While there is no way to erase what happened during the 2004 football season, the Carson Senators want to do the next best thing - move on with a new attitude, new expectations, and if all goes well, a totally different outcome this season.
Decimated by a series of injuries, the loss of players to suspensions and others who simply quit the team last year, Carson limped home with a 3-7 record (2-4 in the Sierra League) and out of playoff contention. Those were definitely some difficult times, according to Shane Quilling.
"In my 18 years of coaching football, that was easily my toughest year," Quilling said. "We were decimated. I mean, we only had 26 guys suited up when we went up to Reed for our fifth game and then we lost two starters early in the game. We want to erase those memories."
Now, for the good news. Carson has a nucleus of 12 returning varsity players that has come together and embarked on a new mission.
"We've known since camp over the summer that we were going to be different than last year," senior lineman Eric Walther said, referring to the Senators' trip to the Gold Beach Football Camp in Oregon in July. "I think we've really brought our stuff together. We're a close team now. We don't want to have any of that stuff we went through last year. Now, the only thing everyone is worried about is the team. This is a family now."
The family is led by a solid nucleus of seniors.
Among the returnees, wide receiver Scott Witter (6-3, 190) was one of the highlights last season when he earned first-team all-league honors. Witter ranked second among receivers in the North with 31 catches, good for 509 yards and four touchdowns.
Matt Mitchell returns for his third varsity season as Carson's kicker and is coming off a season in which he contributed three field goals, the longest a 35-yarder.
Running back Bryan Maffei (5-10, 180) also figures prominently in Carson's plans after a junior season in which he rushed for 449 yards and five touchdowns (and caught a TD pass), all in the final six games after he was pressed into service as a running back.
"If he stays healthy, I personally believe Bryan Maffei will be one of the top backs in the state of Nevada this year," Quilling said. "He's legit. He runs 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash), he's a 400-pound-plus squatter and 300-pound bencher, so he has great speed and strength, and he has great vision. He's going to get some serious carries."
Maffei was impressive in Carson's preseason scrimmage against Fallon last Saturday when he unofficially gained 176 yards on eight carries and got into the end zone five times - including runs of 60 and 65 yards.
"Maffei has probably worker harder than anyone," Walther said. "As a freshman, he was the smallest guy out here, but he's shown everyone what three years of hard work can do for you.
"He's going to have a good year, but his good year is going to depend on how well we play."
Having an offensive front like that is going to make Maffei look good ... and vice versa.
"We have a good line," said Walther, a third-year varsity starter. "We have smart players who know the schemes, we're big and physical, and we all worked hard in the weight room over the winter."
The strength of Carson's Veer Offense starts with that line, according to Quilling. Five players with starting experience are back - Caleb Kondor (5-11, 200) at right tackle, Zach Taylor (6-5, 265) at right guard, Walther (6-2, 227) returns as a second-team all-league center and Nevadaprepreport.com preseason all-state pick, J.J. Whitehead (6-1, 215) at left tackle and Jason Dittenber (6-2, 200) at tight end. The one newcomer, junior left guard Jamie Green (6-3, 247), split time between JV and varsity last season. Chris Ames and Dallas Miller also give the Senators depth at tight end.
"Our front line is solid, both on offense and defense," Quilling said. "They're as good as anybody, I think."
In addition to Witter, Ryan Jesse, Johnny Hazeltine, Richie Norgrove, Matt Kiser and Ryan Eichenberger round out the corps of wide receivers.
"They're all athletic, they can run and they can catch, so we're excited there," Quilling said.
Kyle Banko, Travis Lamborn, Kevin Neugebauer, Robert Frederick, Adam Solinger and Steve Sawyers will join Maffei as running backs. Banko ran well in Carson's scrimmage last Saturday. Neugebauer rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns against Wooster last year.
Sophomore Chris McBroom and junior Tony Roberts are the quarterbacks - with McBroom touted as the starter.
"Chris, as of right now, is the starting QB." Quilling said. "He's just a sophomore, so he's going to make sophomore mistakes, but he's getting better by the day. And the exciting part is, we're going to have him a couple more years after this."
McBroom is also set to start at free safety on defense, based largely on his strong performance at the Gold Beach Camp.
"There was one night when he probably threw three or four touchdowns, he caught a touchdown and had probably five picks in two seven-on-seven games," defensive coordinator Vito Perrone said. "He took it over, as a sophomore. It was pretty impressive."
Defensively, the Senators have good experience returning at the line and linebacker positions. Walther returns as a starter at end to anchor a line that also includes Kondor at nose guard, Taylor and Green at the tackles, and Jonas Schenzel (6-3, 190) at the other end, with Josh Mynear, Quentin Dankworth and Alex Smith providing backup. Dittenber and Lamborn both saw action as starters at the inside linebacker positions last year -Dittenber received second-team all-league recognition - while Chris Ames, John Hazeltine, Witter and Maffei provide strength at the outside linebacker spots.
The Senators are inexperienced in the secondary with a group that includes Roberts and Jesse at the corners, in addition to Norgrove, Eichenberger and Kiser in reserve.
"We're pretty solid, experience-wise, on the D-line and at linebacker," Quilling said. "We're just young, not age-wise, but experience-wise, in the secondary. I think a lot of our success is going to depend on how well our secondary catches up."
A key factor for the Senators will be health. With only 35 players on the roster, depth is not one of the team's strength.
"It's tough when you've got six, seven guys going both ways," Quilling said. "But we're finally getting to where we've been trying to get for the last four years. We've got 57 freshmen and something like 51 JV kids. That's more kids we've had in the program in I don't know how long."
The Senators will take their first step into the new season tonight when they host Southern 3A power Moapa Valley in a non-conference game. Quilling knows the opener will be a difficult one, but he can hardly wait for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
"They're one of the better 3A teams in the state, so it will be a good challenge," said Quilling. "I expect they'll be tough, like always. They have good talent and they throw a lot of different things at you."
One bonus for the Senators is a favorable schedule in which they will play six of 10 games at home, however, there are some big games early. Among those, Carson opens its Sierra League season on Sept. 16 at home against arch rival Douglas, followed by a Sept. 23 trip to play highly-touted Hug.
"Our first five games are tough," Quilling said. "We go Moapa Valley, Elko, Manogue and then we've got Douglas and Hug. We've got five of the better teams probably in the area and one of the better teams down South."
The Senators would like to emerge one of the better teams in the area themselves. It's possible based on some of the signs from last year, when, despite all the turmoil, they were only one win away from qualifying for the Northern 4A playoffs. The Senators were in favorable position after beating North Valleys 38-21 at homecoming, but one week later, they surged to a 21-0 first-quarter lead at South Tahoe only to come out on the short end of a 42-41 final score. The week after that, Witter caught a 40-yard TD pass from Kyle Bacon to give the Senators a 34-33 win at Wooster.
It was simply a crazy season.
"That was the amazing thing. Even with all the stuff that happened, we were only one game away from the playoffs," Quilling said. "That's one of the things that has me so excited about this year."
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.
WHO: Moapa Valley at Carson
WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. (no JV game)
LAST YEAR: Carson 3-7 overall, 2-4 in Sierra League; Moapa Valley 10-2 overall, 4-0 in Southern 3A. Moapa Valley defeated Carson 35-10 in season opener, then lost 28-0 to Tahoe-Truckee in the 3A state championship game in Las Vegas.
COACHES: Shane Quilling of Carson (16-23 in four seasons); Brent Lewis of Moapa Valley
Aug. 26 Moapa Valley 7:30
Sept. 2 Elko 7:30
Sept. 10 @Bishop Manogue 1:30
Sept. 16 Douglas* 7:30
Sept. 23 @Hug* 7:30
Sept. 30 Liberty (Brentwood, Calif.) 7:30
Oct. 7 @North Valleys* 7:30
Oct. 14 South Tahoe* 7:30
Oct. 21 Wooster* 7:30
Oct. 27 @Reno* 7:30
* Denotes Sierra League game
Note: Northern 4A playoffs begin the weekend of Nov. 4-5. The state championship is scheduled for Dec. 3.