Rippee expects Tiger progress to continue |

Rippee expects Tiger progress to continue

by Chuck Smock

The Douglas High football team won its first 4A playoff game last season.

The year before, the Tigers made the playoffs for the first time in two decades.

Head coach Mike Rippee is expecting the progress to continue.

“(1996) was a breakthrough year for us,” Rippee said. “I think the program has turned around. We compete with everybody. Teams that play us know they have to battle.”

Playing competitive football is one thing, but just making the playoffs isn’t enough for the Tigers anymore – especially in the expanded format that allows four teams from each division into the zone tournament.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished, but I’m not satisfied because we haven’t won a championship,” said Rippee, who is entering his 14th season as the Tigers’ head coach. “At the start of the season, our goal is to make the playoffs. That’s just the first goal. We haven’t won a championship, but that’s the next goal.”

This year, that goal starts with three important players who will play on the offensive and defensive lines.

Matt Tretton (6-foot, 210 pounds), a second-team all-division player at offensive guard last season, will play guard and defensive end this year. Sili Mafua (5-10, 250) started at offensive guard as a sophomore and played defensive tackle. He will play both positions again this season. Mark Garcia (6-2, 280) started at defensive tackle last year. He will start at offensive tackle this season and will see playing time at defensive tackle.

“Those guys are key, going both ways,” Rippee said. “We have some pretty good size, but quickness and endurance are more important, especially for the players going both ways.”

Another key will be the play of quarterback Anthony Bartone, who started two games as a junior last season after Chris Griffith suffered a lacerated liver during the first game. Bartone passed for 150 yards and two touchdowns in his first start, against eventual state champion McQueen.

“Anthony did a fine job last year,” Rippee said. “Now it’s his turn to lead the team. Obviously, playing well last season gave him a lot of confidence for this season.”

Halfback Levi Shoda, who played the H-back slot last year, will step into the spotlight as the featured halfback in the Tigers Fly offense.

“Douglas High has been known for producing outstanding running backs,” Rippee said. “Hopefully, Levi steps up. He’s had a good season so far and he’s they guy we’re going to be looking to.”

Rippee is also expecting key offensive contributions from seniors Joel Kruger (TE/OLB), Jim Coyne (WR), Jeff Zinn (C/DE) and Wes Naugle (HB).

Kruger (6-2, 200) made several big catches late last season and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Coyne shined during the preseason at the X-back receiver slot, Rippee said.

Naugle will also get his share of carries at halfback because Shoda will play strong safety and free safety on defense in addition to his duties on offense.

Zinn will be the starting center on offense and will see some time at defensive end.

On the defensive side of the ball, middle linebacker Garrett Anderson will be the centerpiece of the Tigers’ new 4-3 scheme. Anderson will also play tight end.

“If we’re going to be better defensively, Garrett Anderson has to be the leader,” Rippee said. “He’s got to shut everything down between the tackles. We’re counting on him to do that.”

The Tigers have switched from a 4-4 defense, featuring four linemen and four linebackers, to a 4-3, which uses three linebackers and an extra defensive back. The new defense will allow the Tigers to be more versatile, the coach said.

“We’re seeing a lot more offenses that try to spread you out,” Rippee explained. “This helps us adjust to that and still play the run. In this league, if you don’t stop the run, you’re not going to win.”

Outside linebacker Jeremy Drew (5-9, 160) will be a key player defensively.

“Jeremy is probably the smallest linebacker you’re going to see in this league,” Rippee said. “Technically, he plays very well and he’s tougher than nails.”

Rippee also expects big things from Kenny Nicoll, a returning starter at cornerback.

“He’s probably the best athlete we have on the team,” Rippee said. “He’ll play cornerback, safety, receiver. He returns kickoffs and (returns) punts. He’s going to see a lot of action. Out of everybody, he probably had the best preseason.”

The Tigers’ defensive secondary took an unfortunate hit early in August when Nate Murren, the projected starter at free safety, underwent emergency surgery to fix a problem in his small intestines.

“Thank God he’s OK,” Rippee said. “That’s the main thing. We plan on seeing Nate before the end of the year. He’ll be back. He’s a real key guy for us.”

Douglas High got more bad news on Aug. 19, when senior starting Z-back and kicker Javier Duarte suffered a dislocated hip that may have sidelined him for the season.

“Javier is a great kid,” Rippee said. “If he can’t play, I know he’ll be an inspirational leader for us.”

Several juniors are likely to see plenty of playing time this season, according to Rippee.

Kyle Baker (RB/LB), Bryce Lister (OT/DT), Jake Ford (WR), Kyle Wentze (SS/WR), Josh Wilcox (DB), Josh Nussbaum (DB), Matt Parra (DB) and Josh Himmelrick (FB) will all get their shots to make their marks on the varsity squad.

“We have some untested people out there,” Rippee said. “Once we get past double-days, we’ll be OK. I’m anxious for things to get going.”

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