TRAC football season preview

Your fully loaded, inside edition highlighting the teams and the players of the Tri-River Athletic Conference

By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor

The TRAC is back. After last year’s down season (only Clovis made it to the D1 semi-finals and the pre-season yielded a paltry 11-19 record) the Boys of Friday Night Lights have officially got their groove back, led by a league full of future college superstars and teams that have shown the Central Valley that this year everyone is for real.

Over the next five weeks, our Clovis High schools and Central High School will be grinding it out each week, and when the dust settles, only one will reign supreme. Seat belts and air bags everyone – it’s going to be a great ride.

Before we settle in and get to talkin’ about the teams, below are are six fiery questions that will be answered over the next five weeks.

Six burning questions:

  • Can Clovis High continue to flash their pre-season magic and rely on big plays to win games?
  • Can Clovis East keep up their frantic offensive pace and win their first TRAC game in four years?
  • Will Clovis North improve on their passing game to go along with their tough, grind-it-out style?
  • Will Buchanan find an offensive rhythm to compliment their outstanding defensive unit?
  • Can Clovis West effectively use their athleticism on both sides of the ball and keep opponents on their toes?
  • Will Central overcome a rash of early-season injuries and sneak up on teams?

 

Clovis (5-0)

Photo by Nick Baker Clovis quarterback Sean Kuenzinger has thrown for 1,339 yards and a 17-2 touchdown to interception ratio, a major reason the Cougars are 5-0 and ranked No. 22 in the state heading into TRAC play.
Photo by Nick Baker
Clovis quarterback Sean Kuenzinger has thrown for 1,339 yards and a 17-2 touchdown to interception ratio, a major reason the Cougars are 5-0 and ranked No. 22 in the state heading into TRAC play.

Head coach Rich Hammond (8th year)

Pre-season grade (A-): The Cougars have already lived through a season’s worth of high adventure in the first five games in starting of 5-0, including panic-inducing victories over Paso Robles (27-24), Stockdale (49-42) and Bakersfield-Centennial (28-27). Each of those wins featured big-times plays from senior wide-receivers J.J. Wills and Coltin Velasquez and quarterback Sean Kuenzinger. Senior Josh Hokit is playing like a man possessed this season as well as fellow senior linebacker Tanner Rice. There is a concern about the Cougars giving up big plays on defense and special teams, but for the current No. 22 team in the state, this could be their year for a TRAC, Valley and possibly state run.

They’ll win the TRAC if…..they continue to perform like the first five games of the year with the pieces they have in place at all positions.

Team strengths: Offensive firepower, size up front, experience, hard-nosed hitters on defense.

Players I’d pay to watch: QB Sean Kuenzinger, WR J.J. Wills, WR Coltin Velasquez, RB/S Josh Hokit, LB Tanner Rice, TE Clayton Alexander

Marquee match-up: Buchanan October 23. The middle game of TRAC season against Buchanan. Can the vaunted Clovis offense overpower the stout Buchanan defense? Inquiring minds want to know.

 

Clovis West (3-1)

Photo by Jennifer Armstrong Clovis West wide receiver Darian Owens is a major weapon for the Golden Eagles, blessed with explosive quickness and speed. Owens has verbally committed to attend UCLA.
Photo by Jennifer Armstrong
Clovis West wide receiver Darian Owens is a major weapon for the Golden Eagles, blessed with explosive quickness and speed. Owens has verbally committed to attend UCLA.

Head coach George Petrissans (2nd season)

Pre-season grade (B+): With a talented team that includes major college recruit and pre-season All-American Caleb Kelly, UCLA commit Darian Owens and super-sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez comes big expectations, and the Golden Eagles strutted their stuff in the first two games of the season in road wins against Merced (43-21) and Bakersfield-Centennial (33-21). In fact, it was a powerful second half against Centennial where they shocked the Hawks by outscoring them 27-0 – with mighty Bullard awaiting. After a two week layoff due to a canceled game and a bye, they suffered a disappointing homecoming loss to the Knights (42-25). In a display of great resolve, the Eagles bounced back for an impressive victory over Edison 21-0 the next week, breathing new life into a team that has their sights on a TRAC and Valley title.

They’ll win the TRAC if.….they can play consistent football all across the board with no let-downs and continue to get big production from their skills position players.

Team strengths: Athletes at every position, offensive scheme, opportunistic defense.

Players I’d pay to watch: LB/WR Caleb Kelly, WR Darian Owens, QB Adrian Martinez, DL/OL Dalton Garver, TE/DE Johnny Rojas III

Marquee match-up: Clovis High on November 6. The city of Clovis is already rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the final game on the TRAC schedule, the final event in “all-Clovis week.”

 

Buchanan (3-2)

Photo by Nick Baker Buchanan's senior defensive lineman and tight end Ben Parker is one of the top two-way players in the TRAC at 6'4”, 230 pounds.
Photo by Nick Baker
Buchanan’s senior defensive lineman and tight end Ben Parker is one of the top two-way players in the TRAC at 6’4”, 230 pounds.

Head coach Mike Jacot (4th season)

Pre-season grade (B): The Bears started off the season with a thrilling comeback victory over defending D-1 champion Edison (16-14), followed by a tough loss to Bullard (21-16), a shutout against Lemoore (24-0) and then a defeat at the hands of Liberty-Bakersfield (27-6). If your head is spinning, then pop a Dramamine and you’ll be golden. They ended the pre-season dominating D-III Porterville 45-12. The defense matches up well against any opponent in the Valley led by their mighty defensive end duo of Bryson Young and Ben Parker. The offense features talented running backs in Chuby Dunu (who’s returning from injury) and sophomore Trevor Ervin, who Jacot calls one of the best sophomore football players he’s been around.

They’ll win the TRAC if…..their defense continues to play lights out and the Bears find a way to score some points.

Team strengths: Team defense, offensive line, running game.

Players I’d pay to watch: DE/TE Bryson Young, DE/TE Ben Parker, RB Trevor Ervin, DB Trevon Cummings, RB Chuby Dunu

Marquee match-up: Clovis West, October 16. Can the Bears defense stop the three-headed offensive monster of Clovis West, and in turn score enough points on offense to win?

 

Clovis North (2-2)

Photo by Nick Baker Clovis North senior running back and safety Jayson Lee is one of the best all-around players in the TRAC, leading his team in touchdowns and proving a defensive force on the field.
Photo by Nick Baker
Clovis North senior running back and safety Jayson Lee is one of the best all-around players in the TRAC, leading his team in touchdowns and proving a defensive force on the field.

Head coach Tim Simmons (3rd season at Clovis North, 28th overall)

Pre-season grade (B): Things were looking a bit bleak for the North siders early in the year as they opened up the season with two straight losses to Franklin 30-24 and the state’s No. 5 ranked Folsom 42-25 at home. But since then the real Broncos have stood up, beating Edison 17-10 and Merced 38-35. Head coach Tim Simmons knows football, and it helps to have senior running back and safety Jayson Lee on your side. Lee has been a thoroughbred all season as well as linebacker Noah Haupt. And don’t forget about the improvement of 6’8” 320-pound offensive lineman Matthew Collier, the biggest player in the TRAC.

They’ll win the TRAC if…..they get into grind-em-out games, improve their passing game and take their defense to another level.

Team strengths: Combination of speed, size and strength, running game, experienced coaching.

Players I’d pay to watch: RB/S Jayson Lee, LB Noah Haupt, RB/DB David Akande, LB Jake Vindioff

Marquee match-up: Clovis West, October 9. What a whopper of a first TRAC game for both teams but what a statement game it would be for the Broncos if they beat the mighty Eagles.

 

Clovis East (3-2)

Photo by Nick Baker Marcus Washington of Clovis East is one of the top running backs in the Central Section and just a sophomore and will be a force in the TRAC again after starting last season as a freshman.
Photo by Nick Baker
Marcus Washington of Clovis East is one of the top running backs in the Central Section and just a sophomore and will be a force in the TRAC again after starting last season as a freshman.

Head coach Jim O’Brien (3rd season)

Pre-season grade (B+): Points, points and more points. The Timberwolves have averaged 43.2 points per game through the first five games of the season, with the scores looking like something out of a Nintendo Tecmo Bowl video game. They opened the season beating Golden Valley 56-30 then Redwood 41-24, before running out of gas and falling to Sanger 15-32 and Sunnyside 42-61. They then finished pre-season by pouring in 62 points on homecoming versus Overfelt from San Jose. Sophomore running back Marcus Washington has been nothing short of sensational (329 yards, 5 TDs against Overfelt alone) and has senior quarterback Trey Semien as a dual-threat. The lack of depth on the defensive end is an issue as they’ve given up an average of 31.8 points.

They’ll win the TRAC if…..the offense keeps on clicking, no major injuries and somehow they figure out how to keep teams out of the end zone.

Team strengths: Ability to put up points, quick-hitting offense, running game.

Players I’d pay to watch: QB Trey Semien, RB Marcus Washington, WR Devon Hollier, DL Levall Smith

Marquee match-up: Clovis, October 9. Another intriguing first game of the TRAC and against the 5-0 Cougars who have throttled them the past two games, including a 61-32 playoff win last season.

 

Central (1-4)

Photo courtesy of Judi Szpor Nick Szpor, a senior quarterback coming off ACL surgery, is finally healthy and is one of the top signal-callers in the TRAC.
Photo courtesy of Judi Szpor
Nick Szpor, a senior quarterback coming off ACL surgery, is finally healthy and is one of the top signal-callers in the TRAC.

Head coach Mark Hetherington (1st season)

Pre-season grade (C): Their season began with two very difficult games against Liberty-Brentwood 30-7 and Grant from Sacramento 55-7 and it didn’t help that the Grizzlies were dealing with a rash of injuries, including star receiver Jaylon Johnson. But we know they can compete close to full strength as they held their own against Bullard in week four, losing only 21-16 and followed it up with a win against Buhach Colony 38-14. And in their final tune-up before TRAC, they lost a heartbreaker to Frontier 38-28, a game in which they led at halftime 14-10. Senior quarterback Nick Szpor has returned from a devastating ACL injury suffered in last season’s first round playoff game and looks good, but the Grizzlies struggled to find consistency in their offensive attack.

They’ll win the TRAC if…..their team is at complete full strength, find some consistent offensive playmakers and play with intensity for four quarters.

Team strengths: Athleticism, quarterback play, size and speed.

Players I’d pay to watch: QB Nick Szpor, FB Lacey Cain, OL/DL Robert Bohanna

Marquee match-up: Clovis North, October 16. If the Grizzlies can be at full strength there could be a home upset in this one.