Sierra Sports Insider: The Noonan era begins as Sierra travels to Sac City in opener

By: Matt Folsom Posted in: Business Applied Academics and Physical Education
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Football players with Coach Noonan

I watched the second half of the Peyton Manning Show last night—seven TD passes!?!?—and got even more excited about tomorrow’s season opener for the Sierra College football team. The Wolverines travel to Sac City—kickoff is 6pm—to take on the Panthers in a game with far more importance than simply area bragging rights.

Sure, Jeff Tisdel’s Wolverines dismantled the Panthers 65-10 in the 2012 season opener at The Buzz, but the nature of JC football is that nothing remains the same for long. And, with Ben Noonan taking over for Tis after a dozen program-defining years, the 2013 season debuts with much excitement, dramatic changes and some questions.

Will Noonan succeed right away or will it take time?

I think we’ll see a bit of both. In the five-plus months Ben has been on campus, I have seen an extremely driven, organized, passionate coach who expects much from his players and his coaches. He expects to be successful right from the start and those expectations may well be attained. He is an accomplished offensive strategist and his Wolverines will look nothing like what we’ve seen the last decade, at least offensively. But, to be honest, his late arrival in Rocklin impacted recruiting and it will take time for Noonan to learn the area high schools. Sierra has always relied on area talent, and Ben wants to keep the “community” in community college. He has an infectious personality that should draw local players to Rocklin in the future.

Will the new offense move the chains and light up the scoreboard?

I think so. The Noonan offense will be able to move the ball. It will be fast-paced—look for the no-huddle often—and unpredictable. This is a pass-first offense that will rely on the run. Noonan expects his offensive line and backs to set a tone that will open up his short-passing game. But, don’t be surprised to see pass-only series, as Noonan uses the pass for the five-yard chunks of yardage normally seen from the run. Receivers will run slants and out routes and the occasional deep route—all designed to keep defenses on their heels.

What about the defense and special teams?

Defensive coordinator Ed Eaton prowling the sidelines and barking at his defense has been a common sight at The Buzz for more than a decade. That isn’t changing and Eaton’s defense is again expected to be a solid, hard-hitting unit. Giving up the big play has hurt the Wolverine D in recent years and this has been a focus heading into this season. Eaton has a way of bringing out the best in his players; expect nothing less in 2013.

Jeff Tisdel told me as he was preparing for his first Valley Conference season that, in the Valley, special teams win championships. He was right, as I’ve seen kickoff returns, blocked extra points and field goals turn seasons around and produce titles for teams in the Valley (Including the Wolverines, who won the Valley each of its first three years in the conference, the only team to have ever won three in a row.) Will the 2013 special teamers be a special group? We’ll find out, beginning tomorrow night.

Can this team develop chemistry?

You can toss the X’s and O’s, the matchups and the talent aside. It takes chemistry, along with everything else, for any team to reach its potential. Those of you who saw the 2012 team, witnessed unique chemistry help win games and play beyond potential.

About 75% of this year’s players are newcomers. That’s roughly 52 out of the 69 players on the active roster. Developing chemistry with that many new guys may be the biggest challenge facing Noonan and his staff.

Who are some of the players to watch?

Let’s start at QB, where Noonan has brought in three talented signal-callers. The probable starter is SO Daniel Harding, a 6-4, 215 lb. transfer from Akron University. He’ll be backed up by Reno, NV products Kyle Robbins (6-4, 205) and Anthony James Silva (6-2, 200). If the “Meet the Wolverines” scrimmage a few weeks ago was any indication, all three can pass the ball. An exciting newcomer is Calvin Burns, 5-9, 175 lb. blur of a running back out of Texas. Burns could be one of the top backs in NorCal. There are 18 receivers on the squad, so expect the ball to be spread around, a-la Manning. Jordan Finley returns to anchor the O-line.

Defensively, three returning stalwarts lead the way. DL Erik McKinnon is a huge presence – 6-4, 285—up front. He makes his living in the opponent’s backfield. Two of the hardest hitting Wolverines ever roam the backfield. DB Michael Saulter delivered some memorable hits in 2012. Teams need to account for him on every play. SS Zack Starnes may be the most versatile Wolverine. Not only does he have amazing closing speed, he supplies the monster hits that make him a prototypical safety. He is also a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball as a punt and kickoff returner.

A couple final notes:

Let’s make Sac City a sea of cardinal and white tomorrow night. Get there early and make some noise!

Next Saturday’s home opener against Feather River—1:00 kickoff at The Buzz—is the annual Faculty/Staff Appreciation Game. All Sierra staffers who show their badge at the gate get in free. There will be quarterly raffle prizes provided by the Associated Students of Sierra College—proud sponsors of Sierra College football—and a surprise public address announcer (who has been a Sierra fixture for decades)!

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