When Atascadero High running back Marc Martin was stopped inches from the goal line on a two-point conversion try in CIF-Southern Section semifinals last season, the Greyhounds’ dreams of a Northern Division championship were ended.
Senior defensive tackle Teddy Rose remembers the play like it was yesterday. “I was right there on the goal line with the trainer, and just seeing him not get that,” Rose said with a grimace, still shaken by the 49-48 loss to Newbury Park in November. “I just remember it, seeing it right there ... and the ball just coming up that short. It ... ah ... it was bad.”
Rose had to watch the final four minutes from the sideline after breaking his leg.
“Obviously the day after I was destroyed,” Rose said. “But I used it as motivation this year.”
And while Atascadero carries the heartbreaking loss into the 2015 season, it will depend on two returning running backs to carry the Greyhounds back to the semifinals and beyond.
Ground and Pound
It’s no secret coach Vic Cooper likes to run the ball. After going 10-3 and averaging 347 yards per game on the ground last season, Cooper is again flush with talent in the running game.
“Between Marc and R.J. (Reusche), that’s an embarrassment of riches, really. Two of the best guys in the county if not the whole division,” Cooper said. “I know there’s a couple other good guys out there, not to put them down, but I’m not sure I would trade either of those two for anybody else in the division right now.”
Despite missing four games with an ankle injury, Martin led the power running attack of Atascadero last season with 16 touchdowns and a PAC 5-leading 1,381 yards.
“For me, the biggest thing is my footwork and my speed and trying to get that up,” said Martin, who is now a senior, of his offseason. “Trying to watch more film, see what my line does and build off that.”
Martin says he also packed his 6-foot frame with 20 extra pounds over the summer and now weighs about 220.
“I had to beef it up a little bit,” Martin said with a smile.
Reusche added 969 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, ripping off big chunks at a time. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior averaged just shy of 9 yards per carry.
“It’s going to be fun to watch,” Cooper said.
No matter how good your running backs are, no team can have a successful running game without a good offensive line. Cooper knows that. He’s a self-proclaimed “offensive line” guy, after all.
Luckily for the Greyhounds and Cooper, its offensive line is big and experienced.
“We’re massive,” offensive guard Kevin Blodget said. “A lot of strength. We have three returning starters from the offensive line...so, we’re good.”
Three potential starters all weighed in at over 280 pounds, according to Cooper.
“For high school that’s a huge line,” Martin said. “Just unstoppable when you run behind them. They do a great job. They are the strong point of our football team.”
The three starters from last year’s offensive helped Atascadero churn out over 500 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the loss to Newbury Park. Atascadero also had four of the top five leading rushers in the PAC 5 last season.
In stark contrast to the confidence in the running game, Cooper is still undecided about who will take snaps at quarterback when the season begins.
“We’re still working on it,” Cooper said of the three- way quarterback race last week. Junior Carson Rinkenberger, who quarterbacked the junior varsity squad last season, “has officially taken the number one reps,” Cooper says.
Cooper added that senior Jeffrey Middleton, last season’s backup to the now graduated quarterback Tommy Carr, along with junior Elijah Cooks are still in the mix. Middleton had the advantage heading into camp based on his experience, Cooper said, but Rinkenberger has played well enough to win the coaches’ favor. At least for now.
“We could go into the first week splitting time and testing them out against some live pressure,” Cooper said.
Whoever Cooper decides to start when the season begins will need to be good on the ground and through the air. Carr was a big part of the Greyhounds' ground success last season, adding 803 yards to a 4,500-yard team total, rushing for 15 touchdowns along with throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Different test for defense
“We had to replace three all-league linebacker types who were real big leaders,” Cooper said.
To fill the void left by linebacker Nick Ducasse, the PAC 5’s leader in tackles, Cooper has tapped the shoulder of Martin, who has been getting reps at middle linebacker. Cooper says he will also rely on defensive linemen Rose, Blodget (who also plays defensive tackle) and Jordan Council to plug the middle of its 5-2 defense.
Council led the PAC 5 with seven sacks last season.
The defense will get a different type of test in its first game of the season against another SLO County school, Morro Bay High. Morro Bay head coach David Kelley is known for his traditional triple option, a seldom-used offense scheme in modern football.
But Cooper is confident his team can handle the option because it sees it in practice regularly.
“It’s a great offense,” Cooper said. “We run a lot of option ourselves and Dave does it as good as anybody around.”
With the thoughts of last season still in their mind, the Greyhounds will begin their season at home on Sept. 4.
“We spent a lot of time all off season talking, you know, that little bit of extra work can be worth that one or two inches that we came up short,” Cooper said.
Blodget said he would carry something extra when the season starts: a grudge.