North Tahoe football preview | Big changes for independent Lakers

Sylas Wright

Alex Bourriague competes against Whittell in a home game last season. Bourriague and the Lakers will play under independent status, with four eight-man games and three 11-man.
File photo |

The Lakers’ 2013 football season will go down as the year of firsts — and with any luck, the one that turned around a reeling program.

After years of struggling with numbers, often to the point of forfeiting games with a dearth of able bodies, North Tahoe football was granted independent status for the next three seasons by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

With that independent status, North Tahoe for the first time in its history will play eight-man football in four of its seven games.

“We just wanted to play schools that have similar program situations to what we have, with no JV team,” said longtime North Tahoe coach Scott Everist, whose Lakers competed before in the top-heavy Northern Division III, with perennial powers such as Pershing County, Battle Mountain and Yerington.

“Eight-man football is still football. It’s still tough and the kids are strong. But with only 15 kids, we just couldn’t compete with some of the teams in our league. We hope to get some wins and build the program. We’ll see how we do.”

Barring cancellation due to unhealthy air quality — as smoke from area wildfires canceled most athletic events this past weekend — North Tahoe will get its first taste of eight-man football on Saturday when Division IV Pyramid Lake comes to town to kick off the season. It may also mark the first football meeting against a school of the same name, the Lakers.

Everist said he has 14 healthy players for the opener. He expects 20 at full capacity. “We are pretty banged up,” he said, adding that the cancellation of the team’s scrimmage this past Saturday may not have been such a bad thing after all.

Aside from Pyramid Lake, Everist scheduled games against Division IV schools Whittell, Coleville and Carlin, Division III schools Silver Stage and Incline, and Elliot Christian (Calif.). Division IV programs play eight-man football; Division III programs and larger play 11-man. (Whittell, a former member of the Division III, had a small enough enrollment to move down to the Division IV in the offseason.)

“It was a lot of work to make a football schedule. You don’t have to put as much work into it when you have a normal league because you already have the five or six (league) games, and then you just have to get some games early on. But you have to search around and find games as an independent,” Everist said, adding that this year’s schedule saves the Lakers significant travel time, with the elimination of the farthest-away games in eastern Nevada.

As far as playing eight-man football, Everist said the Lakers welcome the new experience. The eight-man game typically favors the offense, which makes for high-scoring, entertaining action — think high school basketball scores.

“It makes for fun football because there are a lot of points scored,” the coach said. “We’ve been telling the kids if someone scores on you, don’t get disappointed because you’ll get right back at ‘em.”

As opposed to a normal, 11-man field, which measures 100 yards long (120 counting the end zones) and 53.3 yards wide, the eight-man field is 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. Everist said eight-man teams in Nevada often keep the length at 100 yards, however.

Coaches employ many different formations, depending on which three positions they choose to leave off the field. Typically, they eliminate a couple of offensive linemen plus a receiver, while on defense, a lineman and two defensive backs are removed from the equation. But coaches can, and do, get creative.

Everist thinks he has the right personnel to play a mean eight-man game, with a core of eight to 10 hard-working players.

The biggest impact players include four-year starter Jordy Holst anchoring the offensive and defensive lines, senior receiver and cornerback Alex Bourriague, and junior quarterback Brandon Hayakawa. Bourriague, who was the starting quarterback last season, gives the Lakers the option of two QBs. “Alex is a great athlete, which is why we had him at quarterback last year. He also has terrific hands, so we’ll try to utilize that at the wideout position,” Everist said.

The coach described Hayakawa as a “tough kid” with good vision, mobility and tenaciousness. “He wants to make plays happen,” he said. Holst, who has “been through the hard times” in his four years on the team, Everist said, is a beast in the weight room and one of the team’s main leaders along with Bourriague.

With Hayakawa running the offense, the Lakers hope to spread the ball around and become more versatile than they were before — and put more points on the board.

“We’ve always been a grind-your-nose offense, where we like running the ball. But we’re spreading the field now and trying a bunch of new stuff, trying to move the ball around as much as possible and be a little bit more explosive on offense,” Everist said. “We’ll find out Saturday what we’ve got. It should be interesting.”

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