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Trojans eager to see how they stack up

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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Oak Ridge features a 2018 roster with 17 seniors, 14 of which played football last year. That’s the smallest senior class that head coach Eric Cavaliere can remember at Oak Ridge.

With five starters on offense returning and only three on defense, a large majority of the team will be first-year varsity starters, making for a young and relatively inexperienced team to start the season.

It’s a far cry from last year’s veteran team that went 9-1 during the regular season and made it to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals before losing to St. Mary’s for the second straight season.

That said, you can never count the Trojans out because they’ve got a phenomenal coaching staff that always gets the most out of their players. Also, taking the place of the graduated seniors are many starters off a junior varsity team that won eight games a year ago. Four sophomores who helped the freshman team go 10-0 last year are also on the varsity team this season, as the Trojans still have plenty of talent to fill the roster.

The team has two big advantages offensively heading into the season. Despite only having five returning seniors, one comes at the most crucial position of quarterback. Marco Baldacchino started 11 games at quarterback a year ago, but Matt Jenner started the first two playoff games and replaced Baldacchino in the team’s final game and put up surprisingly outstanding numbers considering he didn’t play the position until the postseason. Jenner completed 60 percent of his passes and threw 14 touchdowns in three games against no interceptions.

Three other returning starters come on the offensive line. Guards Jesse Jimenez and Jacob Crannell return, as does tackle Zach Welch. As Cavaliere said, if you have pick a spot on your team to have returning, experienced players, there is no better place to have that than on the offensive line.

Defensively, only linebacker Sam Sanders returns from the front seven. Oak Ridge again lucks out in that the other two returning starters come at the ever-crucial cornerback position, where Sawyer Merrill and Avant Jacobs are back for another year. Their skill and experience will help take some pressure off the younger players around them.

If losing 13 senior starters from a year ago wasn’t a big enough hit, the competition also got a bit tougher in the Sierra Foothill League this season. The two teams that have routinely finished at the bottom of the standings the last four years, Nevada Union and Woodcreek, have been replaced by perennial power Grant and Whitney. The Pacers had their streak of 26 straight seasons in the playoffs broken a year ago, while the Wildcats have only had two losing seasons in their 12-year history and one of those was the first year of their program in 2006.

“Grant and Whitney are a great fit for the SFL,” Cavaliere said. “Whitney is another Rocklin-area team and the demographics of their program fit the SFL. Grant has great history and tradition and brings that along with speed, athleticism, and toughness. We have a long history with Grant. It’s always a great game with them. Some of my best memories are games against Grant.”

So what’s in store for the Trojans in 2018? At this point, who knows? Cavaliere isn’t sure how things will turn out, but he likes his team.

“It will be interesting where we stack up,” Cavaliere said. “We could have a great team, but if all the other teams in the SFL have great teams, we could finish in the middle of the pack. We could have an average team, but if the other teams are average too, we could be near the top. You just never know. It’s so early and nobody really knows to much about anybody.

“Folsom could have its best team ever. It will be interesting to see how we match up with them. If you take them out of the equation, Granite Bay lost a ton of seniors. Del Oro had a lot of young guys last year. Rocklin returns a lot of players so they could have a good year. It’s unpredictable.

“We’re excited for the season. We’ve got some questions marks, but we’ve got players from successful JV and freshman teams stepping up to fill roles. Everything we’ve done so far has been in shirts and shorts with no pads. With football, you never know until you play a real game with pads.”