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Nothing holding Hillmen back

Blessed with size, speed and depth, Placer looks poised for a championship run
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Joey Montoya will never gush, but a slight smile creeps across his face when he talks about the talent on this year’s edition of the Placer High football team. In his fifth year coaching at his alma mater, Montoya has more firepower than ever at his disposal. A host of returning players, the core of a strong junior varsity team and a pair of exciting transfers have Hillmen fans talking titles. Despite racking up 29 wins in the last three seasons, the Placer program has not added a championship banner to its collection. An upstart Colfax squad knocked off Placer and won the Pioneer Valley League title last season. The Hillmen played in the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. IV title game in 2008 and ’09, but lost both times. The Hillmen refuse to discuss title aspirations as the 2011 season approaches. “We’re just focused on ourselves and getting better,” senior linebacker Colton Davenport said after a spirited practice last week. While the Placer offense is usually a trademark, this year’s defense could make headlines. Placer has bulked up, led by junior Eddie Vanderdoes. He was a force last season as a 250-pound sophomore. Now standing 6-4 and weighing 300, he’s a national recruit and the foundation of a talented defensive front. The big man will also see time at tight end this season, where the Hillmen can take advantage of his remarkable speed and bull-dozing blocks. Seniors Tanner Jay and Johnny Foley bring good size and speed to the defensive front around Vanderdoes. Davenport, who led Placer in tackles last season, captains the defense at linebacker. Senior Tyler Graves, senior Casey Sabins and junior Michael Robinson will also make an impact at linebacker. Newcomer Anthony Hess will play strong safety. He led Burroughs High in tackles last season and he’s impressed teammates in practices throughout the summer. Hess is also a dangerous weapon as a receiver and kick returner. “He’s stepped up and fit right in,” senior Jake Callahan said of Hess. “He came from a spread offense, but he’s come in and taken a lot of reps right away.” Senior Jordan Ralls brings great speed at safety while reserve Isaiah Pineiro combines excellent size at 6-5, and good speed. Montoya said junior Tyler Lipsmeyer could be one of the best cornerbacks Placer has ever seen. Davenport agreed. “He’s been amazing,” Davenport said. Senior Joe Mangino mans the other cornerback position with Isaac Brahce also in the mix. On the offensive line, senior center Mike Stangland is the anchor of an experienced group. Speedy Brandon Rinaldo is a key to the wing-T offense’s success and tackle Tanner Anderson, who is nearly as big as Vanderdoes, can be a force. Seniors Luke Cardelli and Lance Burton are big, strong guards and juniors Jake Lewis and James Hubbard have great size and athleticism at the other tackle spot. At tight end, juniors Brian Berube and Stone Sander are both strong. Sander transferred from Nevada Union and Berube is coming off an excellent JV season. The Hillmen have plenty of weapons for their wing-T attack. Brad Spangler, Robinson and Mangino combined for more than 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and they’re all back. Spangler and Mangino have breakaway speed while Robinson is tough to bring down at fullback. Along with Hess, senior David Daniel has looked sharp as a receiver. Junior Jalen Lewis could also be a factor at wideout. Quarterback was Placer’s biggest concern heading into the season after two-year starter Collin Burnett graduated and headed to Sacramento State. Montoya named junior Peter Denham the starter before fall practices, but after transferring from Del Oro just after the start of his sophomore year, Denham will not be eligible to play for Placer until the fourth game of the season. Callahan will take the reins until then. He was a reserve defensive back last season, but Callahan is familiar with the wing-T and is excited for the chance to lead the team. “He knows the offense and I like his confidence,” Montoya said. “He really competes.” Callahan said it helps to have several experienced playmakers around him. “There are a lot of weapons around,” the senior said. “It’s been a lot of fun to work with the backs and receivers. Everything’s been moving in the right direction since (summer passing league) started.” Placer’s non-league schedule should provide plenty of entertainment. First up is Stockton small-school power Brookside Christian. Led by quarterback Tony Rodriguez, the Knights played in the small-school CIF State Bowl Game last year. Rodriguez is back and Brookside’s wide open passing game will test the Placer defense. Also on the non-league slate are South Anchorage, Alaska, Casa Roble, El Dorado and Woodland.