• Aug. 23. at Stagg
• Aug. 29 at Ripon
• Sept. 5 vs. Central Valley
• Sept. 12 at Chavez
So, how does Sierra replace one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most prolific passers of 2013?
At one point, Jeff Harbison and his coaching staff wondered the same with no obvious successor waiting in the wings. Two unlikely candidates emerged over the summer, neither with no prior quarterback experience at the high school level.
Senior Devin Nunez, a wide receiver and cornerback a year ago, went into the SJS Dead Period as the starting signal caller, with sophomore Marcos Castillo as his backup. Castillo played running back for the Timberwolves’ Valley Oak League champion freshman team last year.
They follow reigning VOL Offensive Player of the Year Jake Pruitt, who ranked among section leaders with 3,260 passing yards with a 69.2 completion percentage and 38 touchdowns against eight interceptions while leading Sierra to a 7-4 finish.
Nunez and Castillo had plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with the spread offense from a different perspective all summer, as the team attended three passing tournaments.
“That was the major emphasis for us in the 7-on-7s; who was going to step up in the quarterback spot?” Harbison said. “Can he learn our offense? Can he learn the reads and concepts that go with our plays? Devin Nunez did a great job for us. He picked it up quickly and applied the knowledge pretty well.”
No other team in the Manteca area was busier with passing scrimmages. On June 21, the Timberwolves took second in the Mustang Roundup at Delta Junior College and were runners-up again in the Patterson Tournament a week later. They then placed third in the Modesto JC Tournament on July 12. Sierra also had home-and-home showdowns with Enochs and Modesto.
Two days after the MJC tourney, Sierra packed the helmet and pads for its annual four-day visit to Stagg High’s full-contact camp. Both quarterbacks had ample time to scrimmage against live opponents. Nunez competed in a basketball showcase in Southern California for the final two days of the camp, giving Castillo the opportunity to get first-team reps.
“Marcos is a kid who approached us and said he’d like to try out for the quarterback spot,” Harbison said. “The camp was a chance for us to see what he can do, as well.”
As a whole, Sierra looked the part of a contending team in the VOL at camp. It squared off with Tri-City Athletic League champion Stagg, Chavez of the San Joaquin Athletic Association, and VOL rivals Lathrop and Kimball.
“Camp is a great way to assess our kids,” Harbison said. “Can they adapt to the strength, size and speed of varsity players? It’s a different game.
“What’s nice is we’re running a system program wide, so the kids understand the terminology of the offense and defense from their freshman to their varsity years. It makes it a lot more convenient for coaches and players.”
The coaches did make one tweak over the summer, going away from a two-platoon system. That means Nunez may still see some time in the defensive backfield.
“We’re going with the best 11 on the field,” Harbison said.
To help maintain continuity at all three levels, Sierra also held a barbecue on campus on June 11. Included in the festivities were a Madden tournament, ultimate football and swimming.
“It was a great time and a chance for our incoming freshmen to get to know the sophomore and varsity kids, king of like Link Crew,” Harbison said. “We made everybody mix it up, and kids had to interview different kids from different classes and then introduce them to the whole program. The goal is to help the freshmen be comfortable on the first day of school knowing they already have friends on campus who are upperclassmen.”