Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
One of the biggest questions entering this season every high school team is facing is what impacts COVID-19 will have.
Before they’ve even played a game, the Fernley Vaqueros have already had a schedule change.
The Vaqueros were scheduled to face North Valleys Friday night to kick off the new season, but that game has been canceled, apparently because of positive tests within the North Valleys program, one of several schools in Washoe County that are dealing with COVID issues. One of the other games that was canceled was Reed vs. Wooster, apparently because of positive tests at Wooster, so the Vaqueros will instead play at Reed Friday night.
The Vaqueros have faced their own COVID-19 issues in preparing for the season. The team had to end its summer conditioning a week and a half early before the start of fall practice because several players tested positive, along with an assistant coach and several cheerleaders.
That shortened the preparation time for a team that is trying to sort out a host of new candidates at the skill positions on both sides of the ball.
Fortunately, the Vaqueros return four of their five starting offensive linemen, and coach Chris Ward believes that after the improvement the line showed over the five weeks of the shortened spring season, the line will be the team’s strength.
The Vaqueros must find replacements for most of their ballcarriers from last season. Slotbacks Anthony Thompson and Kyle Jones graduated, and J.R. Reyes is still out because of a knee injury he suffered in the second game of the spring, although he hopes to return sometime this season.
Heading into last week’s scrimmage in Fallon, the only offensive skill position that was set was at one outside receiver spot, where Carson Kingston is back as one of the team’s most experienced players.
Then in the scrimmage, quarterback Gabe Tollestrup and running back Emiliano Alonzo were both injured, leaving the entire backfield situation in flux. Austin Hobson finished the scrimmage at quarterback, but he also could be at a slot position if Julian McIntyre, who started at quarterback last season but didn’t play in the scrimmage, returns to the quarterback position.
Things are far more settled on the line, even though a couple of the returnees are switching positions. Dominic Reyes is moving from right guard to center, Tyler Slaughter from right guard to left guard, Grant Miller from center to right tackle, and Kale Kreller returns at left guard. The only newcomer to the line is Travis Kollar at left tackle, but coach Chris Ward said one of the focuses of the scrimmage and the first couple weeks of practice has been to develop depth behind those guys up front.
Several players started practice late because of COVID quarantines and other issues and weren’t able to scrimmage Friday, and Ward said several of them would have made a difference.
Even so, Ward said he was pleased with how the team played for the most part.
“Encouraging,” Ward said. “I think we’ll be solid. This season could start off a little rough, but I think we could end up being pretty good.”
With so many new faces in the backfield, Ward said the coaches are adjusting the offense to fit their strengths. The triple option Flexbone remains the team’s identity on offense, but they are making tweaks within the scheme, including a midline option where an offensive lineman instead of the slotback on the play side responsible for blocking a middle linebacker.
Another big difference from the spring is that this season, the Vaqueros will be able to play home games. They were forced on the road in the spring because their home field was deemed unplayable because of flood damage, but the turf has been repaired and is on track to be ready for the team’s home opener, Sept. 3 against Bishop Union (Calif.)