Based on last weekend's scrimmage at Dayton, Fernley's first-year coach Mark Hodges is breathing the same enthusiasm his players possess.
The Vaqueros, coming off a 4-6 record from 2004, competed in a three-team scrimmage along with Dayton and Lovelock.
"We were the top team there. We put the ball in the end zone the most," said Hodges, who was hired in the spring to replace Dave Hart whose contract was not renewed.
During two-a-day practices, Hodges could see the enthusiasm of 55 players out for both the varsity and junior varsity programs. His 10 returning players have been developing as team leaders.
Football fever in Fernley, he assumes, could be contagious as he and his staff work to make the Vaqueros a playoff contender in the Northern 3A.
"The kids are enthusiastic, and they have been working hard," said the former assistant coach for North Medford (Oregon) High School.
Although the team is inexperienced, Hodges said the players are consistent in how they execute their plays. He feels team speed, depth at the skill positions, a good kicking game and experience at the quarterback position will help Fernley.
That experience at quarterback could be crucial for Fernley. During the scrimmage, Colin Hodges riddled Dayton's and Lovelock's defenses for six touchdowns. The running game added two more scores..
Other key players include Joe Carter, offensive tackle and defensive end; Daniel Henderson, linebacker and utility player; James Oppelt, center and defensive tackle; and Jori Kaiser, wide receiver and defensive back.
Along with Hodges, the first-year coach feels these will be his main team leaders for the 2005 season.
Prominent newcomers to the team include Hodges, Kaiser, Oppelt, Brandon Frank and Kyle Thompson.
Frank will see action as a running back and defensive back while Thompson is a wide receiver and defensive back just like Kaiser.
Fernley's climb to the playoffs could be slow considering the company the Vaqueros keep in the Northern 3A. Tahoe-Truckee won the state title last year with a 28-0 win over Moapa Valley. In the mix could also be Lowry and Spring Creek, two of the largest schools in the conference.
Coach Hodges feels Dayton could be a top team even though Fernley held its won against the Dust Devils. Hodges, though, is unfamiliar with many of the league's teams, so he figures that could be a blessing in preparing for opponents.
Fernley opens the season today at Yerington and then travels to Virgin Valley on Sept. 2. The home opener is Sept. 9 against Quincy, Calif.