Tigers have optimism heading into ’02
‘Armed with experience from last season and bolstered by the addition of a talented junior class, an abundance of confidence surrounds the Douglas High School football camp these days. A guarded confidence, mind you, though coach Mike Rippee says the Tigers will be a team to reckon with this fall.
“We’ve worked hard over the summer and last spring, so the kids are excited to get going,” said Rippee, who enters his 18th season as head coach at Douglas. “It’ll be a tough league as usual, but I think we have the ability to compete with anybody.”
The Sierra League appears wide open, and on paper there is the possibility of a championship showdown on Friday night, Nov. 1, when Douglas hosts arch rival Carson.
“The division is wide open,” Rippee said. “I’ve told the kids anybody in this league, top to bottom, can win it. Carson lost some good players, but they have a good solid group coming back. Reno is big this year, they have a new coach (Dan Avansino) and a lot of enthusiasm, so they are going to be a good football team. Hug always has great athletes; they lost some from last year, but they had some down below who didn’t play a lot last year because they had such good seniors. And Wooster will be excited; they didn’t like what happened to them last year so you know they will be back.”
The Tigers have ammunition back from a team that finished 4-6 overall and reached the Northern 4A regional playoffs last year, including a pair of first-team all-league players: junior quarterback Luke Rippee and senior nose guard Grant Hall. Both are touted as two-way starters this season — Rippee at quarterback and safety, Hall on the offensive and defensive lines.
Luke Rippee completed 88 of 200 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore last season. He rushed for another 252 yards and three touchdowns.
He is just part of the depth the Tigers possess at the offensive skill positions. Running backs Evan Bill and Dusty Cooper both saw extensive action last season and could emerge as one of the North’s most explosive tandems.
“Evan started last year on the third string and then when a back went down, he stepped up in the middle of the season and had back-to-back 100-yard games for us,” coach Rippee said of the senior. “Evan ran 4.51 seconds in the 40 at the combine in May. He has tremendous instincts on the field and is tremendously fast. He’s not real big but he squatted 320 in the weight room today; he’s worked real hard in the weight room and gotten stronger, so we’re looking for a real big year from Evan.”
Bill rushed for 154 yards in a come-from-behind 21-19 win against Sparks then went for 115 yards and four touchdowns the next week in a 46-14 triumph against South Tahoe. Cooper also saw extensive playing time as a sophomore last year.
“By end of last year, Dusty was a starter at fullback,” Rippee added. “We know that if we get some blocking up front, where it all starts obviously, that we have two backs who are as good as anybody around.”
The offensive line is a question mark because the Tigers don’t have a lot of experience.
“I think we’re real solid offensively. We have a lot of depth at our skill positions, we’re young up front and that’s something we’ll have to get better at.”
Stormy Herald and Nick Summers are also expected to contribute at tight end, enough that Rippee plans to use double tight end sets at times. Herald been converted from running back to tight end.
The Tigers are also skilled at the wideout positions. Andy McIntosh earned second-team all-league recognition as a sophomore last season and senior Craig Bell returns after seeing limited action.
One of the keys to success this season will be the strength of the Tigers with their 5-3 defensive scheme.
“This is where we really need to improve from last year,” Rippee said. “To be a winning football team you have to be able to run the ball offensively and you have to be able to stop the run defensively, otherwise you’re not going to be a championship football team, point-blank. Defensively, that was our big problem last year. At times we did not stop the run when we had to stop the run. This is a run-oriented league and you’ve got to be able to stop the run if you want to win the big games.”
Hall was named first-team all-league last year after he converted from linebacker to nose guard.
“Grant is very quick and he’s gotten a lot stronger. He was one of the best last year and we feel he’s going to anchor that defensive line again this year,” Rippee said of the senior.
Jake Peterson, coming off a strong sophomore season, will anchor the linebacker corps in the middle, flanked by McIntosh on the strong side and senior James Bunting on the weak side.
In the secondary, Drew Bateman is a returning starter at cornerback.
The Tigers open their season Friday night, Aug. 6, at home against McQueen. The Lancers are defending Northern 4A champions and 2000 state champion and are expected to be every bit as strong this season. It’s a challenge coach Rippee says he is looking forward to.
“I look forward to it. It would be silly for me to say we’re afraid of them, we’re going to get killed. You want to see where you are,” he said. “You want to play good football. You don’t duck teams. If you’re going to play them, you’re going to play them and I think it’s a great challenge. The defending Northern zone champions, but it’s a new year. We know they’re going to be good they’ve got a great program and they’ve got great kids up there this year, but you know what, line it up. Let’s see what we’ve got here. I look forward to it and I’m really excited about it. We can’t wait.”