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Shaffer hopes experience, practice will pay off

JAMES BALL

Entering his 20th season as a football coach, Tahoe-Truckee High School Wolverine coach Bob Shaffer has learned not to be in the business of prognosticating.

Still, he is optimistic about the chances the team will return to playoffs this year.

Under the helm of experienced senior quarterback Chris Gerdin, the Wolverines return 18 players from last year’s 10-1 squad, losing 17 graduating seniors.

And the shoes the team has to fill are large, with names like DeCoite, Archer, Cross, Avilla and Detwiler having moved on to college.

Even with key perimeter players gone, Shaffer knows the game of football is fought and won in the three or four yards of the opposing lines, and that is where the Wolverines are strongest this year.

“If you win the trench war, you usually win,” said Shaffer. “It’s a good place for us to start because we have experience on both the offensive and defensive lines.”

This strength, Shaffer hopes, will carry the team while the DBs and receivers learn their game.

Offense

On the offensive side of things, Gerdin will QB with former junior varsity standout and junior Carson Specht at backup.

David DeCoite will handle wingback with David Wells returning at center. Josh Hunt and Ty Lewis will return at tackle.

Shaffer said Geoff Hovorka, Mark Theil and Paul DeCarlo are battling it out for receiver position.

For the running backs, things are not quite set, according to the coach. Josh Wilson will start at fullback, but the halfback and tight end positions are up in the air. Currently, senior Jeff Andrs and sophomore Casey Nelson are vying to replace Andrew “Rudy” Cross, the 1,500-yard wonder of the 1997 season. At tight end, Jesse Quintana and Josh Anagnos will fight it out.

Defense

Brad Noel will return at tackle, while Brandon Anderson will be back at defensive end. At defensive tackle, Josh Hunt will assume the duty.

At one inside linebacker position, Seth Scribner is slated, but David Wells and Zack Wilson are fighting for the other.

Jeff Andrs and Josh Anagnos are competing for the strong safety position, with Robbie McClendon set at the free safety position.

Shaffer said he is looking at three players for the two defensive corner positions; Victor Corral, Chris Birchard and DeCarlo. Jarred Fleetwood and Tudi Corral will likely play outside linebacker.

Special teams

In a Charles Woodson-like move, Gerdin and Theil will do double duty for the Wolverines, with both players handling kickoff and extra points.

“They both have strong legs and a good kicking game,” Shaffer said.

Theil and Anderson will handle punting, but Shaffer said players need not get used to double-duty.

“We’re trying to get away from that as the younger guys gain some experience,” he said.

The air game

Shaffer said Wolverine fans won’t have to wait as long this year to see some passing. With Gerdin’s experience, Shaffer hopes to lengthen the field for his quarterback.

“We expect Chris to understand a lot more things this year than he did last year. He’ll throw the ball from the beginning. We’re going to stretch (opponents) defensively.”

Gerdin himself has higher expectations on the field.

“I’m expecting more from myself this year,” Gerdin said before practice Tuesday morning. “I’d like to work on my running a bit, but I feel a lot more confident passing.”

Gerdin said he expects the team to win state this year, and said Truckee has a psychological advantage over Virgin Valley, the team which beat Truckee in the game before state in 1997.

“Revenge is always a factor.”

Waiting in the wings is Specht, who is no stranger to success, having never lost a game in two years of junior varsity play. Still, he knows he’s in the big leagues now.

“It’s a lot quicker paced game with a lot tougher opponents,” said Specht, who is also a candidate for receiver. “I think I’ve grown, as well. I’m ready to go in when they put me in.”

Working with Gerdin in a Montana/Young relationship of mentor and protege, Specht said his apprenticeship is just beginning.

“I’ve learned a lot (from Gerdin) like how to read defenses and learn from your mistakes,” Specht said. “Just from watching him practice, I’ve learned. I’m glad to be learning from him.”

The relationship has been beneficial for the veteran quarterback, as well.

“From the way I’m teaching him, I’m learning about myself, too,” Gerdin said.

“If Chris has a bad day or a bad game, I wouldn’t hesitate to move Carson in there at all,” Shaffer said. “He’s grown tremendously during the off-season.”

In fact, the younger players are just getting a taste of the big-time as practice, which has been going on for nearly two weeks, rolls on toward the season.

“We’re stronger than we’ve ever been overall, but the key are the juniors who’ve moved up from JV and how they have to fill those spots,” said Shaffer. “As we pick up the pace of varsity competition, they’re finding out things go a little faster here. The hits are a little harder and the guys they play against get a little bigger.”

The schedule

Truckee opens with an away game at Manogue Saturday, Sept. 5, at 12:30 p.m., a team the Wolverines have not faced in several years.

“That’s always been a good contest,” said Shaffer. “I’m excited to have them back on our schedule.”

On Sept. 12, Truckee’s home opener is against Las Plumas, a Sacramento school with 1,400 students.

On Sept. 19, Truckee takes on Sacramento’s Christian Brothers, another new face on the schedule.

If the early-season schedule looks different than in previous years, it is not by accident. Conspicuously absent from this year’s lineup are Incline and Hawthorne.

Shaffer said it is by design Truckee will play tougher teams before getting into division play, which starts Oct. 3 against Spring Creek.

In past years, scores have been so lopsided in the Truckee advantage that the team has not had a chance to evaluate potential weaknesses which can take their toll during division and post-season play.

“We didn’t learn about ourselves and our team because everything we tried worked,” Shaffer said of previous years. “This year we’ll find out early what we need to spend more time on.”

Coaches and fans will get an early look at the Wolverines in two scrimmages Friday. Beginning at noon at Surprise Stadium Truckee takes on 4A Lassen and Live Oak.

Shaffer said the scrimmages will give players a chance to get on film for evaluation and to take a step back and look at what is and what is not working.

So what are Shaffer’s thoughts on the schedule?

Spring Creek: “They’ll be a stepping stone for us as far as finding out what our playoff contention is. They’re working hard to come in and knock us off.”

Fernley: “We’ll learn a lot about ourselves in this one. We were the only ones to beat them last year.” Twenty starters return.

North Tahoe: A young group. “Much better this year.”

Virgin Valley: (potential post-season) “They made state playoffs two years in a row and lost. I remember how motivated we were after we lost twice in a row.”

To sum up the 1998 season before it gets under way, Shaffer offers this assessment: “We’ve got a good senior class. Since they were freshmen they’ve had lots of success. They know how to win.”

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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