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Trojans to showcase skill players

Oak Ridge experienced, ready for better season
By: Matt Long
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With a renewed commitment, better conditioning and several top players returning, Oak Ridge High’s varsity football team is optimistic that this season will be a successful one. The Trojans struggled early last season, dropping their first four games, before winning five of their last six to finish second in the Sierra Valley Conference to Ponderosa and finish the regular season with a 5-5 overall record. Oak Ridge then lost to Woodcreek in the first round of the playoffs, the second straight season the team lost in the first round. Despite losing one of their best players from a year ago, Brett Thompson, along with leading tackler Taylor Reiben and a few big linemen, the Trojans return several players in the skill positions. For starters, quarterback Connor Benander returns and both he and the team will benefit from him playing throughout the entire season. Last year be broke his collarbone during the second week of practice and missed the first four games. Benander has got good size (6’1”, 185) and an accurate arm (9 touchdowns, 1 interception) and should do a fine job leading the team. “Connor has completely dedicated himself to being the best football player,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “He’s worked a lot with coach (Mark) Watson. He’s very accurate and he’s got the ability to make time for himself in the pocket all the while keeping his eyes downfield. He’s also a good leader.” Benander is obviously happy to be healthy from the start of the season. “I feel a lot more comfortable this year,” Benander said. “I definitely feel like we’re coming together. We’re way far ahead of where we were last year.” Benander is just one of several key returning players on offense. The Trojans return leading rusher Jacob Allen, who gained 1,080 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season. Jordan Matanane also is back, hoping to improve on his 597 yards rushing last season. At fullback, Colby Wilmer, Preston Dean and Ryan Adams will all see time. “We’ve got a lot of depth in the backfield,” Cavaliere said. “We will have both Jacob and Jordan in the backfield at the same time or we could have one of our fullbacks in a single-back set too. We’ve got some good combos and some versatility back there.” Robbie Beyer, a three-year starter at wide receiver, will be the go-to guy out wide. Willie Tucker joins Beyer in the starting lineup, while Tommy Massa is the team’s third wide receiver. Nick Buerki, last year’s starting tight end, also returns. “We’ve got some weapons,” Benander said. “With Jacob and Jordan, both guys started last year and I’m confident about our running game. Robbie is a three-year starter at wide receiver and one of the leader’s of the team, and Willie’s got size and speed. Nick, he’s big, strong and athletic at tight end.” “I feel good about the guys who will touch the football,” Cavaliere added. “Jacob has very good vision, is a tough runner and very durable. Robbie is experienced and ready to catch some balls this year and Nick is big, strong and fast. I think these guys are going to surprise some people this year.” The least experienced part of the offense is the line, where most everyone is new. Matt Coffrini returns at guard with four new starters in Michael Swan, Brett Green, Ryan Boudreau and Taylor Hicks. Russell Richardson will likely also see time on the line. “The line is an inexperienced group and we’ve got to see how we do when we’re going against other teams,” Cavaliere said. “They need to get in a scrappy situation and gain some confidence. We might be a little smaller upfront from a year ago, but we’re also more agile.” While last year the Trojans predominately ran the ball, Cavaliere sees this year’s team to be more balanced. “With the experience we have at the skill positions, we look to have more of a 50-50 balance whereas last year we were probably 70-30 to the run,” Cavaliere said. Defensively, Wilmer and Dean, fullbacks on offense, will be starters at inside linebacker and Cavaliere expects both of them to play well and be leaders. Tommy Raulino is a returning starter at outside linebacker. At end, Kyle Beasy, Adams and Robbie DeMaso will all see time, while Andrew Sylvester, Swan and DeQuarius Leggett will rotate at tackle. The Trojans have good depth in the secondary where Massa, Charlie Goodwin and Hollis Goldsmith will split time at safety, while Dustin Fretwell, Bobby Braman and Nick Barnett play at cornerback. One thing the Trojans have improved on this season is the team’s overall conditioning. The team is better prepared for tough games late in the second half. “We’ve only got one guy starting on both sides of the ball and that’s Tommy Massa and that’s only when we go with three wide receivers,” Cavaliere said. “That’s not by design, but just the way it worked out. We should be fresh and be able to run in the fourth quarter. On top of that, we’ve really improved our conditioning this season.” Beyer continued, “We really stepped up our conditioning and put a big emphasis on that. We’re going to be able to finish games off this year.” With a lot of talent on offense and more speed on defense, the Trojans’ goal is the compete for a Sierra Valley Conference championship and make a run in the playoffs. To do that, Cavaliere said the team will need to stay healthy, come together as a team and stay focused. “Our goal is to get past the first round,” Beyer said. “Two years in a row we’ve been knocked out in the first round. Last year we let the (Woodcreek) game get away from us at the end. We’ve just got to finish it this year. We’ve got to have that desire. We’ve put the work in all summer.” Benander added, “I think our conditioning will help us. I feel like we can go far, but everyone is going to have to buy into the team and our goals to do it.”