Oak Ridge football team ready to competeBy: Matt Long, Sports Editor
8-29 at Whitney
9-5 home vs. Vacaville
9-12 home vs. Burbank
9-19 home vs. Reed
9-26 home vs. Woodcreek
10-3 at Rocklin
10-10 home vs. Granite Bay
10-17 at Del Oro
10-24 home vs. Nevada Union
10-31 at Folsom
With a large senior class graduating, which included all but six starters from last year’s team, Oak Ridge High faces a bit of a rebuilding season.
For many teams, this would mean low expectations. For Oak Ridge, however, a program which never seems to be bothered much by the graduation of top players, it’s just another year.
Oak Ridge returns six players who started games last year and two are playing different positions. Ian Book returns at quarterback and his older brother, Nolan, returns at offensive tackle, as does fellow lineman Giuseppe Scalise. Ryan Sullivan got a few starts at defensive end a year ago and he’s back as a starter to begin this season.
The other two returning starters are in new positions. Dalton Santos will start at fullback after playing on the offensive line last year. Andrew Lackowski moves from cornerback to safety on the other side of the ball.
“We’ve got so many new kids our focus needs to be improving every day and every week,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “Hopefully, our preseason schedule will prepare us for league and our league will get us ready for the postseason. The Sierra Foothill League is so tough a number seven, eight or nine seed could be playing in a championship game. They will be battle tested.”
One area of no concern is at quarterback, where Ian Book returns for his junior year. He threw for 2,558 yards and 30 touchdowns and should be a better quarterback with a year’s experience under his belt. Santos will start and fullback and after starting at guard last season, he should be the best blocking back in the area. When Santos isn’t carrying the ball, he will be blocking for Stephen Douglas (253 yards, 2 TDs), Lackowski (297 yards, 2 TDs) and Gage Webb, who are penciled in to get a bulk of the carries.
Book will be passing to a new set of receivers. Tanner Emanuel and Kevin Kassis will start at wide receiver, while Ryan Sullivan is the tight end. Emanuel and Sullivan combined to catch 11 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown last year.
“These guys are doing a nice job,” Cavaliere said. “They played well seven-on-seven over the summer and can catch. Ryan is the most experienced out of the three and Tanner caught a ball or two last year. This group has a high ceiling and I believe our passing game will improve as the season continues.”
Book and Scalise lead the offensive line at tackle and guard, respectively. Connor Floden starts at the other tackle. Alex Chisick, John Moestopo and Bryson Klinefelter are battling for the starting positions at guard and center.
“The line is a little bigger than it was last year, which isn’t saying much because we weren’t very big last year,” Cavaliere said. “It’s a hard-working group and we’re going to put them in good position to be successful.”
Defensively, Lackowski is the only returning full-time starter and he moves from cornerback to safety this year. A year ago he made 46 tackles and led the team with six interceptions. Stephen Douglas or Camden Cicchetti will start at the other safety. Luke Goins, Scott Douglas and Kassis are battling for the two starting cornerback positions.
Book and Santos anchor the linebacking unit, while Anthony Palombi, Sam Woehler and Luke Woehler are battling for the starting job at the other linebacker spot.
Up front, Thomas Schmitt and Michael Bischoff will start at nose guard and defensive tackle, respectively, while Sullivan and Logan Delwiche are the ends.
“Logan has been doing a good job,” Cavaliere said. “We’ve had some good players in that position the last few years with Zach Claiborne two years ago and Max Braddock last year.”
Despite the high turnover of players from a year ago, Lackowski likes the defense.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys playing, but we look good,” Lackowski said. “I’m confident.”
With a majority of the team being new starters, improving each week and building depth will be the team’s key to success.
“We have a small senior class and a lot of seniors playing two ways, which is a bit unusual for us,” Cavaliere said. “Building depth is going to be important for us. We’re going to have to develop that next group and be able to rotate some guys in. We’re also going to have to continue to improve. We can’t get into a situation where we aren’t getting better each week.”
Lackowski added, “We just have to go out and play our game. We can’t be too hard on ourselves or put pressure on ourselves. We just have to relax and do what we do.”
As has been the case the last several years, Oak Ridge plays one of the tougher schedules every year and this year is no different. On top of the fact the Trojans are now members of the Sierra Foothill League, which includes Folsom, Del Oro, Granite Bay, Rocklin, Woodcreek and Nevada Union, the team’s four non-league games are against league champions from a year ago: Whitney, Vacaville, Burbank and Reed.
“If we get through the SFL, we’ll be ready for the playoffs no matter where we’re seeded,” Cavaliere said. “Right now, though, our focus is always on the next game. We take it one week at a time. We get the most we can out of every kid and see where we fall.”
Team camaraderie has helped the Trojans forge an unbreakable bond the last few years, which has helped the team overcome adversity, stick together and reach the Division I section title game in back-to-back seasons.
“Strong senior leadership and team camaraderie have been keys to our success the last two seasons,” Cavaliere said. “With a smaller senior class this year, we’re going to need strong leadership from that group and I believe we will get it.”
While the coaching staff takes the season one game at the time, Lackowski and Book have a clear goal in mind and that’s winning a section title.
“We want to get back to that section title game,” Lackowski said. “And win it.”