Truckee football season preview | Wolverines regaining their swagger | SierraSun.com

Truckee football season preview | Wolverines regaining their swagger

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com
Truckee fullback and linebacker Wulfe Retzlaff was among the top talents for the Wolverines as a sophomore last year.
Sylas Wright / Sierra Sun |

2015 Truckee football schedule

Aug. 28 vs. Yerington 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Fallon 7 p.m.

Sept. 12 vs. Lowry 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 19 vs. Dayton 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Elko 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 at Sparks 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 vs. Spring Creek 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 16 at Fernley 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Wooster 7 p.m.

Oct. 31 vs. South Tahoe 1:30 p.m.

Two years without a playoff appearance is a rare and epic drought in Wolverine country, where Truckee football fans were spoiled to the tune of four consecutive state championships between 2009 and 2012.

All signs point to a team on the rise, however, and 2015 could be the year that the former Division I-A powerhouse returns to prominence.

“We had intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. We let ‘em go at it for 20 minutes, and it was pleasing to see the competitive nature of the team,” said Josh Ivens, who’s entering his third year as head coach. “It’s a group that loves football. They’re excited about the season.”

When Ivens, a Truckee alumnus and longtime assistant coach, took over in 2013, he inherited a program that was slim on numbers and standout talent. The Wolverines struggled through their 2013 campaign, finishing 3-6 and failing to make the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

It was a drastic fall from the top for such a proud program, given Truckee’s 12 collective state championships and 41-game winning streak amid its four-peat, which ranked among the nation’s longest.

The Wolverines showed improvement in 2014 thanks in part to a large and skilled sophomore class that helped bolster the roster. They finished 5-5, but shy of a postseason berth.

Truckee will rely heavily in 2015 on that now-junior class, which makes up the bulk of the team with 20 of its 30 players. The rest of the roster breaks down to nine seniors and one sophomore.

“We’re young,” said Ivens, adding that Truckee has an additional four or five juniors who are playing JV. “We have a lot of juniors who are going to be big-time players for us. We’re looking to lean on those guys.”

The breakdown

Ivens said the strength of this year’s team might be its offensive line, which boasts experience, size and depth.

Projected starters include seniors Erik Swalander (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and Taylor Ludwig (6-3, 240), and juniors Orlander Simms (6-3, 280), Jayme Nelson (5-10, 195) and Riley Welch (6-1, 180). Conor Jacobs (6-0, 195) is penciled in at tight end.

Swalander, a three-year varsity starter, established himself as the strongest player on the team after he power cleaned 315 pounds — a school record — at the Wolverines’ lift-a-thon fundraiser in June.

“Really our experience is going to be up front. That’s where it starts,” Ivens said. “We’re also pretty deep up front with backups.”

While Truckee coaches would love to platoon the offensive and defensive lines to keep players fresh, Ivens said the anchors of the O-line will likely see time on both sides of the ball.

“The reality is that they are some of our best defensive linemen too,” the coach said. “But we have some guys who can go in and spell guys on either line.”

Junior Tyler Davis will likely start at quarterback after taking over the starting job midway through his sophomore season. Davis experienced his fare share of success last year, but he also took his lumps behind an under-experienced line.

Jayden Commendatore, also a junior, has proven himself as a capable backup QB, Ivens said, or even a starter if he were called upon. Ivens described Commendatore as a smart and athletic player with the ability to play multiple positions, including receiver, tight end and linebacker, among others.

As for the skill positions, senior wingback and free safety Sean Bokinskie stands out as one of the Wolverines’ primary playmakers, Ivens said. Junior Cole Harrity should get plenty of action at halfback, while juniors Carson McCarron and Wulfe Retzlaff, an All-League talent on offense and defense as a sophomore, will get carries at fullback. Junior Jack Englert could be Truckee’s best receiver, Ivens said.

Truckee’s dominant teams of the past were known for their staunch linebacking corps. Ivens likes what he sees at linebacker this year, too, with Retzlaff and three-year varsity starter JJ Bellon in the middle, and Commendatore and Harrity on the outside. Retzlaff led the team in tackles last year, with 113.

Junior kicker and punter Jose Araiza also returns after making first team All-League as a sophomore.

The competition

With all the former Division I schools that were allowed to drop a classification in recent years, the Division I-A could be stronger than ever across the board, Ivens said.

Fallon and Elko, two of the largest schools in the Northern DI-A, were solid playoff contenders last year and should be again, Ivens said. High school sports website Maxpreps.com ranks Elko No. 1 in the division.

Ivens also expects Fernley to field a winning team, as the Vaqueros are always athletic, and for Spring Creek to surprise people this season. South Tahoe, Sparks and Wooster were all young last year and should be improved in 2015. The wildcards could be Lowry, which has played deep into the postseason in recent years but is under the direction of a new coach, as well as Dayton, which also has a new coach.

“To me, everybody is strong and we respect all of our opponents,” Ivens said. “We go in with the same attitude that they are going to get after us, and we have to get after them.”

Despite the large schools in the DI-A — some with enrollments exceeding 2,000 students — Truckee’s southern nemesis, Moapa Valley, is both the smallest school in the division and the defending state champion. Truckee, which clashed with Moapa Valley in five consecutive state championships from 2008 to 2012, is the second-smallest school in the DI-A.

“Truckee was able to reload for many years, and I feel like for the first time since the ‘90s, we’ve had to rebuild,” Ivens said, referring to the past two seasons. “We’ve had low numbers. Last year we were repping with 21 guys out there.

“But I don’t expect as many distractions this year with this group. They seem more focused. They love football and they are committed on and off the field. It’s a very positive atmosphere at practice. The team chemistry is there, and also the athleticism and football savviness, which we’ve kind of lacked the last couple years.”

The Wolverines will open the season with a nonleague game Aug. 28 against Yerington, which has dominated the Division III en route to back-to-back state titles.

“A lot of the teams in our league play up (against the D-I), but it’s usually kind of against the bottom feeders. I’d rather play down against a team that’s competing for state championships, even though they are a smaller school. I mean, we’re a smaller school,” Ivens said. “I think they’ll be hungry this year. We shut them out last year (14-0), and then they went on to average like 40 points a game. So we’re expecting a battle.”

Truckee’s opener will be played on a Friday night, marking the first time the Wolverines have ever hosted a game under the lights. They’re bringing in portable lights for the occasion.

Before then, Truckee will tune up with a scrimmage against Lassen this Saturday starting at 11 a.m.