The Nipomo High football team made history last season. The arm of senior quarterback Matt Albright helped lead the Titans to a 10-4 record and its first Southern Section title in school history.
“It was good for our city, for our team in general, and it was a good confidence booster heading into this year,” senior linebacker Terry Wambolt said. “It’s a bar we are going to strive to reach again.”
The head coach who set up that bar decided to step down. But he didn’t go far.
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New head coach, same staff
After eight years as the head coach, Russ Edwards relinquished the head coaching job to take another as the school’s athletic director. His first order of business was promoting Tony Dodge, last season’s defensive coordinator, to head coach.
“Luckily for me it has been a very smooth transition, thanks to coach Edwards,” Dodge said. “This has been about a year in the making.”
Edwards decided to remain with the team as the offensive coordinator. Last season, Nipomo led the Northern League in offense, generating 402 yards per game.
“It was a pretty smooth change,” defensive lineman David Leon said.
Although the coaching shifted a little, the roster has been turned upside down.
Replacing Albright, suspended Navarro
Nipomo will be without three key offensive contributors from its championship team when it begins the season. Two players were selected to The Tribune’s All County First Team.
Albright, who passed for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, graduated and joined the football and baseball teams at Alan Hancock College.
More: Albright 2014 Highlights
Also among the 30 graduated seniors is Nipomo’s top receiver and Albright’s main target from last season, Nick Kimball. The speedy 5-foot-9 receiver caught 52 passes and led the team with 1240 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The third, Antonio Navarro, will be suspended for the first three games of the season after disciplinary troubles in summer school. Navarro, who is expected to be the top back when he returns, rushed for 640 yards and 4 touchdowns last season and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
A small group of running backs, and one brand new quarterback, will vie for carries.
Pass First In the Past
What does Nipomo’s next starting quarterback think about filling the shoes of Albright?
“Me and Matt, we wear different types of shoes. We’re not the same type of quarterback,” senior quarterback Gavin Hall said. “It’s not about filling his shoes, it’s just about playing my position.”
Albright was a sharp-shooting pocket passer. But don’t expect that from the 6-foot-4 Hall, who is a bigger and faster dual-threat passer. This season, Dodge says, the offense will be tailored to Hall’s shoe size.
“I don’t think we will be throwing the ball around as much as we did with Albright,” Dodge said. “We’re just trying to be a more diverse offense.”
Hall is just one inch taller than Albright, but about 30 pounds heavier. Hall feels he’s physically ready to defend Nipomo’s title, but says he still needs to fine tune his mental focus.
The senior captain who played in just three games last season has been working on “trying to keep cool for the team and not get flustered in tough situations.”
Hall will have an experienced offensive line to block and protect him led by senior center Ely-Jah Pu’a.
“We’re definitely going to be a more powerful running team as opposed to last year,” Pu’a said.
Record year for Wambolt
One of the smallest players on the Titans, Wambolt stood high above everyone else on the stat sheet when the 2014 season was over.
At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, the junior linebacker had more total tackles than any player to put on a Titans helmet. He earned the nickname ‘Rooster’ because he made so many hits during the year that he chipped away the black paint on his helmet exposing the red paint underneath.
He finished the year with 170 total tackles.
Playing to Wambolt’s strengths, Dodge modified the defense to a true 4-4 scheme from a 3-4.
“It’s a new flow,” Wambolt said. “I don’t have just one gap I actually have to go where the linemen are now so, I’m more free to move around.”
“It’s more conducive to our personnel,” Dodge added. “We’ve got a lot of big boys up front, we want to get more of them on the field.”
Leon, one of those big boys, likes the change.
“For me it’s been a big change because now I’m going to get the one-on-ones that I wanted last year instead of getting double teamed every single play,” Leon said.
And those are one-on-ones that Dodge expects Leon to win.
“I expect huge things from David Leon,” Dodge said.
The Titans start the season with two matchups against stiff Los Padres league competition. Friday’s game against Pioneer Valley High is followed the next week by a game against Lompoc High.
The team will need to win both games, and each one after that, to accomplish its goal.
“I’m hoping to go undefeated this year and with this team it’s very highly likely,” Pu’a said.