Team: Oak Ridge
League: Delta River League — Ponderosa, Folsom, Pleasant Grove, Jesuit, Sheldon.
2011 record: 7-5; third place; 1-1 in playoffs
Head coach: Eric Cavaliere
Assistant coaches: Mark Watson (quarterbacks); Ron Martin (running backs, defensive backs); Darren Jonutz (Defensive Coordinator, linebackers); Aaron Brackney (offensive line); Kevin Lopina (tight ends, outside linebackers); Kevin Placek (defensive line).
Key games: Aug. 24 season opener @ Vista del Lago; Sept. 8 home opener vs Hiram Johnson; Sept. 14 hosting grant; Oct. 5 Delta River League opener as host to Folsom; Oct. 19 hosting Ponderosa; Nov. 2 Homecoming against Jesuit.
EL DORADO HILLS — Oak Ridge’s playoff win last year at Burbank was epic but Troy couldn’t follow up a week later at Granite Bay and as soon as the postseason got going it ended.
So far this season, the Trojans own a win over a perennial postseason program (Rocklin) which was also on the road. They’ve also defeated Vista del Lago and Washington of Fremont.
Defensively, Oak Ridge has allowed just 13 points in 12 quarters. Though the Trojans lost players on both sides of the ball to graduation, they’ll still be a senior-oriented team.
Offense: Quaterback Jason Samuels returns after missing the second half of last season due to an injury he suffered at Fairfield. He did play in the Trojans’ second playoff game and appears set, after a productive offseason, to have a big senior campaign, evidenced by his four touchdown passes last Saturday.
He’s one of three returning on offense, leaving Cavaliere with some holes to fill.
“It’s looking pretty good,” Cavaliere said prior to the season. “I’ve never had a team that was this unified which is a great place to start. “The junior and senior classes have come together real well and that’s a real team strength.”
In the backfield, Oak Ridge will rely on Blake Martin, one of the team’s hardest workers who, like Samuels, had an injury-plagued junior year, and Josh Wellman. The fullback slots will be occupied by Jericho Hallare and Tanner Hughes.
Byron Spain has excellent hands and runs routes well as one of Samuels’ main targets. He’ll be complimented by Bradford Buenzli and speedster Jacob Sipes who’ll double as Samuels’ backup.
Protecting Samuels is an offensive line anchored by the Chapman brothers: Hekoti and Tuita, both three-year starters. Kareem Ballal is back from injury at one guard spot while Jacob Proul mans the other. The center will be either Tyler Baker or Kyler Flynn.
At tight end, expect to see Cory Gregersen, Ross Dwelley and Trent Buenzli vye for minutes.
“Our offense will be balanced. Jason (Samuels) is an excellent passer, Blake’s (Martin) a physical runner, our line can protect and we have big wide receiver’s we’ll be able to throw to down the field,” Cavaliere said.
Defense: Troy brings back two starters: Proul from the defensive line; and Zack Claiborne (edge, outside linebacker) whose tenacity to get to the opposing quarterback helped Claiborne set a school record for sacks. Also on the line are the Chapmans and Ballal.
Trent Buenzli, Gregersen and Dwelley are the outside linebackers while on the inside is Nick Gordon and Thomas Malhman.
In the secondary, the corners are Chad Augood, Bradford Buenzli and Martin while the secondary features Sipes and Colton Giorgi, two players who’ve stepped up to handle a postion that was a question mark for the Trojans.
Also in the mix, expect to see Hallare and Victor Bunce.
“We can be pretty good on defense. That was the biggest surprise coming out of (summer) camp. Though we graduated a lot of guys, players have come in and stepped up.” Cavaliere said.
Special teams: Oak Ridge will be hard-pressed to replace kicker Jon David Smith from a year ago. The task goes to Ryan Lamb and the punter is Sipes.
Outlook: The Trojans’ goals are a league championship and a solid playoff run. According to Cavaliere, “they’ll take it one week at a time.”
Gone from the schedule is Del Oro. Back on is Grant which visits Oak Ridge Friday in what should be a real test for the boys in navy and gold.
Probably the biggest challenge is when the Delta River League rolls around. Oak Ridge will host three of the five games, including neighbor rival Folsom.
At 3-0, Troy is playing well and the players’ identities are beginning to show. This well-coached unit is primed to have a big season.