Truckee football preview | 36 and counting | SierraSun.com

Truckee football preview | 36 and counting

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com

File photoTruckee senior Erik Holmer reacts after catching the game-winning touchdown against Fallon in the state semifinal last year. Holmer, who has a dislocated thumb and is questionable for Saturday's season opener, will be the Wolverines' starting quarterback and linebacker.

Bob Shaffer’s biggest fear entering his team’s bid for a fourth consecutive undefeated season has become a reality and#8212; and the season hasn’t even begun.

The Wolverines, winners of 36 straight games, which is sixth-best in the nation in 11-man high school football, have already been stung by the injury bug.

and#8220;We’re thin on numbers, thin on depth and we have several injuries. Not a good way to start at all,and#8221; said Shaffer, who has 34 players on his roster, which is down from last year’s 41.

A handful of key players have already suffered injuries in practice or scrimmages, while five would-be senior starters opted not to come out for the team this year, Shaffer said.

Chief among the injured is senior running back and linebacker Jake Pettit, a returning All-League selection who suffered a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in a scrimmage against Quincy this past Friday. Shaffer said Pettit will be sidelined two to four weeks.

Senior starting quarterback and linebacker Erik Holmer also was injured in the scrimmage, as he dislocated the thumb on his right (throwing) hand and is questionable for Saturday’s season opener against Lowry, Shaffer said. Junior backup Lowden Smith will start in his place if he’s unable to go.

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In addition to Holmer and Pettit, senior All-League linebacker and running back Graham Christian is nursing a sore shoulder that was operated on in the offseason, senior wingback and defensive back Tyler Griffin is struggling with a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season, and senior linebacker and offensive lineman Julian Aguirre sat out Friday’s scrimmage with a pulled hamstring.

Despite the spate of injuries, however, the Wolverines still have plenty of able bodies, and are poised to make a serious run at a fourth consecutive state championship in the newly created Division I-A (formerly 3A).

and#8220;The thing I will say is that in the past when we’ve had injuries, we’ve always had somebody who stepped up to the plate and filled that void and did a real good job for us. We’re hoping to have that happen again this year,and#8221; Shaffer said. and#8220;These injuries the last couple weeks have been a bit of a blow, but we think we’re filling the spots correctly, and we’re going from there.and#8221;

With fewer men on the roster, Shaffer said the Wolverines no longer have the luxury to use players on just one side of the ball. Instead, most of the impact players will go three ways and#8212; offense, defense and special teams and#8212; including Holmer, who will become the first Truckee quarterback to also start on defense since Chris Rendon in 1997, Shaffer said.

Holmer follows a long line of standout Truckee quarterbacks and#8212; most recently Pat Shaffer and Ben Bolton and#8212; and his coach expects him to continue the tradition.

and#8220;He brings experience. He’s played quarterback quite a bit,and#8221; Shaffer said of Holmer, who quarterbacked the junior varsity before last season, when he made some of Truckee’s biggest plays of the year as a receiver, including a game-winning catch against Fallon in the state semifinal.

and#8220;His ability to not only throw but run the ball gives us an added dimension that we didn’t have last year at the quarterback spot. He’s a bigger body (6-3, 210), and he runs well in space and is a tough kid to bring down.and#8221;

Shaffer compared Holmer’s arm strength to that of Pat Shaffer and#8212; and#8220;It’s not as strong as Ben’s, but it’s definitely adequate enough for what we need him to do.and#8221;

Holmer will throw the ball to a committee of receivers, including seniors Austin Griffin, Sam Mohun and Daniel Nunez and junior Sean Daniel, while senior Tyler Curtis and Pettit (when healthy) are the Wolverines’ top returning running backs. Christian, who played defense only last year, also will receive some carries at running back, Shaffer said, as will senior Javier Virrey and junior Austin Vance.

Anchoring the offensive and defensive lines are seniors Benito Gurrola, Julian Aguirre and Nico Duner, as well as seniors Zak Pettit and Curtis at the defensive end positions. Seniors Austin Griffin, Justin Carter and Virrey are holding down the secondary, while the final cornerback spot is up for grabs, Shaffer said.

The Wolverines couldn’t ignore their 36-game win streak if they tried. It’s the talk of the league, and the players are well aware of the pressure associated with such a run.

and#8220;I’m sure they feel it. That’s all everybody talks about, in the community, outside the community, I mean, there’s all kinds of attention on that,and#8221; Shaffer said. and#8220;But I think the kids have done a pretty good job of handling it. Obviously they realize where they’re at and what they have in front of them. And we’ve talked to them quite a bit about, we’re not worried about the streak as much as we’re trying to win Game 1. Then everything else falls into place.and#8221;

The Wolverines will face one of their biggest tests right off the bat with Lowry coming to town Saturday. The Buckaroos have been among the top teams in the Northern 3A the past several years, and again should field a solid team this year, Shaffer said.

The coach also expects to receive a stiff challenge from Fallon, which nearly pulled off upset victories over Truckee twice last season, as well as Elko, Spring Creek, Dayton and Fernley.

But that’s no different than any other year. The big question mark in 2012 is the new additions to the league, whose name changed in the offseason from 3A to Division I-A. The new league added Wooster in the north, while the south gained nine large schools from the Division I (formerly 4A) that have struggled to compete at that level in most sports. They include Cheyenne, Clark, Faith Lutheran, Mojave, Pahrump Valley, Western, Chaparral, Desert Pines and Sunrise Mountain.

and#8220;Come playoff time, it’s going to be a huge difference-maker,and#8221; Shaffer said. and#8220;We’re opening this school year with about 580 kids, and we’re going to be playing schools with 2,580 kids. So I’m not sure how that equates just yet. We’re going to find out as the year plays on. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how Moapa Valley, Virgin Valley and Boulder City do down there against those schools. That will probably be a good measuring stick.and#8221;