By Ryan Lengerich
Everyone it seems has an opinion about what the defending state champion Rattlers must do to fill the void left by eight graduated seniors including four starters.
“I think most of it’s heart,” Nick Wiegal, junior defensive end, tight end and full back said. “I think there are some freshman who come up with a lot of size but they just need to build some heart. They have the strength and size but it’s all inside.”
Junior Michael Baca said the team’s strength lies in its leaders.
“We need these seniors to step up,” he said. “My freshman year the seniors didn’t show me anything, these seniors this year it seems do a little better.”
As many Rattler players compete on offense and defense, role players become the team’s crutch.
“We don’t have the depth that we really need to make that championship run,” head coach Dub Smith said. “So those young kids are going to be really important.”
This year’s Rattler squad is dealing with the graduation of Sam Nunn, Jake Jiménez, Pablo Pacheco, Bernie Banuelos and four other players Smith said could play anywhere on the field.
“Those guys we lost were quality players,” Smith said.
Junior Chris McCasland will move from wide receiver to quarterback for Nunn who earned honors as a first team district quarterback and an all-state linebacker.
Jiménez, an all-state offensive and defensive tackle will leave a hole in the middle on both sides of the ball. Wiegal said the experience and leadership Jiménez brought to the defense could be the most difficult to replace.
“Jake was the heart of our team,” Wiegal said. “He was always there when we were down, he would pick us up. He was the biggest leader for us.”
In the backfield Pablo Pacheco left the Rattlers as a first team district running back. Bernie Banuelos was a first team district center and all-state place kicker who clinched last years championship with a field goal.
Despite this year’s losses, Baca said there haven’t been any drastic position changes. Baca said the biggest change will be moving to defensive end from the linebacker spot where senior Able Vargus will take over.
Baca said the switch made sense because he feels comfortable on the end and Vargus has improved with the move to linebacker.
Tightening up the line will be a concern for the Rattlers where the freshman will be called upon to step up. Smith said the coaches try not to put any added pressure on the freshman.
“When they get five games behind them we feel like by district competition they will be ready to help us,” Smith said. “At the same time we don’t push them too quick.”
While there is no mandatory routine, many Rattlers used this summer to prepare for the season. Baca said himself, McCasland and Jonathan Reno spent the summer lifting, sprinting and running bleachers and the work paid off.
“We did that on our own and the coaches were just happy to see us do it,” Baca said. “You can tell who has been working.”
Early in the season the main difference between this and last years team is depth, Smith said. He said he is pleased with the effort his players have put forth early this season as they begin their title defense.
“I do know that there are going to be some real good football teams coming back,” he said. “So I think the whole key to our season is going to be heart, work ethic and really getting after it.”