North Tahoe football season preview | Resurgent Lakers excited about future | SierraSun.com

North Tahoe football season preview | Resurgent Lakers excited about future

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com
Quarterback Thomas Mercogliano, shown Tuesday at practice, is one of 13 freshmen on the North Tahoe football team.
Sylas Wright / Sierra Sun |

North Tahoe 2015 schedule

8/29 vs. Excel Christian 1 p.m.

9/5 vs. Sierra Lutheran 1 p.m.

9/12 at Loyalton 1 p.m.

9/18 at Lone Pine 7 p.m.

9/25 at Carlin 6 p.m.

10/3 vs. Owyhee 1 p.m.

10/9 at Wells 7 p.m.

10/16 at Eureka 5 p.m.

10/24 vs. Whittell 1 p.m.

What a difference a year can make.

Last year at this time, North Tahoe football coach Scott Everist was digesting the unfortunate news that the Lakers did not have enough players to field a team.

Now, after a one-year hiatus, Everist and staff could not be more excited about the future of the program, which returns to the gridiron with robust numbers thanks to a large and promising freshmen class.

“It’s a pretty good turnout. Our numbers haven’t been this high in a while,” Everist said of the 24 players out for the team — perhaps the highest since the mid 2000s. “It’s exciting to be able to play again.”

The Lakers’ resurgence follows a nearly decade-long struggle with numbers. As a result, North Tahoe switched from 11-man to 8-man football before the 2013 season and was granted three years of independent status by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA).

But after a relatively successful 2013 campaign, only eight players showed up for the first day of practice last year, forcing Everist to scrap the season.

It seemed at the time like a crushing blow to the program and community, which remembers fondly the Lakers’ glory years that began when the school opened in 1974. Under legendary high school coach Ken Dalton, the Lakers won four consecutive Pioneer League championships and two Northern California CIF “AA” championships. They went on to win a Nevada 2A state title in 1986 under coach Dave Brolliar, and from 1989 through 2001 won 91 games under head coach Bill Freeman

While Everist does not expect an immediate return to such prominence, he’s encouraged by the potential of his young team, which is made up of 13 freshmen, one sophomore, six juniors and four seniors.

“What we’re excited about as coaches is that it seems like everyone is really coachable and willing to learn. They’re excited that we have a football team and they want to play,” said Everist, who is looking forward to returning to the NIAA’s Division III next season. “Those are key ingredients there. Hopefully we have something running.”

North Tahoe enters Saturday’s home opener against Excel Christian with an eager group of mostly underclassmen. At least three freshmen are slated to start — quarterback/defensive back Thomas Mercogliano, tight end/linebacker Eli Snyder and lineman Ethan Everist.

Coach Everist described Mercogliano as a good athlete with speed and an accurate arm. Snyder — the younger brother of former Incline standout Ben Snyder, who’s now a walk-on at Stanford University — brings size at 6-foot-3, sticky hands and above-average speed. Ethan Everist, the coach’s son, is among the larger players on the team at 6-4 and 218 pounds.

The young players will be joined by several experienced veterans, including senior Jacob Buhler, a 6-4, 225-pound tight end, guard and defensive end, and Julio Carrillo, a 5-8, 240-pound senior fullback and linebacker. Juniors Martin Barrera, at 5-8, 310 pounds, and James McKelvey, at 6-foot, 190, also bring skill and experience to the offensive and defensive lines.

Another returner, junior Nathan Lutz, has proven himself as a capable running back, while first-year junior Brett Hurt has been a pleasant surprise at tight end and linebacker, Everist said. The coach also expects solid play in the secondary from David Hoffman, a junior, and Cam Rock, a freshman.

Expect an exciting brand of football when the Lakers hit the field. It’s the nature of the 8-man game, which typically favors offenses and lends itself to more trickery.

“The game is a lot more wide open, that’s for sure,” Everist said. “It’s usually a little more high-scoring, just because it’s hard to play defense.”

By rule, an 8-man field should measure 40-by-80 yards. But that’s not always the case, as some fields use the 11-man dimensions of 52-by-100 yards.

“When it’s really wide, things can really get away from you quick,” Everist said.