High School Sports

Prep notes: Upstart football teams look for respect and championships

Optimism abounds every high school football season.

Area powers used to competing for championships expect continued success. And then there are programs eager to reverse their fortunes.

Year-round strength-and-conditioning sessions, increased player participation and following the coach’s game plan have transformed a number of area teams.

Woodcreek, ranked No. 14 by The Bee, is 3-0 for the first time and is in pursuit of its first winning season (it has posted five 5-5 seasons and one 6-6 campaign since 2004). Led by all-purpose threat Malcolm Thomas, the Timberwolves play another upstart team tonight in No. 20 Ponderosa (2-0).

The Bruins are coming off a 4-6 season and target their first league title since 2007 after realignment moved them from the Delta River League to the Capital Valley Conference. The Bruins are paced by quarterback Colby Chiverton and wide receiver Josh Bist.

“Things are really good right now,” Bruins coach Jason Tenner said.

Said Woodcreek coach Jason Stowers, “When football has success, it shines brighter on campus. There are very few avenues that can bring a community together like this. It used to be church or the PTA, and now it’s high school athletics. And winning football games helps all of that.”

A year after going 0-10, Nevada Union is 2-1 with a passionate home following. Quarterback Justus Spillner, like many of his teammates, returned this season bigger, stronger and wiser after a winless season.

“You learn a lot from adversity, and you either come together or fall apart,” coach Dennis Houlihan said. “We’ve come together. We got better. Everything’s better when you’re winning.”

Natomas coaches, administrators and players agree.

The Nighthawks (2-1) halted a 32-game losing streak with a season-opening 28-14 victory at Vallejo. Natomas is led by quarterback Adrian Leyva and running backs Tivon Johnson and Terence Witherspoon. The Nighthawks’ only loss was to Valley on the final play, 44-43. Second-year coach Ryan Battle suffered through an 0-10 season in 2013, the Nighthawks’ third consecutive winless campaign. Natomas had four consecutive 1-9 seasons before going 6-5 in 2009.

“It’s definitely nice to get a couple of wins to end that skid,” said Natomas athletic director Anthony Agrella. “We’re much improved, and we finally, appropriately, scheduled nonleague games that fit. The coaches are really working hard for these kids, and everyone put in the work in the offseason. Morale is high and the campus is excited.”

And more good news for Natomas: Its best player, linebacker-tight end Terrance March, is expected to return for Golden Empire League action after being sidelined with a broken hand.

Behind quarterback Unique Perez, Cordova is 3-0 for the first time since 2007. The Lancers suffered through three 1-9 seasons since and went 2-8 in 2013. Third-year coach Vance Mueller, the former Los Angeles Raider, has the Lancers believing they will compete for the Sierra Valley Conference championship, a league for the revamped and reborn.

A championship is the same goal for El Dorado, which last started 3-0 in 1987. The Cougars reached the 2013 postseason for the first time since ’87. Said coach Joe Volek: “We’ve come a long way, and we’re only getting better.” El Dorado is led by quarterback Nick Bonniksen, running back Tyler Clanin and a big offensive line.

Union Mine, which entered this season having won three games in the past two years, is 1-1 behind running back Austin Rigsby. First-year coach Davy Johnson, a former Diamondbacks star, replaced his father, Dave Johnson, who won SVC titles in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

Also in the SVC mix is Galt, seeking its first winning season since 2005. After 0-10 seasons in 2011 and 2012 and a 1-9 showing in 2013, Galt is 2-1 under third-year coach J.J. Woodward. Running back Zach Orman leads the Warriors.