Incline football season preview: Highlanders low on experience, high on talent | SierraSun.com

Incline football season preview: Highlanders low on experience, high on talent

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — First-year Incline football coach Michael Sacci has one goal, above all, heading into his inaugural season at the helm.

"My goal is to get these kids playing football the right way," said Sacci, who previously served as an assistant coach all four years of Scott Conn's tenure. "Winning and losing is not my No. 1 focus. If the kids can just understand the basics of football, go out there and have some success, win or lose, we're going to have a successful season."

Truth is, with only five seniors and two juniors strapping on helmets this fall, Sacci will be fielding a young and inexperienced 20-man squad in 2016 — a stark contrast from last year's team, which touted 12 seniors, all starters.

But what the Highlanders — who finished 4-5 last season — lack in experience, they will try to make up for in talent, speed and cohesion, Sacci said.

"This is probably the best year of team cohesion that I've ever seen at Incline," he added. "The kids just want to be around each other — they want to be out there at practice."

At the forefront are seniors Nick Barnard and Conor Nix, who will look to set the tone on both sides of the ball, said Sacci.

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A "do-it-all" player, Nix will be called on to be Incline's long snapper and free safety as well as a featured back in the team's newly implemented Wing-T offense.

The senior will look to help fill the shoes of graduate Owen Graffis, who led the team in rushing last year with a whopping 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished his three-year varsity career with an impressive 2,645 yards and 30 touchdowns.

While Sacci isn't expecting to replicate Graffis' chain-moving production out of the gate, the first-year coach is hoping his new offense — replete with misdirection plays — can put the Highlanders in position to drive defenses down the field.

"We run a Wing-T, so we're supposed to be a deceptive offense, and that's what we're hoping to accomplish this year," Sacci said. "We're definitely a ball-pounding team — 90 percent of the time, we're running."

Feeding the ball to Nix will be first-year starting quarterback Barnard (5-foot-10, 150 pounds), who threw for 90 yards in limited action a year ago. Defensively, Barnard, who Sacci called "a fearless leader," will start at middle linebacker.

In the trenches, linemen Kaelan Pugh (6-0, 215 pounds) and Blaise Bibolet (6-0, 190 pounds) will anchor the Highlanders on both ends.

Additionally, Sacci said freshman Jeffrey Snyder, who will start at fullback and nose guard, should be one of many impactful newcomers.

"This year is very strongly focused on rebuilding and keeping the kids safe," Sacci said. "We want them all to come back and give me four years of football — my goal is keeping their interest in football."

Incline kicks off the season at 7 p.m. Friday with a nonconference game at home against area rival North Tahoe.

2016 INCLINE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Aug. 26 vs. North Tahoe, 7 p.m.

Sept. 2 at Sierra Ridge/Rite of Passage, 2 p.m.

Sept. 10 at Silver Stage, 3 p.m.

Sept. 16 at West Wendover, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. Yerington, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 vs. White Pine, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs. Pershing County

Oct. 21 at Battle Mountain, 7 p.m.

Oct. 27 vs. Silver Stage, 7 p.m.