Joe Santoro

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August 22, 2014
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Friday Fodder | Nevada finally getting credit as one of top baseball states

I get the whole Las Vegas versus Reno thing. I understand that Las Vegas believes it is a separate state from the rest of Nevada and northern Nevada is convinced everything south of Tonopah is merely some southern California junkyard. But the time has come for the entire state to unify and take tremendous pride in what 14 Little Leaguers from north Las Vegas are doing in Williamsport, Pa. Get to know the names Austin Kryszczuk, Zach Hare, Alex Barker, Bradley Stone, Brennan Holligan, Josiah Cromwick and the rest of the Mountain Ridge Little League team. They are the first team from the state of Nevada to play in the Little League World Series and they will be in the championship game on Saturday. It’s been a great spring and summer for Nevada baseball. Greg Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, manager Matt Williams’ Washington Nationals are in first place and now Mountain Ridge is about to make history. It’s about time Nevada gets credit for being one of the top baseball states in the nation.

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The Cleveland Browns are absolutely doing the right thing by sitting Johnny Manziel on the bench. Manziel is not ready to run a NFL offense. He barely knows how to drop back in the pocket let alone having the knowledge to read a NFL defense and mastering the Browns playbook. Odds are, though, that starter Brian Hoyer and the Browns will lose their first three games against the Steelers, Saints and Ravens and Manziel will be named the starter in Week 4 when the Browns have a bye. It’s similar to what Nevada Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault did in 2011 when he let Tyler Lantrip take the lumps (and the losses) against Oregon, Boise State and Texas Tech to start the year before naming freshman Cody Fajardo the starter in Week 5 against UNLV.

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The legend of Colin Kaepernick grew even larger this week. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback revealed this week that he played the bulk of last season with a broken bone in his foot. Kaepernick still ran the ball 92 times for 524 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season last year and in the postseason he carried the ball 26 times in three games for 243 yards. Imagine what he is going to do on two healthy feet this year. The 49ers, though, have too much money invested in the former Wolf Pack quarterback now to simply let him run wild. And Kaepernick knows as well as anybody that a quarterback can’t win a Super Bowl simply by running the ball on every play. If you could, well, Manziel would be starting in Cleveland in the season opener.

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Wolf Pack football coach Brian Polian recently took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and while it wasn’t exactly as interesting as Katy Perry in a bikini emptying an ice bucket over her head or Charlie Sheen dumping a bucket containing $10,000 on his head, Polian should be commended for doing his part to finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. If the Wolf Pack athletic department, though, really wants to help this cause its needs to film former football coach Chris Ault dumping a bucket of ice water on former athletic director Cary Groth’s head and let Groth return the favor.

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There’s a good chance that Polian will have many more buckets of ice dumped on his head this year. Everything is set up for a rebirth of Wolf Pack football this year starting Aug. 30 when the Pack will trounce Southern Utah at Mackay Stadium in the hot August sun. But this year is not really about Polian. It’s about quarterback Cody Fajardo, who is still looking to win a conference title and a bowl game. Fajardo, whose signature win with the Wolf Pack came at Cal to start the 2012 season, has had to endure a lot of adversity -- namely coaching changes, a ridiculously tough schedule and injuries -- at Nevada. It would be a great story if, like Kaepernick, he leaves Nevada with a win over Boise State, Fresno State, BYU and UNLV, a league title and a bowl win.

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Since we are on the subject of great stories, former Wolf Pack offensive lineman Joel Bitonio has hit the ground running in the NFL. Bitonio has already been called “a future star” by ESPN and will likely start at guard for the Cleveland Browns. Bitonio has impressed his teammates and coaches with his athletic ability, intelligence and toughness and is clearly the Browns’ best draft pick from last spring, despite all the attention focused on Johnny Overrated. The Wolf Pack should be renamed Offensive Linemen U. Bitonio is just the latest in a long line of Wolf Pack NFL offensive linemen that includes, among others, Derek Kennard, Harvey Dahl, Tony Moll, Shar Pourdanesh, Eric Sanders, Vic Carroll and Terry Hermeling.

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Bitonio, though, isn’t the only former Pack player who will make an impact in the NFL this year. There are currently 17 Wolf Pack players who are on current NFL depth charts: Bitonio (Browns), Kaepernick (49ers), Chris Barker (Patriots), Nate Burleson (Browns), Kaelin Burnett (Raiders), Virgil Green (Broncos), Jonathan Amaya (Chiefs), James-Michael Johnson (Chiefs), Brandon Marshall (Broncos), Josh Mauga (Chiefs), Rishard Matthews (Dolphins), Dontay Moch (Bengals), Zach Sudfeld (Jets), Isaiah Frey (Bears), Duke Williams (Bills), Khalid Wooten (Titans) and Chase Tenpenny (Chargers).

Joe Santoro writes a weekly sports column for the Sierra Nevada Media Group.

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Sierra Sun Updated Aug 22, 2014 10:36AM Published Aug 22, 2014 10:36AM Copyright 2014 Sierra Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.