and Daimon Anderson. Tarner and junior Danner Rowlett will play end, as well.
Junior Alan Barrera will play tackle and inside nose guard while Reeder, Tousignant, Towne, Nestlerode, Jarshcke and senior Daniel Quezada will see action on the line. Fallon runs a 4-2-5 defense.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and experience on our defensive line,” Hill said. “I thought our run defense was pretty strong. We gave up a couple plays but when going against three different teams and three different offenses, we’re going in vanilla but the physicality of our front six was pretty strong.”
Ethan Tarner beats the secondary during a Friday night scrimmage as he stretches for a touchdown catch against the Carson Senators.
Xavier Capton, an all-league senior, returns at the Mike (middle) linebacker position and Hill expects him to have a big year because of his speed and experience. On the strong side, or Stud, Shelton and senior Jeremy Budrewicz are the go-to. Junior Casamaro White will fill in at Mike and Brent Hughes will back up at Stud.
“They played really well, really physical,” Hill said. “Everybody was in the right spot. We have a pretty solid group right there.”
Rounding out the defense is the secondary where Hill will have two corners and three safeties.
Coming in at the right corner is sophomore Brady Alves while the left side is still being worked out between juniors Jeremiah Prinz and Nick Downs. The backups, who could play either side, are juniors Tallen Wright, Brody Jacks and Garcia.
At safety, senior Francisco Tapia is at the strong side and Hill is on the weak outside. Kincaid will play free safety. Coach Hill said to expect playing time from Austin, Moon, Grondin and Diaz.
During the scrimmage, Hill noted the secondary underperformed but isn’t worried.
“We had blown coverages. We gave up a couple downs on flat-out blown coverages,” he said. “We don’t want to do that against Reno. They’re a talented group that can get it done.”
The shortened spring season didn’t allow Hill and his staff to work past basic schemes on defense with the secondary. But he said Fallon will be in good shape by the time league starts.
“From the spring, there are things we didn’t get into. We were really basic in the spring,” Hill added. “We misplayed some stuff. We weren’t where we were supposed to be. I feel like we should be pretty good defensively.”
Last season saw multiple returns for touchdowns on special teams.
Austin, who ignited the bench with his punt returns, will share duties with Hill on punts and kick returns, and Moon on just kick returns. Moon will also be the team’s kicker. Prinz will punt for the Greenwave.
For the second year in a row, Fallon will not field a freshman team.
In addition to his head coaching duties, Hill is also the defensive coordinator and will work with the linebacking group. Lalo Otuafi returns as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Riley Horn returns to coach the quarterbacks and Tom McCormick is back coaching the receivers. Jorge Guerrero replaces Charlie Heck as the running backs coach.
Defensively, Brian Itskin returns as the tackles coach as does Jim Wisdom, who will coach the ends along with Otuafi. Trevor de Braga is back coaching the defensive backs with Guerrero.
Brad Barton takes over the JV squad and is assisted by Mike Rosario, Garrett Massey and Warren Wood.
Daimon Anderson (56) makes a stop at the line against Carson in a Friday night scrimmage at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex.
Just like the spring, not only will Fallon have to battle against its league and region foes, but the Greenwave will need to stay healthy as COVID-19 is still prevalent.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Hill said. “You might not have the best team win it this year. You might have the luckiest team. The team with the least amount of distractions because of COVID might get it done.”
Fallon did well with testing and mitigation last season and did not have to forfeit or reschedule any of its contests. Hill, though, said he’s concerned that with students across the region returning to the classroom full-time, it could lead to an increase in cases that may affect fall sports.
“We’re OK now because we do everything outside. It’s the inside stuff that I worry about,” Hill said. “We’re going to have 30 kids in a classroom this year. We’ll see. Talking to coaches, they’re worried about the same thing. It’s going to be interesting when they test this week.”
With the game schedule, which begins with two 5A teams, Hill’s excited to see his team challenged as Fallon works through the non-conference slate.
“Those are two historic programs who have always been good,” Hill said of Reno and Reed. “We try to play up in those games that we can. We saw this as an opportunity to do that with these two teams.”
Fallon will play at Sparks to begin the 3A crossover and finish with two home games against South Tahoe and Truckee. The Greenwave opens with Dayton to begin the 3A East late next month.
“We have a challenging first five games,” Hill said. “We have an opportunity to sit back and evaluate. We want to be as good as possibly can be by the time we take on Dayton in that first league game.”
The 3A East looks to be strong and Hill expects a fight for the No. 1 seed, which will get a bye in the playoffs. The top team in each division will get a bye and the remaining four playoff positions are up for grabs between the two divisions. Before defeating Spring Creek this season for the division title, Fallon fell to Fernley in the 2019 state championship. Fallon went undefeated in 2018 in defeating Truckee for the state title.
“Our East side is really strong. I expect them all to be strong,” Hill said. “Spring Creek is always a tough team for us. We know Fernley is going to be a rivalry game, a big game. We know they’re going to have a good football team. Lowry has been an up-and-coming team the last few years. They’ve been really tough. We’re expecting them to be better. Elko had a really good JV team. We didn’t get to face Dayton last year (testing wasn’t ready) but they won a game at the end. Our league is going to be tough.”