Wave football returns for encore after winning state title
After dominating from start to finish, capped off with its second state championship in four years, the Greenwave football team returns for its encore this weekend.
Fallon, which finished undefeated and sent a couple of players to Division I schools in Idaho, opens the 2019 season on Saturday when it travels to South Tahoe High School for a 5 p.m. kickoff against California.
Gone from last year’s dominating team are several graduated seniors who excelled all over the field. But in his 11th season, Brooke Hill returns a strong group of upperclassmen hungry for another state championship. From summer camp starting in May to the Mind of a Champion football camp to fall camp, Fallon enters this season as the favorite in the Class 3A.
“We have a good amount of returners with varsity experience and we also have younger players who have to step up to replace last year’s seniors,” said senior receiver and safety Tommy McCormick. “The team is practicing well together and I think we are going to have another great season. In order for us to win the state championship again, our seniors have to lead by example all year to the younger players. We have to show them how to play and practice like a championship team.”
As McCormick indicated, there’s still work to do for Fallon, which returns 27 who earned varsity letters last season. Beginning with acclimating the new players to the varsity standard and working on the mental approach has been key for Hill this summer.
“We’re still working on that like last year and we’re where we need to be,” Hill said. “There are some similarities. We’ve been there before. The guys we have this year are going to be able to step into those spots. Do we have the potential to be as good as last year if things come around? Yes.”
After this weekend, Fallon opens the league season on the road with Spring Creek before returning home to face Fernley after Labor Day. Hill looks forward to playing in front of the home crowd after the fans packed the stands last year.
“Greenwave football has had support as long as I’ve been playing here,” Hill said. “The town buys into athletics. They want their kids to play well. Even in the lean years in the ’90s and 2000s, we still had support. We’re very appreciative of that.”
For Hill, the new season is another opportunity to watch his team grow and the boys to turn into men.
“It’s just an opportunity to get the kids in the program and develop them to become good husbands and men,” he said. “It’s just our niche that we can do it and it’s in the context of football. Every team is different. Every year is a new challenge. I’ve had the same staff virtually the entire time. We’re still just as hungry and excited as 11 years ago. To see them grow as a team in May to where we can be in November, it’s that process that we really enjoy.”
Assisting Hill are Motulalo Otuafi (offensive coordinator and offensive line), Tom McCormick (receivers and defensive backs), Trevor de Braga (secondary), Brian Itskin (defensive line), Charlie Heck (running backs), Riley Horn (quarterbacks) and Brandon Sanders (linebackers). Hill is also the defensive coordinator and will be working with the linebackers.
For the JV and freshmen teams, Ted Ott returns as the JV head coach and is be assisted by Mike Rosario and Chris Delgado, while Brad Barton returns to lead the freshmen team and is assisted by Warren Wood and Braxton Davis.
The offense took its biggest hit in the trenches. Gone are several seniors, including the trio of Ben Dooley, Nick Delgado and Gabe Hardy, but Hill said this year’s line is still trying to find the best combination ahead of Saturday’s season opener.
“That’s the biggest position we’re replacing. We’re a little inexperienced,” Hill said.
Benni Otuafi returns for his final season and is going from right guard to left tackle. Junior Dylin Valerio will be at left guard, senior Zane Johnston at center and senior James Harmony at right guard. Hill said there’s a competition between junior Rigo Romero and senior Morgan Lawry for right tackle. Junior Zane Bogdanowicz is also in the mix.
“With our summer and offseason program, we were able to work a lot on fundamentals and our schemes,” Hill said. “We’re not going to see the same defenses week to week. It’s been something we’ve been working on. The kids have definitely progressed. Hopefully, we progressed enough from June to now.”
Without a scrimmage this year — Fallon opted for a non-league game against a Bay Area school — Hill said it’s tougher to gauge where the line — and rest of the team — is at. But he feels confident, especially with coach Otuafi at his side as the offensive coordinator.
“Coach Otuafi is the best O-line coach in the league. I know we’re going to get the right combination. It’s going to take a few games to get there,” Hill said.
Like last year, Fallon will be giving defenses several looks with the receiving corps, which created problems for opposing defenses.
Returning are seniors Tommy McCormick and Brock Richardson, who have been receiving Division I offers. Richardson led the team last year with 1,093 yards and scored 14 touchdowns while McCormick recorded 634 yards and six touchdowns.
“We have high expectations this season because we won the state title last year,” Richardson said. “Getting there again will be a simple process of getting to work each day with lots of focus.”
Juniors Matt Davis and Kenji Armbruster will run from the Z position while McCormick will set up in the Y as a slot receiver and Richardson from the full-back slot. At tight end, senior Thomas Steele, senior Zeke Washington and junior Shaw Lee will see action.
“They’re all really athletic. We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” Hill said. “Obviously, with Tommy and Brock returning, you’ve got two of the better ones around. Our skills are experienced and understand what we’re trying to do. They can make plays.”
A pair of running backs who ran well with the junior varsity and also saw action on varsity in the second half will lead the ground attack.
Junior Levi Andrews and senior Dominyke Edwards will share the handoff with Richardson filling in occasionally.
“He’ll get the vast majority of the carries. He’s earned the right to do that. He has the potential to be a real playmaker,” Hill said of Andrews. “Dominyke’s that power, real physical running back. You’ll probably see him more in goal lines and short yardage. Brock’s so versatile. The key with Brock is we want to get him a lot of touches because good things happen.”
Hill feels confident saying that his senior gunslinger is not only the best in the 3A, but he’s the best in the entire state.
Elijah Jackson, who also hit the game-winner to give Fallon the state basketball championship in March, is as dynamic as they come. Jackson completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,952 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interception for a 123.4 quarterback rating. On the ground, he tallied 856 yards on 73 carries and had 14 touchdowns.
“I know there are some good kids in the Vegas,” Hill said. “He’s got multiple D1 offers so we know the last three years we have been extremely blessed. He’s a dynamic athlete that you get once in a lifetime, maybe.”
Jackson’s backup will be junior Avery Strasdin, who ran the JV offense last year.
“It’s nice to have a solid backup and we had that last year with Sean (McCormick), “Hill said. “There will be some opportunities to develop him for next year and get him some good reps. With what we do, we put so much on the quarterback. He’s one of those kids who can get some good quality reps if we do things the right way.”
Unlike its offensive counterpart, the defensive line looks strong.
Hill said the defensive end will be a combination of Washington, junior David Palanivelu, Steele, Lawry and Harmony.
“We feel like we have a really strong group of defensive ends this year. We’re just continuing that,” Hill said.
The tackle position will be by committee, according to Hill. Otuafi, Romero, junior Dylin Valerio and senior Ben Bake will be rotating, while senior Nofoefia “Nofo” Falani will fill in at nose guard.
“There’s a lot of guys who’ve seen some time there,” Hill said about the experience. “We feel like we’ve got a lot of experience up front. They’ve done a good job all offseason and fall camp.”
The linebacker group was most affected by graduation with the Larsen twins moving on.
Edwards came on late, though, and Hill felt that he was may have been the team’s best defensive player.
“He was all over the field in the state championship game against Truckee. He’s the key guy returning,” Hill said about his MIKE linebacker.
At the stud position – Hill’s running with four linebackers this year compared to the 4-3 alignment from last season – will be Lee. Juniors Cade Barton and Julian Evans will come from the weak side
“Shaw’s done a really nice job. He’s highly intelligent, a really good athlete and a big, strong kid,” Hill said.
“We’re really athletic and we’re fast in that group. That’s nice to see,” Hill said. “All of those guys can get there and finish. There’s a little bit of inexperience.”
Also in the linebacker group will be junior Wyatt Hatch.
The secondary is the heart and soul of the defense with three first-team, all-state selections returning.
Senior Ethan Andrews, who had a critical interception at Truckee last year, Richardson and McCormick lead the defense, and senior Devin Souza and junior Colby Malcovich will also see time in the secondary. Hill said that Jackson will see a few snaps, too.
“This secondary is the strength of our defense. This is the best group collectively we’ve ever had,” Hill said. “We’ve had some weaker links there at times. This year, we should be really tough. This group has the potential to be as good or better as the year goes on. These kids are really interchangeable. They understand the scheme and know what we’re doing.”
Also in the secondary will be juniors Josiah Rosario, Keith Smith, Hunter Cooper and Brian Sanchez-Rehkop. Rounding out the team are juniors Jacob Forshee, Kodus Wehe, Matt Sorenson and Reuben Sanchez, and senior Jonathan Blakely.
Lee will punt for the Greenwave while Sam Robertson will kick the PATs and field goals. Armbruster is the long snapper and Richardson, McCormick and Levi Andrews will return punts and kicks.
“We’ve got some really dynamic athletes we can return with,” Hill said.
For the kicking game, though, Hill is excited for Robertson.
“He can get it out there over 40 yards,” Hill said. “We shouldn’t have any problems with PATs. We’ve got a kicker we should be able to get it through the uprights.”
“We’re probably the favorite but that means nothing at this point until you prove it. It can be anyone,” Hill said. “You look at a team like Truckee and they lost a lot but they’re well coached. Lowry has experience back. They’re doing some good things. Fernley’s historically good. Spring Creek’s going to get some people this year. I don’t think I could predict the top six who are going to make it. I just hope we better be one of them. If we get the wrong kids injured, it could bring us down to the pack so we have to stay healthy.”