Carson looks to turn the corner
Appeal Sports Writer
Carson High School football coach Shane Quilling walked up to the whiteboard in his office on Aug. 15 and used a black grease pen to illustrate a point: Over last 36 years, the Senators have had 10 winning seasons – two in the 1970s, three in the ’80s and, under coach Bob Bateman, five in the ’90s.
“It’s been pretty bleak in the last 36 years for Carson,” said Quilling, now in his sixth year.
Furthermore, Carson hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2003 and hasn’t won a postseason game since the late ’90s. It finished 4-6 last year.
To top things off, Quilling said last year several members of the community sent in letters to the editor at the Nevada Appeal, criticizing him and his players for not winning.
Quilling is under no illusions about the Senators pulling off a perfect season this year and offered a direct, honest assessment how he thought Carson would fare.
“We have a good shot to get back in the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re good enough to win league. If we could get a 1-, 2- or 3-seed, that would be the way to go. You don’t want to get a 4-seed and play the No. 1 seed from the other side (High Desert League). We have the opportunity to do that (1-3 seed).”
With 16 seniors and 41 players in the program, Quilling has a solid foundation on which to base his optimism.
“This year we have experience at wide receiver, quarterback and running back,” Quilling said. “We’re going to open up our game a little bit more. The kids love it. We’re going to be working out of the shotgun, ‘gun options, triples, doubles and one back. We have the kids that can do that.”
Quilling said Carson started out with some of those options last year, but quarterback Chris McBroom went down with an injury in the third game of the season. Sophomore Mitchell Hammond – a junior varsity player Quilling said he never thought would play varsity ball – later came in and helped the Senators win two of five games.
“It should’ve been three or four,” Quilling said. “We lost to North Valleys, 20-12, and to Liberty (Calif.), 30-29.”
Hammond, now a junior, is ready to pick up where he left off and along with a motivated Senators team, he is ready to help Carson break on through its years of woe.
“We’re working really hard,” said the 6-foot, 165-pound Hammond, who completed 49-of-88 passes for five touchdowns last season. “The coaches are pushing us in our mindset to where we are winners. With our new coaching staff (such as former North Valleys head coach and current quarterbacks coach Blair Roman), we’re running a lot more passing drills and a lot of new plays.
“We do tons of repetitions. We’re becoming experts on the plays. We’re not going to be stopped.”
Ryan Eichenberger will back up Hammond, with Eichenberger also seeing time at wideout with projected starters Richie Norgrove and Will Holbert.
Tony Roberts, Matt Rutledge and Wes Reddick are also expected to make significant contributions for the receiving corps. Hammond will have some additional targets at tight end, including Johhny Hazeltine, Clint Vondrak and Nick Cuttnilli.
The 6-1, 160-pound Norgrove “works his butt off,” according to Hammond, and expects his team get off to a good start when it visits Mojave at 7 p.m. today in its season-opener.
“We’re going to beat them” said the 18-year-old senior, who will double as a cornerback. “We’re working really hard. Nobody’s working as hard as us (“Amen,” chimed in a group of Senators). We’re more like a team this year. Last year we were apart. This year, we’ve pulled together.
“As a team, our goal is to make the playoffs and beat Douglas. Individually, I want to help the team win and if I’m lucky, play in the Sertoma Classic.”
Make no mistake about it, although there is plenty of room for Hammond to air it out, he also has a hungry backfield to feed the ball.
Gone is Bryan Maffei, who piled up more than 1,500 rushing yards and whom Quilling said was as good as any back he’d seen in 20 years. But in his place step two hard-nosed running backs in Travis Lamborn and Kyle Banko, who are also members of CHS’s wrestling team.
Banko averaged 6.8 yards per carry in 18 attempts last year and Lamborn had 310 yards in 31 attempts for a 9.8 average.
Senior Robbie Bozin – another wrestler – and junior Stephen Sawyers will also play in the backfield. And Hammond, who had 212 yards rushing in five games, is a threat on the ground as well.
“We’re five, six deep at running back,” Quilling said. “We don’t have a great back that other teams will (focus on) and go, ‘Hey, let’s stop this guy.’ But we’ll still be running the base stuff. We’re not getting away from the veer. We run the ball as good as anybody in the North. Over the last five years, we’ve run for 2,600, 2,400, 2,200, 2,100 and 1,900 yards. Last year we were third by a yard behind Spanish Springs, which had 75 yards of passing all year while we threw for 900.”
In some ways, it’s the same story for Carson: They are not as big as most teams and have to use hustle, attitude, conditioning and technique to make up for size and strength.
Case in point is the 5-6, 145-pound Banko, who will double as an outside linebacker and who lives for contact.
“They’re pushing us hard,” Banko said of the coaching staff, which includes Quilling, Roman, defensive coordinator and defensive end coach Billy McHenry, Jim Franz (offensive and defensive line), Charlie Lafluer (defensive line and defensive tackles) and Javier Vega (defensive back and wide receiver coach). “Everybody needs to go as hard as they can and we’ll be there.”
Tongue-in-cheek – or perhaps not – Banko said he had some specific goals this year.
“I want to get more rushing yards than Bryan Maffei (1,500) – he’s my hero,” said Banko, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds and who participated in the University of Nevada college combine in July. “I think we work hard. It’s time for us to make it. I think it’s going to happen.”
So does fellow senior Lamborn. The 5-9, 175-pound running back/inside linebacker, who had 97 tackles to go with his six offensive touchdowns last year, said he and his team have worked hard all summer and are prepared to reap the benefits.
“Without Maffei, it’s me and Banko now,” Lamborn said. “Our team goal is to make the playoffs. That’s been our (the seniors’) goal for four years. Beating Mojave will be a big game for us – especially because we’re young. A win would boost our confidence and get the ball going.
“Individually, I’d like to get more tackles than last year, more yards as a running back and make All-North – at least. I think we’re real young, but if we get the right mindset, we can do it.”
For all of its weapons, what will eventually determine Carson’s success are the meat and potatoes of any team – the offensive and defensive line.
Jaime Greene, Matt Kleinfieldt, Trent Simpson and Adam Solinger will play both ways and will get some help from center Mitch Brantingham, Daniel Faisella (O-line and defensive end), Caleb Gradert, and Robert Higgins.
Solinger, a 180-pound captain, squatted 410 pounds over the summer, setting a record.
David Eller, Aaron Jolcover, Sean Kennedy and Eddie Trujillo will also contribute on the defensive front, while Banko, Bozin, Dex Espinoza, Hazeltine, Lamborn, Philip Maier and Sawyers will fill the linebacker spots.
Todd Banko, Eichenberger, Norgrove, Reddick and Rutledge will man the corners, while Holbert and Roberts will take care of the free safety position.
“Defensively, we might have a tough time stopping people on the get-go,” Quilling said. “Of our four defensive line guys, three are two-year starters and one is a one-year starter. Defensively, we’re young up front, but everywhere else we’re experienced. We’ll see how our offensive and defensive line comes along. They’ve done pretty well in camp.”
By all accounts the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Greene has been a standout in training camp. The senior is also optimistic about Carson’s chances this year.
“We started off pretty young, but we’re starting to pull together,” Greene said. “We have the numbers. The previous years we didn’t. We had 21 – now we have 41. (In the past) during games, players would get real tired and didn’t play as well. Now we have people coming in to relieve us. We’ll do pretty good.”
Of all the players interviewed, it was the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Roberts who was the most enthusiastic and willing to challenge back a community that had gotten down on Quilling and his players.
“It’s going great,” Roberts said. “We’re looking good and looking forward to (the season).”
Keeping his helmet on even after practice, Roberts was revved up.
“I wanna hit people,” he said, delivering a slap and arm bar to Kyle Banko. “Our coaching staff wants to bring changes – and not just changes in the team, but in Carson High and the community. We’re trying to challenge the community and the student body to back the team.
“We need to get more people out. There aren’t enough people on the team; there aren’t enough people in the stands. Last year people were writing letters to the editor about the coaches and the team and how we weren’t any good. That’s not what we need. We need community support.”
Quilling in particular feels the community doesn’t have realistic expectations, the practical experience to speak against the program, nor the football know-how to offer constructive criticism.
“This is the bottom line,” said Quilling, “Until this community as a whole figures out that we’re the fourth biggest school, but we can’t get enough kids out to play for us, we’re going to finish fourth or fifth every year. Douglas has 50-plus (players), Reno has 50-plus, Reed has 50-plus, McQueen has 50-plus…
“Our five or six best kids are as good as anyone. But our 10-12 aren’t as good (as the best 10-12 on other teams). It’s been the same problem since Bateman was here. We don’t have large numbers of great kids going to Division-I schools. Last year we had good kids. If we didn’t lose McBroom, we’d have been 7-3 easy.”
Quilling said unless people are in his gym and around his team, they have no basis from which to intelligently form an opinion.
“Every one of those letter-writers don’t have a clue,” Quilling said. “They aren’t here on a day-to-day basis. If you are here and see what we have – how many kids we have – they don’t have a right to write about people.”
Quilling, who played linebacker for Montana State, said he helps some Pop Warner teams and that some of those coaches have an unrealistic, uninformed quick-fix mentality.
“Some Pop Warner guys think they have all the answers,” he said. “The difference between Pop Warner and high school ball is night and day. Some of them think you only need one or two (impact) players to win.”
Quilling emphasized he wasn’t being negative and pointed to his staff as further evidence that all Carson needs are more bodies to mold into players in order to close the gap with the perennial powerhouses.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “You don’t lose a games because of your offensive and defensive coordinators. You lose because you aren’t good enough and you don’t have enough kids.”
With some increased numbers and providing those players can stay healthy this year, Quilling feels that his team has a fighting chance to make some progress and in turn draw even more kids in next season, which is the keystone of all successful programs.
It’s an idea so basic that it doesn’t need to be written down on a whiteboard.