Bear River acclimates its juniors

Bruins will depend on class that was undefeated at freshman and JV levels
By: Ray Hacke, Journal Sports Writer
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LAKE OF THE PINES — If won/lost records serve as report cards for football teams, then Bear River High’s junior class has gotten straight A’s the past two years. Now that those juniors are at the varsity level, however, earning a passing grade is going to be much harder. “Many of those juniors are not tested at the varsity level yet,” Bruins co-coach Scott Savoie said. “How we do will depend on how fast they improve.” Bear River’s juniors have yet to lose a high school game, having gone a combined 20-0 as members of the Bruins’ freshman and junior varsity teams. Still, the juniors are already learning that the jump from JV to varsity is like transferring from a regular class to an honors course — earning high marks, in the form of victories, will require a lot of additional hard work. “The game speed is double what JV was,” junior rover Cody Van Fossen said. “It’s so much more exciting and so much more physical.” Bear River’s juniors will face their first big exam of the season Friday night when the Bruins host Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI runner-up Capital Christian. “They should be tested a lot,” Bear River fullback/linebacker Jason Varni said. “In our scrimmage (last) Friday night against Nevada Union, you could tell they had a different look in their eyes — they realized what varsity football is all about. “Some of them stood up and took it straight on. Others kneeled a little bit. They’ll definitely be tested and see what they’re made of.” Bear River is hoping to return to the section playoffs this season after a one-year absence. The Bruins went 6-3-1 last season and placed third in the Pioneer Valley League, but only two playoff slots were awarded. Leading the charge for the Bruins will be senior quarterback Tanner Mathias. Bear River’s starting tight end last season, the 6-foot-3 Mathias was also the Bruins’ backup signal-caller and has already gained the confidence of coaches and teammates. “He’s coming around really well,” co-coach Terry Logue said. “He’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s got to work on his reads, but once he gets his reads down he’s going to be really good.” “Tanner’s always been the leader of this football team since freshman year,” Varni said. “He stands up in big games and makes good decisions in the pocket.” Replacing Mathias at tight end will be senior Brett Bothelio and junior Will Gray. Garrett Barbic is the lone All-Pioneer Valley League selection Bear River has returning this season. The senior wide receiver led the Bruins with 44 catches for 700 yards and three touchdowns and is expected to be a big part of the offense again this season. Bear River has a deep corps of running backs. Senior Cris Parfitt, who averaged 8.5 yards a carry and 81.6 yards a game on just 48 carries last season, will split time at halfback with speedy junior Johnny Jewett. Varni and fellow senior Brandon Vallero will handle the chores at fullback, while senior Nolan Lewis and junior Cole White are both expected to see time at wingback. The offensive line will be anchored by returning senior Erik Szkotak at center. Junior Garret Davis will be in the rotation with seniors Cody O’Brien and Nick Michaud at the tackle spots. Seniors Drew Wilson and Brandon Robinson and junior Brett Gatto will take turns manning the guard spots. Defensively, senior C.J. Rider and junior Robby Burr will play tackle, with senior Chris Serradet and junior Dylan Nelson holding down the nose guard spot. Juniors Chad Bramer and Colby Angus will split time as the “Sam” linebacker, which Savoie describes as a lineman/linebacker hybrid that the Bruins use in place of a fourth lineman. Another position that gives Bear River’s defense some flexibility is that of rover, which requires “a special type of athlete,” Savoie said. “He must be strong enough to bang up front (with linemen) and fast enough to cover (receivers) on coverage,” the co-coach said. Senior Chad Quiarte, who played the position last year, is currently out with a broken collarbone but is expected to return later this month. Quiarte’s replacement, Van Fossen, is nursing an ankle sprain, which means senior Casey O’Donnell will be inserted into the rover spot for Friday night’s game against Capital Christian, according to Logue. “(Rover) is our toughest position on defense to really learn,” Savoie said. “But Cody (Van Fossen) has done a great job learning the position in Chad’s absence, and fortunately when Chad gets back we’ll have two kids who are really strong at the position.” Filling the outside linebacker spots for Bear River will be Varni and White. Senior Sean Fox will play middle linebacker. Bear River’s defensive backfield will consist of senior free safety David Hitchman and senior cornerbacks Jon Talbot and O’Donnell. Jewett may see some time at free safety as well. Varni will handle the Bruins’ place-kicking duties. Van Fossen said Bear River’s juniors will have “a big target on us” now that they’re at the varsity level because the players they faced at the freshman and JV levels have never beaten them. Still, if there’s one thing winning at high school football’s lower levels has instilled in Bear River’s juniors, it’s an awareness of what it takes to keep winning. “Anybody can beat anyone on a given Friday night,” Van Fossen said. “If you watch college football every Saturday, you see upsets every week. We’ve gotten this far by taking that approach of one week at a time. My junior teammates and I fully understand what every week means. We’re not going to overlook anyone.”