Incline sports fans have talked about this year’s senior class since its Pop Warner days.
And for good reason.
“We’re looking pretty good. The senior group is stellar,” said Incline football coach Scott Conn. “They are hungry for a good year. This is one of the best groups Incline has put on the field in a number of years.”
After struggling to a 1-6 record with a young and injury-depleted lineup in 2013, the Highlanders will field a healthy squad of 27 players when they kick off the season at home against Portola this Friday.
The team is led by nine seniors, including four returning standouts — Ben Snyder, Jack Clouthier, Alex Zissis and Joe Sunseri.
No player in Incline’s Northern Division III region is more physical than Snyder, a Division I college prospect who, at 6 foot 4 and 225 pounds, is an imposing force at his tight end and linebacker positions.
In addition to his sheer size, Snyder boasts sticky hands as a receiver and the experience and quickness on defense to blow up plays before they develop.
“Ben Snyder is set to have a spectacular year, both at tight end and middle linebacker. He’s come into practice in the best shape of his life,” Conn said, adding that Snyder is bench pressing more than 300 pounds and running a 4.9-second 40-yard dash. “And he improves every time we time him.”
At 5-9 and 145 pounds, Clouthier may have the opposite build as Snyder, but he can be equally dangerous to the opposition.
The quarterback and free safety has a strong arm and the speed to scramble with the best of them. Conn, who likens Clouthier to a classier version of Johnny Manziel, said he’s looking sharp in the early going after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
“That certainly cramped our style last season,” Conn said of Clouthier’s injury. “But he’s healed now and ready to go, and he is performing extremely well. Jack is set to possibly break some records at Incline. He’s throwing the ball very well, and he has a talented group to throw to.”
Zissis, who took over at quarterback following Clouthier’s injury last season, is among the talented receiver corpse. Incline’s starting point guard in basketball, Zissis is about as quick and athletic as they come. Conn said the Highlanders will look to get the ball in his hands often, while on defense, the coach expects him to make plays as an outside linebacker.
After performing the dirty work for Incline on the offensive line in past seasons, Sunseri will have a chance display his athleticism and play-making ability as the Highlanders’ fullback and linebacker. He’s one of three team captains along with Clouthier and Snyder.
Senior Christian Bursell is new to the team but has already proven himself as a difference-maker as a sure-handed, 6-foot-2 receiver. Another senior, Adam Swick, will help anchor the offensive line, while receivers Will Cory and Drake Williams and kicker Krista Conn round out the group of seniors.
Incline’s talent does not drop off beyond its senior class.
Owen Graffis, a 5-11, 170-pound junior, returns as the Highlanders’ primary running back and a solid linebacker and defensive back.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Conn said of Graffis. “He has a very north-south running style, and he’s just lightning fast, so he’s going to get the majority of the carries. I expect him to have a fantastic year.”
Junior receiver and running back Matt Colby is the fastest player on the team, Conn said, while junior linebacker, lineman and fullback Michael Guymon is among Incline’s most physical players. “He’s always around the ball, and he definitely likes to hit,” Conn said of Guymon.
Aside from the skill players, Conn said the Highlanders should benefit from improved line play, with Guymon at times, Swick, Jerry Sanchez, Brandon Judd, Jesse Segoviano, Kaelen Pugh and Conor Devine.
“If there is an area of improvement that we are most proud of so far, it’s our line play. The guys on the line worked hard in the weight room over the summer,” Conn said. “If they perform well, then we will perform well.”
As far as Incline’s league, the traditionally strong teams such as Yerington, Pershing County and Battle Mountain graduated many of their top players. While Conn expects them to reload, he also expects his Highlanders to be right in the mix competing for a postseason berth.
“It’s going to be an interesting year in the league. Anybody has a shot at it,” he said. “Our key is just to stay healthy and deliver the blows instead of taking them this year.”