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POSTED August 29, 2013 10:17 p.m.

THE ‘O’ GOES ‘I’: First-year head coach Steven Wichman is going back to his roots and to the roots of his father Rob, who heads the Lathrop’s linemen. The Spartans lined up in the wishbone offensively in their first three seasons, but Wichman has them running out of the familiar I-back formation. He orchestrated the “I” as quarterback for then-head coach Steve Lopez at West (Tracy). Both Lopez and Rob Wichman played in the same offense for legendary Tracy High head coach Wayne Schneider. “We feel that it suits us best with the players we have,” the younger Wichman said.

Kenny Garrett showed promise in camp last season but ended up sharing time at quarterback with then-senior Preston Rizo. Now the job is solely Garrett’s, and his coach has full confidence in him. Along with the requisite throwing ability, Wichman likes his pocket presence and ability to extend plays with his legs. “Kenny is an all-around athletic quarterback with a lot of versatility in his game,” Wichman said.

Like Garrett, Kevin Rainey didn’t have the breakout year he envisioned as a junior, as the shifty tailback had little room to roam behind a young and injury-ravaged offensive line. He has since gained strength to run between tackles, and in front of him is an experienced line of seniors. The addition of hard-hitting fullbacks Josh Elliot and Hawaii Leaf a’ Teo to the backfield could help push him over the hump.

Lathrop hopes to be more stout on defense, and it starts with the front seven. Elliot leads the 4-3 at middle linebacker, and the powerful Leaf a’ Teo mans one of the outside spots. Michael Santos (5-10, 240) anchors the interior of the line, while there is size and athleticism on the edges with T.J. Conley (6-4, 215) and Nathan Ogunbanwo (6-4, 210).

FUTBOL/FOOTBALL: Wichman places as much importance on special teams as he does other facets of the game. He was relieved to find out an experienced kicker with a strong leg is returning. Erik De Leon will once again spend much of his time at Bennie Gatto Field this fall season, first as a goalie on the varsity soccer team. “From what I am told, he’s a very good kicker,” said Wichman, who didn’t get a chance to see him boot the pigskin until late in the first week of official practices.

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