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Linebackers anchor Sierra’s run-stopping defense

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Sierra High linebackers John Perez, from left, T.J. Sataua and Cody Dias are a big part of the Timberwolves' 6-0 start to the season.


POSTED October 22, 2009 2:05 a.m.
A twice dislocated kneecap forced John Perez to watch from the stands with the “Wolf Pack” cheering section as Sierra High’s football team made history by qualifying for its first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff run.

Now a senior, Perez is looking to make up for lost time with hopes of being a part of another historic feat — Sierra’s first Valley Oak League football championship.

The 6-0 Timberwolves, led by Perez and fellow linebackers Cody Dias and T.J. Sataua, can take another step in that direction Friday night when they square off with 5-1 Sonora on the road. Sierra has never won at Dunlavy Field.

“It’s been amazing, definitely a great experience so far,” said Perez, who missed his sophomore and junior seasons because of the injury. “It’s good to be back.”

Sierra head coach Jeff Harbison isn’t just glad to have Perez back as the defensive unit’s on-field general. Sierra has a long line of outstanding linebackers, including assistant coach Andrew Panigada, but Harbison didn’t have a linebacking corps this deep in his previous four seasons.

“This is the strongest group we’ve had, and with the addition of John Perez this might be the smartest group,” Harbison said. “John studies hard and is a leader out there. He’s able to read formations and understand what plays are coming. He has really stepped up.”

Sierra’s big-nickel package, which includes both Moses Cardova and offensive standout Jarrod Daniels at strong safety, has faced — and handcuffed — some terrific running backs this year.
Only two running backs have broken the century mark against the Timberwolves’ stout defense, the latest being Central Valley’s Vince Lopez (20 rushes, 143 yards, TD). Patterson speedster Nathan Shelton compiled 155 yards on 16 carries in Week 3.

 “It happened, it’s in the past,” Sataua said. “We’re just looking forward to the next game.”

The “Hit Squad” does have notable notches on its belt.

Granada’s George Atkinson III — son of former Oakland Raider George Atkinson and third-place finisher in the 100-meter-dash at last year’s state track and field meet — was limited to 46 yards in Week 2.

East Union’s TeeJay Gordon was held to negative yardage until ripping off a late 30-yard run to put him at positive 13. And Manteca’s Marquis Miller, the Bulletin’s All-Area Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, found little room to roam and was kept to 20 yards.

Sierra’s linebackers combine speed, instincts and smarts and are impressively big across the board. Dias, the only returning starting linebacker, is 6 feet, 210 pounds. Sataua, a converted lineman, is 5-11 and 210 pounds, and Perez checks in at 5-10, 228.

“They’re monsters,” Harbison said. “They come up and plug the holes well. They all have great speed and are so strong that they can really nail somebody.”

The target will be on Dan Link’s back Friday night. At 6-1, 195, he is no slouch. The between-the-tackles grinder leads all VOL rushers with 926 yards and has scored 10 times.

Nobody has kept Sonora’s featured running back from rushing for over 100 yards in a game, but the Timberwolves have fared well against tough runners like him so far.

“Our focus is to stop No. 10 (Link),” Harbison said. “He’s a very hard runner, a strong runner. I don’t know if we’ve seen a runner as strong as he is this year.”
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