Placer’s passing interest

Hillmen make major strides in summer sessions as talented newcomers get up to speed
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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It’s been a few years since Koal Swisley last put on a helmet and pads at Placer High. Thanks to a cram session of workouts and drills this summer, you can hardly tell. The 6-1 wide receiver looks polished and ready to go after spending the last few weeks hauling in bombs from quarterback Collin Burnett in passing league scrimmages. He’s hoping the hard work this summer will pay dividends this fall when the games are for real. “I want to get a ring — a section title,” Swisley said. “And I like all these guys out here. They’re all my best friends. It was frustrating at first because I had to learn all the plays and all that. But then as I got used to it, it started to get a lot more fun. I got a lot more comfortable with everything.” Swisley was one of several Placer newcomers to make major strides during summer workouts, which included five passing league scrimmages against squads from across the region. Thursday’s morning practice was the final time the team will get together with its coaches until August 4, when fall practice gets underway. Swisley played freshman football at Placer, but an injury cost him most of his junior varsity season and he opted not to play last fall. He wasn’t alone in playing catch-up this summer. Senior Darren Centi is back on the gridiron after playing soccer last year. He’ll make an immediate impact at cornerback and also see time as a tailback on offense. “Darren and Koal are going to be playmakers, definitely,” said Burnett, who threw for 14 touchdowns last season. The summer sessions, which began with a team camp at Pitman High in Turlock in early June, were invaluable for the new varsity players, including a fresh crop of juniors who showed plenty of promise. The passing league gave the Hillmen a chance to see how they stacked up against teams like Nevada Union, Sutter, Yuba City and Capital Christian. “I look for a couple things: if we compete at a high level, how our athletes compare and how fast we are,” said coach Joey Montoya, who has guided Placer to back-to-back section championship games. “I really think we shined in those areas. We have a long ways to go and some little things to fix, but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made.” Montoya received yet another nice gift in the offseason when Brad Spangler moved to Auburn from Grass Valley, where he was a standout for the Nevada Union junior varsity team last fall. Spangler is an excellent athlete with good size who will see time in the backfield. “Brad’s going to be good,” Burnett said. “He’s fast, he can catch the ball, and he can run. He’s going to be a big addition to the team.” Senior fullback Josh Turney has added speed and size after a junior season in which he rushed for 870 yards and 15 touchdowns. Speedy junior Joe Mangino looked very sharp in drills this summer and sophomore Mike Robinson is living up to his billing as a future star for the Hillmen. Junior tight end Alec Burnett — Collin’s brother — is a big target (6-4, 220 pounds) with soft hands at tight end. The Hillmen won’t be in pads until Aug. 11, giving them 18 days to prepare before the season opener at home against Vallejo. “We’ve got one less week this summer,” Montoya said. “We had one less week of practice and our first game is two weeks earlier than it was last year. So we’ve got a lot to get done in a short period of time, but the good news is, so does the team we’re playing.” The Hillmen were impressive Wednesday night in their final passing league test as Yuba City and Sutter visited Placer. And the Placer players are confident they can carry the success onto the field this fall. “It’s a learning thing,” Burnett said. “It’s game-like without the linemen, obviously. But if we do well out here it definitely brings confidence for the regular season and we’ve been doing a good job. “Finish it — that’s our motto this year, so it’s pretty straight forward. We want to go to the section title game again, and win it.”