Spartans hit the ground running

Boy is holding a ball.
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© Wendy Pierro/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa High senior James Turner, right, sizes up defender Nick Holt during offensive drills at Wednesday’s practice. The Spartans plan to run the ball early and often this season. © Wendy Pierro/Acorn Newspapers
Let the games begin.

Rio Mesa High’s football team kicks off its season at 7 p.m. tonight against visiting San Marcos.

The Spartans won their final four regular-season games last year to earn a share of the Pacific View League title.

They’re hungry for an outright league crown in 2011.

“We’re ready to go all out and have fun,” said senior James Turner.

Rio Mesa loves to run the pigskin. However, the squad plans to incorporate some shotgun and spread formations into its traditional Wing T offense under the direction of new starting quarterback Christian McNair.

In their 3-5 defense, the Spartans aren’t afraid to let cornerbacks match up mano-a-mano with opposing wideouts. This allows Rio Mesa’s linebackers to blitz and create chaos.

Jordan Nunnery and Tanner Wrout, the proverbial lightning and thunder, ignite this team.

The dynamic duo rushed for more than 1,000 yards individually last year. Nunnery gleaned 1,188 yards with 12 total touchdowns. Wrout rumbled for 1,151 yards and 12 total scores.

“They’re bigger, faster and stronger,” said head coach Bob Gregorchuk. “And they have an extra year of maturity.”

Nunnery hopes he and Wrout can each gain more than 1,500 yards on the ground this season.

“We’re working hard and hitting the weight room,” Nunnery said. “We need to get everyone ready mentally and physically.”

Nunnery is also stoked to play with his cousin, Davonte Nunnery, a sophomore wide receiver/ cornerback. According to Jordan Nunnery, this is the first time Nunnery cousins have played football together at Rio Mesa since the early 1990s.

“He’s family,” said Nunnery, who starts at free safety while contributing at cornerback.

“We get hyped up off each other. We have a good connection.”

The senior tailback was quick to credit linemen and coaches for his success. Nunnery, who’s received serious looks from Cal Poly and Sacramento State, hopes to earn a Division I scholarship.

While Nunnery is an elusive, quick back, Wrout brings the pain.

The bruising senior, another Division I caliber student-athlete, is looking forward to a promising journey.

“Our team has a lot of talent,” said Wrout, a starting inside linebacker.

“This could be one of the better teams in Rio Mesa (history). We have the talent—we need to put it all together.”

Expect Wrout to make plays at the line of scrimmage.

“I love blitzing,” he said. “I have faith in my cornerbacks and safety. They know what they’re doing, and they can lock up most receivers.”

At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, McNair is another running threat who’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and earn pancake blocks.

“On pitch plays we’ll let him pitch the ball and be the lead blocker,” Gregorchuk said of McNair.

McNair has a strong arm, but accuracy is a concern.

His targets include wide receivers Mitchell Haerterich, a senior, and Davonte Nunnery. Ben Quantock, a punter, and Dez Vasquez shore up the tight end position.

Orion Awa-DuBose anchors the offensive line.

A returning all-league and all-section lineman, Awa-DuBose is a rock at center. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior can play any position, and he’s a mentally and physically tough run blocker.

Sophomore Joe Gonzalez starts at strong guard, but the rest of the line is a work in progress, Gregorchuk said.

Junior Martel Tyler is another offensive weapon who will spell Jordan Nunnery and Wrout in the backfield. Tyler makes a big impact on defense, where he roams at falcon, the linebacker/safety hybrid position.

The Spartans are strong at linebacker, led by Wrout and fellow interior backs Haerterich and Matt Espinoza. Senior linebacker Joe Alamillo was cleared to play Wednesday with a knee injury.

Turner is a standout falcon/ safety.

The senior looks bigger than his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame. He loves playing in this aggressive, fast defense.

Turner, who also competes in the long jump and 400-meter run in track and field, hopes to play college football at Cal Poly or San Diego State. He wants to study criminal justice and be a police officer and detective.

“We play fast,” Turner said, “and we play hard no matter what, to the end.”

Devon Williams is a quick and explosive nose tackle. The sophomore, who is deaf, makes a huge impact at the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Junior defensive ends Nick Holt and Ricky Mora beef up the defensive line. Holt’s specialty is rushing the quarterback while Mora is a run-stuffer.

Free safety Gabriel Duongtran and cornerback Darion Zimmerman aid the Nunnery cousins in the secondary.

“They have good cover skills,” Gregorchuk said of the defensive backs. “They’re very fast. They allow us to play a little more man coverage, and that helps us with our blitz schemes.”

Junior kicker Tim Dominguez set a school record for kicking points with 59 last autumn.

Dominguez has range up to 40 yards.

Gregorchuk said the Spartans must get contributions from backups and younger players.

“They need to be ready to step in for a guy who goes down,” the coach said. “You never know when your turn comes.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to continually get better each week.”

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