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Pruitt, passing game ready for liftoff

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POSTED August 29, 2013 10:33 p.m.

Sierra could always pass, but it’s been a run-first attack out of the spread-option in recent years.

And who can blame them?

“Obviously, we have been spoiled for the past five years to have a top featured back,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Abrew, referencing record-breaking running backs Jarrod Daniels and Anthony Cota.

Daniels helped Sierra make its first postseason appearance in 2008, and in 2009 he shattered several single-season and career rushing marks while leading the Timberwolves to their first Valley Oak League championship and a program-high 11 wins.

Cota followed Daniels, starting in the backfield as a sophomore after transferring from Manteca. Last year, he eclipsed many of Daniels’ records, finishing with 1,966 yards and 38 touchdowns.

“Having (Cota) really opened up the passing game, because teams were coming in with blitzes to try and stop him,” said senior quarterback Jake Pruitt, who is now the centerpiece of Sierra’s spread.

With no proven running back to lean on, the Timberwolves are going to take it to the air in 2013.

And who can blame them?

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Pruitt appears to have improved from an impressive junior campaign, putting his talents on display in Patterson’s passing tournament over the summer. Sierra won the title.

He started as the backup to then-senior Guillermo Nunez last season but finished as the starter, completing 62.5 percent of passes for 1,626 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. As long as he stays healthy, count on him lapping those numbers.

“The passing game is going to definitely be at the forefront of our offense this year and it’s going to start with Jake,” Abrew said. “Jake’s a natural who is developing into a great quarterback. He understands the offense really well. He understands what we expect of him, he understands the reads and he can let it fly. He can make every throw and we’re very comfortable with him running the offense.”

Pruitt also aims to be more of a threat in the running game much like his predecessors were in the read-option.

“I worked on my speed a lot and cut some weight,” Pruitt said. “I don’t have Anthony Cota to save my butt this year.”

Head coach Jeff Harbison insists Pruitt has always had some running ability. “We saw it in the first play of the game versus East Union (last year). He went 60 some-odd yards.”

Abrew agrees but isn’t getting carried away.

“If the defense is asleep on his running ability they could be surprised, but he’s definitely a passer first,” he said.

The Timberwolves have some tall and talented targets for Pruitt to throw to.

The 6-foot-2 Bryson Sanders made the biggest splash in camp after catching 18 passes for 364 yards and a touchdown a year ago, but Pruitt said he is fortunate to have enough weapons around him to not rely on just one. Hunter Johnson (6-5) and Lucas Widmer (6-3) are others who stood out in the offseason. Juniors Alex Barnett and Devin Nunez also figure to contribute. This depth, Abrew believes, should help make up for the loss of the team’s two most productive receivers in the graduated Jordan Lewis (37-670-4) and Dakota Conners (43-501-4), who will focus on baseball his senior year.

“Size-wise, it’s the tallest receiving corps we’ve had,” Abrew said. “We’re five or six deep and they can all catch. We’re excited about what our receivers can bring to the table.”

The offensive line, of course, will be key to Sierra’s success. While not short on size, they are short on experience this season with three-year starting center Adam Bettencourt (6-0, 250) as the lone returner. Guard Joseph Valenzuela got into the action during Sierra’s playoff run as a sophomore call-up.

“Other than that, it’s a fresh group of players coming up from the JV,” Bettencourt said.

He’ll also have to get used to the new emphasis on passing, a challenge he is looking forward to taking on. Like any lineman, though, he does prefer to go right at defenses with a power running game.

“It’s a little bit harder (to pass block),” he said. “You have to think more because you have to pay attention and pick up blitzes. It’s more of a mental game.”

Sierra isn’t abandoning the run game entirely. While there is no proven 1,000-yard rusher coming back, Abrew said that the all-senior triumvirate of Anthony Cervantez, Reid Maestas and Jonathan Montoya allows the team to keep that dimension of the offense in the game plan.

“We’re going to ride the hot hand,” Abrew said. “We have guys who are capable (rushers) and are going to get their carries, but we’re definitely going to emphasize the passing game this year.”

And who can blame them?

To contact Jonamar Jacinto, e-mail

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