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Timberwolves eager to work after failing to make playoffs

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Jayson Manuta avoids a tackle with a stiff arm.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED August 23, 2012 1:45 a.m.

Graduating key seniors at most of the core skill positions would normally signal a rebuilding year for a varsity football program.

Not so for the Sierra High Timberwolves.

With members of last year’s sophomore Valley Oak League champions filling the gaps, head coach Jeff Harbison’s squad — which missed the playoffs last season after three consecutive appearances — has been working overtime to ready itself for the perennially tough VOL.

The enthusiasm the players are showing, Harbison said, should serve them well as they prepare for a non-league schedule against three opponents that will give them three completely different looks.

“The juniors have really stepped up and filled some holes that graduation left, and we’re expecting some big things out of them this year,” he said. “The players are really teachable this year — they’re out there trying to learn and do the best that they can.”

The Timberwolves will once again have the services of star running back Anthony Cota, who missed the majority of 2011 with an arm injury.

Jake Pruitt, who Harbison describes as a pocket passer, is battling it out with the shifty Guillermo Nunez for the top quarterback slot, while senior Jordan Lewis will lead the wide receiver corps that will include standout junior Dakota Conners.

After three passing tournaments over the summer and a stint at the Stagg High full-contact camp in Stockton, the coaching staff was able to get a first look at how things were coming together after a summer with good weight room attendance and strong worth ethic.

And by scheduling scrimmages against Stagg, Beyer, Franklin of Elk Grove and Kimball, Harbison says it helps expose the team to the speed and talent they’ll be facing when league rolls around.

“The enthusiasm that the guys are showing is good to see,” he said. “Going against teams like that lets us see more depth and more speed. We’re always up for challenge of going up against Division I competition.”

And then there are the defensive anchors.

A year after playing outside linebacker, Devin Manaois will make the transition to defensive line where he’ll join first-year varsity senior Mason Merilles, who missed the last two years due to injury, to create a one-two punch that coaches believe will give opposing offenses fits.

Both offense and defense will get a chance to sharpen their skills against a carefully selected group of non-league opponents that mimic certain league teams that Sierra will be facing later in the year.

“We’ve got Tracy first, which has that triple option like Sonora likes to run, and then Grace Davis that has the power running game like you’ll see at Manteca. We follow up with Laguna Creek of Elk Grove who runs a five wide spread,” Harbison said. “It’s been a summer of peaks and valleys and we’ll see where we’re at when we line-up against Tracy.”

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