Offensive line has been solid for Carson |

Offensive line has been solid for Carson

Appeal Sports Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Front from left: Bryce Evans, Daniel Faiella, and Trent Simpson. Back row from left: Caleb Gradert, Jeff Butler, Mitch Brantingham, Ernesto Cortez, Nick Cutunilli, Robert Higgins.

Welcome to the world of the offensive lineman, a land inhabited by toil, blood and sweat. While the majority of fans are watching where the football is – in the hands of the quarterback, running backs or in the air to the wide receiver – the game is being won or lost in the trenches by these anonymous road-graders.

The Nevada Appeal is taking the liberty to name the entire offensive line as the Carson Senators’ collective Most Valuable Player this season. Composed of seven seniors and two juniors, the O-line is known amongst themselves as the HOGgies, short for Hitters of the Game.

A high-spirited bunch, the group gathered in the locker room following Tuesday’s practice and reminisced and joked and laughed their way through their career in the front line of the Carson offense.

They displayed a wicked sense of humor, as evident by their motto, which was coined when left tackle Caleb Gradert hurt his hamstring and wanted to come out of a game. “Suck it up, Cupcake. We need you,” was the response the hobbled Gradert heard from center Mitch Brantingham.

The not-so-sympathetic refrain has been the catchphrase of a group that has found a way to drive on every defense it has faced this season, whether it was during one of their two wins or in a loss to mighty McQueen or Sierra League champion Reno.

“They’re a great bunch of guys,” Carson coach Shane Quilling said of his otherwise unheralded linemen, who always take the backseat when it comes time to interview the “action players” at the conclusion of a game. “Without a doubt they’ve been the most consistent part of our game.

“Offensive line coach Jim Franz has done a great job with the team the last couple of years. They’re a great bunch of kids that have worked hard.”

Not every player that has made a contribution for the O-line this year was able to take part in the photo session and interview – namely junior tight end Blake Davidson. But he has one year to go and maybe next year he’ll find a spot in the limelight all for himself.

But for now, just as it is on the field, where a bunch of big guys have to work in a tight space, it’s time to try and fit a group of players with a lot to say in a too-small space in the newspaper.

As they’ve learned by now, there is no justice, only hard work and the sense down deep – for the most part unrecognized – of a job well done.

NAME: Trent Simpson, No. 61

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-foot-1, 200 pounds

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, tackle

ACHIEVEMENTS: Made the varsity team as a sophomore. Three-year starter. Voted All-League Offense as a junior.

WHAT’S NEXT: Plans on attending University of Nevada and majoring in business.

ULTIMATE GOAL: Simpson wants to be a musician. He plays the electric guitar and likes the blues and classic rock. His best riff is “Eruption” by Eddie Van Halen.

BEST MEMORY: Beating Reno, 32-22, to make the playoffs last year. Says Simpson: “It felt really good to step it up together and destroy a really good team, as we were underdogs.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “We were in (team camp at) Gold Beach (Ore.). It was midnight and windy and we tied the rain guard over the entrance (to 6-foot-7 right guard Robert) Higgins’ tent. We beat on the tent and woke him up. He comes out screaming and gets clotheslined by the rain guard. It took him down. We all grouped up in tents. Gradert was in my tent. Higgins came over and kicked my tent.”

NAME: Daniel Faiella, No. 66

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-2, 235

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, left guard

ACHIEVEMENTS: Faiella, the Defensive Lineman of the Year (2006), won the Northern Nevada weightlifting championship in May, benching 310 pounds, cleaning 305 and squatting 425. “I’ve struggled with academics,” Faiella says, “but I’ve got my grade point average up to a 3.5 because I never give up.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Faiella says he wants to play football for a Division I-AA or Division II team and has been contacted by Northern Arizona, Augustana College (S.D.), the University of Mary (N.D.) and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.), among others.

Faiella wants to earn his undergraduate degree in construction management and minor in business management.

ULTIMATE GOAL: Faiella wants to be a professional bodybuilder, become Mr. America and then go on to World Wrestling Entertainment, where he’d like to be like WWE star Triple H.

BEST MEMORY: “Taking my first Northern Nevada weightlifting championship, because I spend a lot of time in the weight room and it paid off.” Faiella took the gold medal, competing in the 205-225 class.

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “(Senior defensive end) Matt Kleinfeldt and I made fun of Coach Quilling when he was yelling at (quarterback) Mitch Hammond to spike the ball on the two-minute offense.” (Here Faiella gets off a bench and hops around, imitating an apparently furious and gesticulating Quilling.) “He’s always yelling at Mitch Hammond: ‘Stop the clock! Spike the damn ball!’ Me and Matt were imitating (Quilling) behind his back.”

NAME: Nick Cutunilli, No. 24

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-3, 210

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, tight end

ACHIEVEMENTS: Cutunilli is a member of the All-State Academic Team (he carries a 3.83 GPA), has earned academic letters and has been on the varsity team for two years.

WHAT’S NEXT: Cutunilli said he wants to attend college, but he’s undecided on which one.

ULTIMATE GOAL: He wants to be a doctor – either a pharmacist or an anesthesiologist.

BEST MEMORY: “Beating Reno to make the playoffs. It’s something no Carson team had done in a while and it was good to prove the Carson student body wrong. They didn’t believe in us.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “When (linebacker) Philip Maier lost his stick at Gold Beach. He had an injured ankle and had found a stick that was perfect for him. We were playing baseball and (when he swung at a pitch) he threw it on the roof. He was mad and yelled, ‘I want my stick back!'”

NAME: Jeff Butler, No. 42

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-0, 190

YEAR, POSITION: Junior, tight end

ACHIEVEMENTS: Was named All-Camp at Gold Beach as a junior. Starting as a middle linebacker as a junior.

WHAT’S NEXT: After his senior year, Butler wants to play football at a junior college.

ULTIMATE GOAL: Butler said he wants to become a police officer.

BEST MEMORY: “Getting pulled up to the varsity team after my sophomore season (on the junior varsity) to play against Reed in the playoffs.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “In my JV season, in the pre-game, we were supposed to come out in our shorts and shoulder pads. David Laumea came out in his boxers, cleats and shoulder pads. He thought the coach wouldn’t notice he had his boxers on instead of his shorts.”

NAME: Caleb Gradert, No. 65

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-5, 220

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, left tackle

ACHIEVEMENTS: Gradert carries a 3.88 GPA, has earned an academic letter and has been named Lineman of the Week “a few times.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Gradert will attend the University of Wisconsin, Oregon or Washington.

ULTIMATE GOAL: He wants to become an aeronautical engineer and design airplanes.

BEST MEMORY: “Beating Reno, because we were a big underdog and nobody thought we could do it. We showed everybody up, including Reno, who had shown us up.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “At Gold Beach A.J. – (noseguard) Aaron Jolcover – and I were racing air mattresses downhill. His caught a hole and he flipped over and popped the air mattress he was riding on.”

NAME: Mitch Brantingham, No. 68

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-1, 220

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, center/guard

ACHIEVEMENTS: Being selected as a captain this year, being named All-Camp and making 21 consecutive starts.

WHAT’S NEXT: “I’m going to move up to Reno with some guys on the team, get a pad and go to school.”

ULTIMATE GOAL: “Make a lot of money.”

BEST MEMORY: “Sending guys to the playoffs last year and going to Reed and playing in all of that fog.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “Last year we were playing Damonte Ranch and were winning by a bunch. Coach Quilling wanted us to take a knee and sent in a quarterback that didn’t play much – Clint Vondrak. He came in and went up to the line and took a knee and all of (Damonte’s) guys jumped. In the huddle, we said, ‘Clint, let’s go on one.’ He said, ‘You know Coach is going to kill me if I screw up, if I don’t take a knee on two.’ He goes up to the line and goes, ‘Hike,’ and all their guys jumped offside and looked like idiots.”

NAME: Bryce Evans, No. 77

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-2, 200

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, right tackle

ACHIEVEMENTS: A member of the National Honor Society, Evans carries a 3.5 GPA and was named the Most Improved Player in 2005 and made varsity this year.

WHAT’S NEXT: Evans will attend Nevada, where he will major in health ecology.

ULTIMATE GOAL: To become a doctor.

BEST MEMORY: “In my sophomore year, when I was on JV, in my first series I got two sacks.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “When I put on a football helmet without a facemask and walked around going, ‘Will you teach me to play football?'”

NAME: Ernesto Cortez, No. 59

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-0, 200

YEAR, POSITION: Junior, center

ACHIEVEMENTS: Cortez, who carries a 3.3 GPA, said he was proud of starting several games at center and defensive end this year, his first on varsity.

WHAT’S NEXT: After his senior season, Cortez wants to got to school at Nevada.

ULTIMATE GOAL: To become a firefighter who puts out blazes in the forest.

BEST MEMORY: “When we beat Reno in the junior varsity game to end the season (last year). We gave the varsity some electricity to beat (the Huskies).”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “This year, in the South Tahoe game, we were taking a knee. I was playing center and when I snapped the ball, I took a knee as well as the quarterback. I don’t know why. It just processed that way.”

NAME: Robert Higgins, No. 72

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-7, 310

YEAR, POSITION: Senior, right guard

ACHIEVEMENTS: “A few Division I colleges are talking to me. They say I have the potential to play at that level. To me, it’s like, wow. But it’s all potential. I have to work toward it.”

WHAT’S NEXT: “I haven’t decided where to go to college. I’m thinking I’ll end up at UNR, just because of where my family is. They’re Oregon State fanatics, so I’m pretty sure my entire dad’s side would disown me if I don’t go to Oregon State or UNR.”

Higgins, who has a strong Christian background, may also look at attending Christian colleges like Northwest Nazarene (Wash.), or Concordia University (at Mo., Minn., or Wash.).

ULTIMATE GOAL: “I want to be an anchor on SportsCenter. I’d love to be an analyst for ESPN – either for the NFL or college, as long as it has to do with football.”

BEST MEMORY: “Last week me, Mitch (Brantingham), Caleb (Gradert), (defensive line) Coach (Charles) LeFleur and Coach (Jim) Franz went to Fandango. While we were eating, Coach Franz told us we were the best group of linemen he’d ever coached. He coached that group that blocked for Bryan Maffei. That was like the ultimate compliment, to be mentioned with guys like Eric Walther and Zack Taylor before us.”

FUNNIEST MEMORY: “The first night our offensive line motto was born. Caleb Gradert hurt his hamstring and he goes, ‘Gosh, I’m hurt. I need to come out of the game.’ Mitch Brantingham said, ‘Suck it up, Cupcake, we need you.’ We just busted up in the huddle. It was the funniest thing. That was how our motto was born. It’s been our motto all year.”