Incline football season preview | Highlanders ready to contend | SierraSun.com

Incline football season preview | Highlanders ready to contend

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com
Incline coach Scott Conn expects a big season from senior running back Owen Graffis, who rushed for over 1,100 yards last season.
Sylas Wright / North Lake Tahoe Bonanza |

Incline 2015 schedule

Aug. 28 at Portola 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 vs Burney 6 p.m.

Sept. 11 at Sierra Ridge 4 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs Quest Prep 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 vs Yerington 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs Pershing Co. 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 at W. Wendover 7 p.m.

Oct. 24 at Silver Stage 11 a.m.

Oct. 29 vs Battle Mtn 7 p.m.

Competing with the perennial powers of the Division III North — Yerington, Pershing County and Battle Mountain — is no simple task. But the Incline football program is one step closer in 2015.

For the first time in head coach Scott Conn’s four-year tenure, the Highlanders will start the season with both a varsity and junior varsity team.

“Barring injuries, we’re hoping to pull this off, because in order to build a program you really do need that JV feeder program,” said Conn, adding that the Highlanders are “right at the tipping point” of fielding two teams, with 15 players on varsity and 13 on JV.

While both squads are thin on numbers, the varsity team is full of experienced seniors.

“Most of our seniors have been with me all four years, so they know the system,” Conn said.

Leading the way are Incline’s four senior captains — Owen Graffis, Michael Guymon, Brandon Judd and Jerry Sanchez.

Graffis returns as the Highlanders’ leading rusher from last year, when he gained 1,106 yards on 153 carries (7.2-yard average), with 17 touchdowns. Speedy and athletic, he also plays a solid safety on defense.

Graffis will share touches with Guymon, a stoutly built fullback and middle linebacker who would rather initiate contact than avoid it. Conn said he wouldn’t be surprised if both of his backs rushed for over 1,000 yards.

As Incline’s kicker, Sanchez is known for his powerful right leg, but also for his blocking abilities on the offensive line and skills at outside linebacker. Judd anchors Incline’s offensive line at center and is capable on the defensive line.

Sanchez and Judd are joined on the O-line by seniors Jessie Segoviano, Alex Barnard and first-year player Carson Goetz, whom Conn described as a rock climber who is “really strong.” Senior Charlie Zendner will rely on his speed and good hands to replace standout tight end Ben Snyder, who is now playing for Stanford University as an invited walk-on.

Conn holds high hopes for his line, which calls itself the “Black Shirt Foundation.”

“I’m excited about our offensive line this year. They are our core,” he said. “They have special shirts that only the linemen wear, and they wear it around school proudly. Their motto is, ‘It all starts here.’”

Barnard, Sanchez and Zendner make up Incline’s linebacking corps along with Guymon, as the Highlanders are switching from a 3-5 defensive alignment to a 4-4. The other offensive lineman also play on the defensive line.

Aside from losing Snyder from last year’s team, which went 5-5 before losing to Yerington in the opening playoff round, the Highlanders also graduated standout quarterback and defensive back Jack Clouthier, running back and linebacker Joe Sunseri, and receiver and defensive back Christian Bursell, among others.

Senior Kelsey Philpott is set to take over at QB after missing last season. Philpott played running back his sophomore year and has shown the kind of athleticism and arm strength that Conn was seeking at the position.

“We expect to use him in all ways possible. He’s mobile and should be exciting,” Conn said.

Philpott will have some attractive options to throw to, including first-year player Tanner Quenneville, who excels in lacrosse and basketball.

“Tanner is one of the best athletes in the school,” Conn said. “We were finally able to convince him to come out, and he’s going to be exciting to watch this year. He’s a hard worker. In fact, all our seniors are hard workers.”

Senior receiver Joey Stranzl is is a “big, tough, fast kid” and should make plays this season, Conn said, while receiver Conor Nix stands out as the only junior on the team. Conn said Stranzl also plays defensive end and is expected to help seal the edge, which Incline struggled to do last year.

“One of our problems on defense last year was everyone knew they could run outside on us,” the coach said.

As for Incline’s league, two-time defending state champion Yerington is the team to beat, as the Lions return almost their entire team from last season. Yerington owns nine state titles in all.

“Yerington will be tremendously good. They’re the measuring stick,” Conn said.

Seven-time state champion Pershing County is always competitive, as is five-time state champion Battle Mountain.

“You can’t count Pershing County out. They have a good program and good coaching staff,” Conn said. “And Battle Mountain is always tough.”

Conn expects West Wendover, which had a young team last year, to be improved. Silver Stage is in rebuilding mode with a new head coach, while Rite of Passage will not field a team in 2015.

Incline, which scrimmaged last week, will get its first real taste of action with a nonleague game at Portola on Friday. The Highlanders have four preseason games in all and open league play at home against Yerington on Sept. 25. They’ll take on Burney in their home opener on Sept. 4.