Talent, leadership to guide Fallon in balanced league
It didn’t feel right sitting at home in November, watching other teams compete in the state playoffs.
One year removed from winning the state title, the Greenwave football team exited early in the regional playoffs against league champ Spring Creek, ending Fallon’s chance at defending the crown. Many have departed from last year’s team but this year’s crop has the talent and potential to not only compete for the league title but it can make a strong push at returning to the state playoffs.
“As the head coach of the first seven years, we were trying to win that state title and then we accomplished it. The drive now is to get back there,” said Fallon coach Brooke Hill, now in his ninth season at the helm. “People say it’s hard to win the first but it’s difficult to win another one. The expectation is there. That’s probably the bigger thing. The expectation is now to do it again. It’s the drive to do that.”
Hill still has plenty of weapons, both new and old, and after last weekend’s four-team scrimmage against the 4A, he is pleased with the team’s progression since summer camp. Fallon returns 13 players, including 12 upperclassmen, while seven from the junior varsity and three from the freshmen teams made the varsity cut this year. Hill has seven new players to the program.
“We came out of that scrimmage feeling pretty good at where we’re at. We still have a long way to go but we feel good where we’re at,” Hill said.
Fallon opens the season today against Hug in Reno in the annual Hall of Fame game before taking on Fernley next week in the league opener in Fallon. The Greenwave dove into league play in Week 1 last season unlike previous seasons.
“Back in 2014 and 2015, we had a chance to play in those Hall of Fame games,” Hill recalled. “Last year, we had to play a league game right away and that’s difficult. I think that was hugely important for us this year. It changed last year and we had to change from the get-go.”
Regardless of the opponent for this year’s opener, Hill is excited for his 2017 team to take the field. The competitive drive instilled in Hill and his coach staff has carried down to the players and it’s shown early in practice.
“Their willingness to work,” Hill said, describing the team’s best feature. “They’re young but they’re talented. Just their willingness to work every day and get better. They’re having a good time. They’re a fun group to be around. They’re starting to play for each other.”
And that will be key for this year’s group if it wants to return to the playoffs, including state, which will be held in the north. Having the right working attitude will help carry the team like it did in 2015.
“We talk about going to work every day. They have a work attitude like our 2015 team that won the state title,” Hill said. “In our practices, we’re learning how to practice. A game is about two hours long so we’ve got to get our practices like that so when we get into the game, we know how to do it.”
The road to a league title could be more open than even last year.
Spring Creek won the league and No. 1 seed from the north before losing in the state championships while South Tahoe upset Truckee in the region playoffs for the second state seed. Elko, Fernley and Fallon in the middle of the mayhem and even the lower-level programs are seeing a rise. Hill expects Wooster, Dayton, Sparks and Lowry to be better this year.
“It’s going to be a little more open this year. Whoever plays well early is going to gain confidence,” he said. “There are five, six teams this year who have a shot at winning the league. We believe we’re in that mix. We feel like if we keep improving, we’ll be there in the end.
For the first time since Morgan Dirickson took over the reins in 2011, Fallon will have a sophomore at quarterback.
Elijah Jackson (5 feet, 11 inches, 165 pounds) poses a dual threat to fit Hill’s offensive scheme and showed off his arm in the scrimmage by throwing for four touchdowns and almost 200 yards. His line was solid with left tackle junior Ben Dooley (6-5, 260), left guard sophomore Benni Otuafi (6-3, 290), center junior Clay Burton (6-1, 295), right guard senior Jacob Bake (6-1, 300) and right tackle junior Nick Delgado (6-2, 265) providing protection.
“He was real efficient throwing the ball. He still made some mistakes. It’s a learning process for him too. You can see the upside to him,” Hill said of Jackson.
This year’s offensive line should get fans excited as Fallon has more size and strength than previous teams. However, Hill said the O-line still needs to execute and be intelligent, which helped the undersized line in 2015 win the state title.
“We still have to go out and get it done,” Hill said. “We won the state title a couple years ago but we were nowhere that big. We were tough and smart.”
In addition to protecting Jackson in the pocket, the O-line will be providing holes for running backs junior Reid Clyburn (5-6, 154), junior Sean McCormick (5-9, 170) and senior Trent Thorn (5-9, 200). Clyburn makes the jump from junior varsity while McCormick spent most of last season on the sidelines after breaking his collarbone. Thorn, who will primarily play defense, will see some snaps in the backfield.
In the scrimmage, though, Fallon didn’t get a chance to run much because of the passing game. However, in the limited action on the ground, Hill was pleased.
“We didn’t get as many carries as we wanted because of what we do offensively,” Hill said. “We threw more bubble screens. When they did get in there, they ran hard. We still have to pick up the run game after watching film.”
Running the receiver routes will be senior Clayton Steelmon (5-10, 165), sophomore Brock Richardson (5-6, 160), sophomore Tommy McCormick (5-8, 155), Sean McCormick, junior Brenden Larsen (6-2, 170) and senior Christian Nemeth (6-2, 180). Steelmon will be running the Z route while Larsen and Nemeth are running X. Richardson is running the tight-end/slot position while the McCormick brothers are in the fullback set.
Sean McCormick is excited to be back on the gridiron after breaking his collarbone against Dayton and said the key this year will be leadership and trusting one another.
“We’re just going to have to grow together as a team and find our leaders that everyone can look up to,” he said. “It’s going to be the guys that they can follow. It’s leadership that’s going to take us far.”
Defensively last year, Fallon struggled with the big play and returned to its base formation where it saw improvement. The same concept applies this year.
The defensive line will use a combination of players including ends senior Tyler Word (6-0, 205), Dooley and junior Tristan Rodarte (5-9, 205); tackles Otuafi, Bake, Burton and Delgado; and nose guard senior Russell Vershman (5-8, 190) and sophomore Nofoefia Falani (5-8, 205). Also competing on the line are seniors William Shoshone (6-0, 220) and Elimelee Lima (6-0, 320), and junior Tim McGuire (5-10, 170).
“It’s just coming off the ball. We’re not as big,” Hill said about the D-line. “Not all the guys go both ways. We need to understand our reads and do that and be physical.”
The linebacker corps. includes Thorn, junior Gabe Hardy (5-10, 185) and Larsen while the safeties are senior Jacob Weber (5-11, 180), Tommy McCormick and Freeman. The secondary includes Sean McCormick and Richardson and corners senior Tallon Amezquita (5-8, 140), Steelmon, Nemeth, junior Harley Fausey (5-6, 140) and junior Bryce Larsen (6-0, 160).
Freeman will handle the punts this season while Rodarte will handle kickoffs and Amezquita will kick the PATs and field goals. Kick returners include Sean McCormick, Richardson, Steelmon and Clyburn while McCormick and Richardson will also return punts. Also on the team are junior Everado Pardini (5-7, 155) and Jed Starr (5-8, 140).
Assisting Hill this season are offensive coordinator Lalo Otuafi, defensive backs coach Trevor de Braga, wide receivers coach Tom McCormick, line coach Jim Wisdom, defensive tackles coach Brian Itskin and running backs coach Charlie Heck. Hill will also coach the defense, quarterbacks and linebackers. Coaching the junior varsity are head coach Ted Ott and assistants Riley Horne and Chris Delgado and the freshmen coaches are head coach Brad Barton and assistants Warren Wood and Mike Rosario.
“I’ve got great assistant coaches that are not only coaches for me but they are really close friends,” Hill said. “We just want to keep getting better. I’m always trying to push.”