Northern Nevada high school football returns Friday when six of the 4A’s 11 schools play their season openers. This could be a banner season for the North, which already has three players in the 2020 class committed to FBS schools (one to USC, one to Oregon, one to Nevada). There’s also a new champ to knock off in Bishop Manogue, which upset Damonte Ranch in the 4A title game before losing to Bishop Gorman in the state championship. Here are our preseason rankings for the Northern 4A.
High Desert League
1. Spanish Springs: The Cougars won their first league title last season and are the clear favorites to repeat. Oregon-bound LB/TE Jackson LaDuke is the big star, but the team also has the best returning pass-and-catch duo in the North in junior QB Tristan Szabo and senior WR Jordan Dudick.
2. McQueen: It’s been a while since the Lancers were atop the league standings (they were co-champs in the High Desert with Reed in 2013). But McQueen could make a jump up the standings this year, although the Lancers must figure out who their quarterback is and the schedule’s tough (only three home games).
3. Reno: It’s a brand-new world for Reno, who fired Dan Avansino after 17 seasons following his halftime interview with NSN during a playoff game against Bishop Manogue. New coach Jon Haskins inherits a solid team, including star Drue Worthen and massive 340-pound lineman Junior Finau.
4. Reed: After dominating the High Desert under Ernie Howren and winning the 4A North title in 2017 under Tony Amantia, the Raiders are no longer the league’s team to beat. That doesn’t mean Reed will be a pushover. Nos. 2-4 in these rankings are interchangeable. Junior RB Elijah Tau-Tolliver could be a breakout star.
5. Hug: Hug is one of three teams in the High Desert with a first-year head coach. Mike Gravier has the toughest gig of those three, and the future is uncertain as Hug High won’t exist in two years after Wildcreek High opens. The Hawks are 1-34 in the last four seasons and have a super-thin roster.
1. Bishop Manogue: The Miners have the best roster and the best coaches in the North, so you put two and two together. Manogue must replace 3,000-yard rusher Peyton Dixon but has three FBS-caliber players on the roster in OL Joey Wright (committed to USC), LB Vai Kaho (committed to Nevada) and OL Sioape Vatakani (Power 5 offers as a sophomore) in addition to QB Drew Scolari, who led the team to the state title game as a sophomore.
2. Damonte Ranch: The Mustangs lost Michigan-bound QB Cade McNamara (as well as his standout brother, Kyle, a receiver, who moved to Nashville in the offseason), so that will hurt. But coach Shawn Dupris has a strong program and junior QB Ethan Kulpin played well when he got a chance last season.
3. Douglas: Teams No. 3-5 in the Sierra are interchangeable, but I went to Douglas High, so they start out on top (just kidding: our prep expert Shannon Kelly ranked these teams and I did the writeups). RB Trevor Kruger is one of the North’s top backs, but the defense lost its top-five tacklers and must be rebuilt.
4. Carson: The Senators have posted back-to-back below-.500 seasons for the first time since 2007-08. Carson was 2-8 in 2018 and is 11-19 in three seasons since going 10-2 in 2015. The good news is Carson’s top passer (Jonathan Laplante) and rusher (Bradley Maffei) return as does its top-three tacklers from a season ago.
5. Galena: The Grizzlies were the lone Sierra League team to change head coaches in the offseason after Hank Roberts was fired after one year and Aaron Cook was hired off Damonte Ranch’s staff. Galena has only one winning season since 2014 (it went 7-4 in 2015), but returns QB Alex Laird, which is a nice start.
6. Wooster: The Colts jumped back to the 4A prior to last season and went 2-8, including a 0-5 league record (it did beat fellow 4A school, Hug, in overtime). Wooster should be better in year two at this level under legacy coach Bo Sellers, who returns his top quarterback, top rusher and top receiver from last year.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.