With only a handful of experienced players coming back from a team that went 5-5 last season, Shane Quilling knew there was much work to be done in a short period of time when he accepted the post as Carson High School's head football coach back on March 2.
There was no easing into the job. There's no chance to ease into the season, either, because the Senators open Friday night with a long road trip to play the Elko Indians, who are regarded as one of the top two contenders for the High Desert League and Northern 4A Region championships this coming season.
Then again, Quilling wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is a great test," Quilling said. "That's the caliber we want to play. We talked to the kids this summer about raising the bar. Raising the standard, you know, to compete with the best. These are the games that will show us where we're at and what we need to do to get to where we want to be."
Adding to the difficulty of the 7:30 p.m. test at Elko's Warrior Field, the Senators enter their opener with a green lineup that includes no more than four starters who saw any extensive playing time last year.
"We've got some seniors, but very few of them have played before," Quilling said. "We've got four guys who have really played a lot of (varsity) football, so it's an inexperience factor."
There's plenty of reason to be optimistic about the coming season, however, because the Senators do have a nucleus of talented seniors.
Start with 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior running back Josh Carter, who rushed for 1,215 yards last season, including a season-high 250 yards in Carson's regular season ending win against Douglas. Then there's Javier Vega, a second-team All-Sierra League defensive back last season; Mitch Price is set as a starter on both the offensive and defensive lines; and Chris Barredo steps in to play linebacker and kicker.
"There's a lot of positives," Quilling said. "We've got great team speed and our athleticism is great. Running back ... quarterback ... wide receiver ... defensive back ... linebacker ... we can run with about everybody," Quilling said.
That speed at the skill positions fits right into the veer offense implemented by Quilling, who previously served as head coach at Roy High School in Utah and as defensive coordinator for a Brigham City (Utah) program that won a state title in 1995.
"It fits in perfectly with what we're trying to do and I think we're going to see some good things out of there," Quilling said. "The offense is set. It's wide open. We have our base inside-outside veer option that we can do a lot of things off of. Hopefully it will be fun to watch."
Look for Carter to carry the ball often, although the Senators will go with a rotation of running backs that as of right now includes senior Rodney Black and junior Chris Kotter.
"We've got great speed in the backfield. I coached track and almost all of those guys were my sprinters, so I'm excited about that," Quilling said. "That's a great combo, football and track, because speed is a killer in this game."
Senior quarterback Scott O'Brien will call the signals and figures to give the Senators a threat both running and throwing the ball.
"Scott is going to cause some teams some problems," Quilling said of O'Brien, a varsity 300-meter intermediate hurdler for Carson's track and field team the last two years.
Also look for the Senators to throw the ball more often than they have in years past.
"You've got to be able to run the ball, but you've also got to be able to throw the ball," Quilling said. "If the defense takes some things away, we need to be able to throw the ball."
The Senators have speed at the wide receiver position, too. George Pincock, a state qualifier in the 400-meter dash last track season, and Vega lead a five-man rotation that also includes Matt Waterman, Shawn Heinz and Nick Samaras. Mike Rankin and Nick Shine will play at tight end.
On the line, sophomore center Mike Moore (6-2, 250), i flanked by senior guards Chris Randall (6-3, 250) and Price (6-1, 245). Senior Adam Peterson (6-1, 190), who missed last season due to a knee injury, is set at left tackle while Matt Borda (6-0, 210), Eric Rangel (5-11, 215) and Nathan White (5-8, 160) are competing for the tackle job on the other side.
Barredo figures to be a threat with his kicking leg.
"He has a great leg. He's hit (field goals in practice) from 52, 53 yards, and he's consistently been putting his kickoffs into the end zone," Quilling said of the senior. "That's a good weapon to have."
On the other side of the ball, the Senators will use a 4-4 base defense. And again, there is experience.
"We're really inexperienced up front," Quilling said. "I don't think one of our linemen on defense played last year on the defensive line. Josh Carter played some outside backer, but we've moved him to defensive end."
Rankin will join Carter at end, while Moore, Price and Josh Minter figure to share time at the tackles. Barredo and Jack Brooks will start at the outside linebacker positions. Jack Brooks, Josh Ezekial, Chris Donner and Paul Carter also figure prominently in the defensive scheme - "They're fast little guys we will put out there to disrupt things for other people."
Even though all-conference inside linebacker Jed Abowd graduated in June, sophomore Nick Shine has stepped up to fill the spot.
"He's special," Quilling said of Shine. "He doesn't play like a sophomore. You'll see him all over the field."
In the secondary, Frank Bleuss and Black will share time at safety. Vega will start at one cornerback position and Waterman at the other.
Looking ahead to the Sierra League season, a wide-open race appears to be in store. Wooster is the defending champion. Reno has some key returnees and the Huskies have been bolstered by the transfer of workhorse running back Travis Longobardo from Sparks. South Tahoe, Douglas, Hug and Carson all appear to be headed into this season is reloading stages after fielding senior-dominated lineups last year.
"Looking at the rest of the league, all the other teams are pretty much in the same boat as we are," Quilling said.
First up, however, there's a game at Elko to contend with.
"I've seen film from their scrimmage with Lowry and they are pretty solid," Quilling said of the Indians, who went 9-2 last season. "They're not just big, they're huge, and they can run. They have good team speed everywhere, so it's kind of hard to find any weak spots.
"But, you know, we worked all summer working on our skills to try and get better every day and Elko is just another opportunity to find out where we're at. It's non-league, so it doesn't mean anything on how we're going to finish in the league, but it's a good starting point to find out what we've got to do to be ready for the playoffs."
Carson's goal is to be in the Northern 4A playoffs come November, and to be successful once they get there.
"We've talked about that. If you win the region, then you get a home playoff game and obviously that's what our main goal. Getting the home field advantage so you can win in the playoffs is big," Quilling said.
"The kids have been great - I couldn't ask any more from the effort they've given - and we have a great staff. Anything can happen and I'm very optimistic."