Placer High football taking it one day at a time

Montoya, Hillmen say they aren’t looking ahead in 2012
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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He isn’t putting much weight into the preseason rankings.

He isn’t thinking about winning a section championship.

He says he isn’t even focusing on the outcome of upcoming games.

Or the lofty predictions people are making about his team.

Coach Joey Montoya doesn’t even consider his Placer Hillmen as the team to beat in the Pioneer Valley League in the 2012 high school football season.

As cliché as it sounds, Montoya just wants his team to take things one day at a time.

“Our schedule is so tough, we can’t look ahead,” said Montoya, whose Hillmen are coming off a 9-3 (4-1 PVL) season, which ended in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with a loss against Del Oro. “Our season goals have nothing to do with winning the championship. They have more to do with playing to the best of our ability.”

Senior Eddie Vanderdoes, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle who recently verbally committed to Southern California and was named to the MaxPreps 2012 California Preseason All-State Football Team Tuesday, is speaking a similar mantra.

“We’re really excited to finally kick off the season,” he said, “but right now we’re focused on practicing and executing — getting our assignments right.”

Placer opens the season at Central Catholic of Modesto, another highly regarded squad, on Friday, Aug. 31.

“It’s going to be fun to start the season off with a bang,” said senior Michael Robinson. “It’s going to be a war, not just a tough game. … We don’t want any easy games. We want a battle every game.”

With a squad of 46, about half of which are seniors, Montoya’s Hillmen could end up winning many of those battles. The Hillmen return 13 starters, including seven on offense.

“If this team plays to the best of our ability,” Montoya said, “it can be very competitive.”

Added Vanderdoes: “If we reach our potential, stay healthy, we can make it as far as anyone else — make it to sections. It’s looking like a good, solid year.”

Time will tell just how far these Hillmen, with a Wing-T offense led by senior quarterback Peter Denham and a 4-4 defense featuring the versatile Vanderdoes, can go.

Along with Denham, Placer also returns Jake Lewis, Stone Sander, Isaiah Pineiro, Isaac Brahce, Brian Bruby and Robinson on offense.

On the ground, Todd Valliere, Brahce and Robinson figure to get the majority of the carries. Robinson was the most productive of the three last year, rushing for 762 yards and 13 scores. He said the backs will be able to make up for the production lost without last year’s leading rushers Brad Spangler (1,309 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Joe Mangino (1,029 yards, 14 TDs), who graduated.

“The guys we have are just as good,” said Robinson, a three-year starter on varsity. “We all work just as hard.”

Last year the Hillmen averaged 376 rushing yards a game. A big offensive line this year, featuring right tackle Nate Duvall (6-3, 270 pounds), right guard Jake Lewis (6-3, 220), center Brian Sabins (5-10, 210), either Conner Rubio (5-9, 190) or Wyatt Decker (6-1, 220) at left guard and left tackle Athan Allinger (6-3, 250), could help produce similar results.

In the air, Denham’s primary targets will be wide receivers Jalen Lewis and Pineiro, as well as tight ends Sander and Bruby. Sander was recently offered a full-ride to Sacramento State and San Jose State is also expressing interest. Humboldt State is looking at Bruby.

On the other side of the ball, Jake Lewis, Tony Suverkropp, Brahce, Pineiro, Robinson and Vanderdoes will all be reunited.

Vanderdoes had a team-high eight sacks in 2011. Jacob Peek, Duvall and Sander will round out the defensive line.

The core linebackers, which Denham said are the “best in the section,” will be Suverkropp, Robinson, Brahce and Robby Lopez, a junior who has stood out all summer long. The secondary consists of cornerbacks Tyler Lipsmeyer, a senior who’s coming back after a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Valliere with Pineiro at safety.

Though the team has had success lately, Placer hasn’t won a league title since 1998 or a section title since 1981.

“We haven’t been able to get over the hump,” said Montoya, whose team has played in the league title game four straight years.

Rival Colfax has won the PVL eight out of the last 10 seasons, leading Montoya to call the Falcons the team to beat in the league.

This could be the year Placer breaks through though, as Colfax is fielding a senior-less offense. Placer’s senior leadership, particularly from Denham and Vanderdoes, could prove to be an advantage.

Denham took over as starting quarterback in Week 4 last season, passing for 811 yards with five TDs and five interceptions on the year. He’s worked hard over the off-season throwing weekly.

“I’ve seen a lot of maturity from him,” Montoya said of the senior who could be playing for Northern Arizona in the future. “I’ve seen him grow. He’s a leader, he’s a hard worker. In the weight room he’s right there with the other guys. He’s working really hard. He’s got all the tangibles you want a quarterback to have.”

Denham is looking forward to building off of last season.

“Having a season under my belt is a big advantage,” he said. “I feel very comfortable in the offense. It’s nice having some experience going into the season.”

Like Denham, Montoya has seen maturity from Vanderdoes, too.

“Eddie’s different than last year,” the coach said. “He’s really matured in his leadership. He’s become a vocal leader for our team.”

Perhaps the USC commit could help the Hillmen fight on to finally get over the hump.

Reach Matthew Kimel at Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel