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Wildfires spreading with new look

After a taste of the playoffs, Foresthill changes up the offense, draws inspiration from tragedy
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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FORESTHILL — The days of accepting moral victories for his Foresthill High football program are long gone for coach Jim Herlehy.
Eight years after he guided the school’s first team, Herlehy believes his team has the talent to take on the top small-school squads in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
“I think we’ve got experience, confidence and I don’t think it’s just bravado,” Herlehy said. “This senior class is really strong, really tight as a group. We’re not just happy with making the playoffs and going home. We may be that good.”
The Wildfires ventured into the playoffs for the first time last season after finishing second in the Sacramento Metro League to perennial power Delta. Decimated by injuries and illness, they lost 33-0 to Big Valley Christian.
“Last year we kind of fizzled out,” senior safety Nick Gleason said. “They were more prepared than we were. But last year showed us we can get to the playoffs. It definitely gave us a confidence boost.”
Herlehy plans to unleash quarterback Tommy Sawyer, a lanky junior who gained valuable experience last season. The receiving corps is outstanding, with senior Ian Sykes leading the way. Sykes led the team in receiving each of the past two seasons.
Senior Zach Moss and his step-brother Matt O’Brien should see the ball plenty in Foresthill’s pass-happy offense.
“I had concerns about how the offense would gel because it’s basically the opposite of what we ran last year,” Herlehy said. “But we’ve worked a lot on getting our quarterbacks and receivers on the same page and they’re getting there.”
Senior Dylan Connelly had a rough junior season as a stress fracture in his foot limited him to just two games. But he averaged more than 11 yards per carry and he is a quick, shifty runner.
The Wildfires’ line is impressive. Senior Jordan Boyer is 6-2, 245 pounds and Herlehy isn’t afraid to use him at running back. Senior center Donnie Ferral brings good size at 5-9, 230 while Mike Hendricks, Andrew Hall and Nate Dickson are all at least 220.
Foresthill welcomed in junior Rocky Thompson, who transferred from the San Diego area. Thompson will play linebacker, along with Wes Archibold, Tyler Giles and Boyer.
Gleason anchors the secondary after snatching three interceptions last season. He said the team is more mature this season and ready to take another step toward a title.
“We lost a couple of key guys, but I think we’re a lot smarter this year,” Gleason said. “We’re playing faster with fewer errors.”
It was a trying off-season for Herlehy and the team. The coach’s son Max lost a seven-year battle with leukemia last spring. Herlehy was uncertain about his coaching future for several weeks.
“I probably wouldn’t have coached if it wasn’t so important to Max,” he said. “When I’m on the field, it’s good. I’m not doing as much off the field this year. It’s just nerve-racking. It’s difficult.”
It’s sure to be an emotional scene at Sebastian Stadium tonight as the Wildfires host Marysville in their season opener. Max served as the team’s tireless water boy for the past several seasons.
“Max will definitely be an inspiration for us all year,” Gleason said. “His passing won’t win us any games, but it’s definitely inspiring. We always know there are people going through a lot worse things than what we’re going through on the field.”