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Renaud, Vizcarra provide muscle for Gila Ridge defense
Last year: 7-4 overall, lost 62-0 to Chaparral in the first round of Division II state tournament
Top returners: Kanoa Renaud, FB/LB, jr.; Kevin Vizcarra, DE/TD, sr.; Austin Vargas, OL/DL, sr.; Mike Duran, DE/OL, sr.; Robby Mecham, RB/FS, jr.; Scotty Nickerson, QB/DB, sr.
Key newcomers: Jordan Klostreich, sr., RB.; Ryan Hancock, WR/S, sr.
The Big Game: Last year, Cibola running back Jordan Mitchell bruised the Hawks for 324 yards in a 28-0 Raider win. With Cibola and Gila Ridge becoming bigger rivals by the year — especially since Cibola’s taken the last two meetings — the Hawks will have Oct. 19 circled in red.
Gila Ridge coach Jay Denton’s comments: “We got a long ways to go. We’re young so we got to go step by step and if we miss a step and try and jump we’ll have to go back and redo it. It’s a slow process.”
The lowdown: In order for the Hawks to be successful, they’ll need to find a way to replace losing stud running back Andy Meza. While chances of one person duplicating the 1,924 yards and 19 touchdowns are unlikely, if the Hawks can piece together a few backs to fill the void, that will open up Nickerson and the passing game.
Schedule (all times 7 p.m. unless noted):
Aug. 24 at Mohave
Aug. 31 vs. Yuma High
Sept. 7 at Kofa
Sept. 14 at Brawley
Sept. 21 vs. Perry
Sept. 28 vs. Central
Oct. 5 at Yuma High
Oct. 12 vs. San Luis
Oct. 19 at Cibola
Oct. 26 vs. Lake Havasu
— Jesse Severson
At the Minnesota State Fair on Sept. 2, 1901, vice president Theodore Roosevelt first said his iconic mantra from a West African proverb.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
For Gila Ridge linebacker/fullback Kanoa Renaud, his soft-spokeness is not an issue. He lets his tackles and hits do the talking.
“I don't feel like I need to speak out — I don't have to compensate for anything. I don't need to talk trash. I just go out and do what I need to do,” said Renaud, who finished last year with 72 tackles for the Hawks.
For Hawks coach Jay Denton, he doesn't need his middle linebacker to be shouting orders or foaming out the mouth.
“He plays pretty loud,” Denton said of Renaud, who made the state tournament for the Gila Ridge wrestling team last season. “It's not a negative. I've had soft-spoken guys who play the game. I've had loud guys who play the game. I don't think that affects him or any of his teammates.”
That was clear to see last year when the Hawks played Cibola and Raider quarterback Lucky Arvizo Jr. took the snap and rolled to the left only to have Renaud and Austin Vargas send him to the ground — which pumped up the normally calm Renaud.
“On the field, he lets his pads do the talking,” Gila Ridge senior defensive end/tight end Kevin Vizcarra said.
Vizcarra and Renaud will be the main attractions on defense for the Hawks, who finished last year 7-4 — losing to eventual state champion Chaparral 62-0 in the first round of the Division II state tournament.
“They're going to be the anchors because they've got experience and they're both good football players,” Denton said.
For Vizcarra, the fact that he's been on varsity since his sophomore year has moved him into the spotlight for the younger players.
“It feels different because I've been playing with the same guys for two years now on varsity so I feel like I have to take the leader role,” Vizcarra said.
A big question for the Hawks this season will be at running back. Gila Ridge lost their top five rushers from a year ago, including Andy Meza, who finished with 1,924 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Hawks' top returning rusher is Renaud, who gained 30 yards on six carries. Denton said that he has around four or five players all vying for that coveted starting running back spot.
“We have more depth. We don't have Andy back but got a little more depth and everybody's competing for the starting spot. And we could do it by committee and run three of them at a time,” Denton said.
One of the candidates for the running back spot, junior Robby Mecham, said that he realizes each of them are around the same talent level and that it comes down to knowing the plays and who can execute the best.
“It's tough because you'll look at the other guys and think he can do this better than I can but he's probably thinking the same thing. You just have to go out and play as hard as you can to get that first-string spot,” Mecham said.
Mecham joins junior Adam Williams, junior Jason Pajos, senior Zach Taylor and senior Jordan Klostreich as possible candidates for the spot.
Senior Scotty Nickerson will be under center for the Hawks and may have to get used to handing the ball off to any number of backs. As a backup last year, Nickerson went 9-for-23 for 141 yards throwing a touchdown but had four interceptions. After losing several seniors from last year's team, Nickerson feels that there are still a few kinks to be worked out but they should be ready for their first game — Aug. 24 at Mohave.
“It's a lot of small pieces. We have to tie everything together then we'll be fine,” Nickerson said.
Renaud will be part of the group that hopes to step up for the relatively inexperienced Hawks. Don't let the quietness fool you, though. Renaud is ready to bring any opponent to the ground with a little message from his shoulder pads.
“Last year was my first year on varsity and we had a lot of good senior leaders,” Renaud said. “This year me and a couple of other guys have to fill in the shoes they left for us.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson