High School Sports

Atascadero football looks to return to top of PAC 7

Atascadero High’s Deontae Barnes ran for 645 yards last season in a backup role for the Greyhounds.
Atascadero High’s Deontae Barnes ran for 645 yards last season in a backup role for the Greyhounds. nlucero@thetribunenews.com

When the Atascadero High football program has been at its best over the years, strong offensive line play has been a trademark for the Greyhounds. This year’s group could be poised to live up to that proud tradition.

From left to right, tackles Dylan Potter and Tyler Van Tassel, guards Enoch Thompson and Ryan DeBusk, and center Jordan Sligh, all are seniors with starting backgrounds.

“We’ve got five guys with a lot of experience,” said coach Vic Cooper, a former Atascadero lineman himself. “And then you throw in a couple tight ends that are very physical, albeit maybe a little inexperienced, and in the backfield with (running back Deontae) Barnes back there, it could be pretty exciting.”

DeBusk was a first-team all-PAC 7 selection as a junior, while Sligh earned second-team honors. Last year they were integral in paving the way for an offense that averaged 356.2 yards per game.

Barnes, a 5-foot-10, 192-pound senior who has clocked under 23 seconds in the 200-meter dash in track and field, figures to be one of the main beneficiaries of their presence.

“They have a lot of experience starting as juniors,” said Barnes, who rushed for 645 yards and five touchdowns as a junior and also averaged 39.4 yards on nine kickoff returns. “I think that’s going to be really helpful.”

One of the offense’s other primary playmakers ought to be explosive senior receiver Logan Sprouse, who had 16 catches for 410 yards and five TDs in 2010. Sprouse also was a standout at cornerback, where he had 39 tackles and four interceptions and was a first-team all-league punter after averaging 38.4 yards per punt.

“He’s going to be all over the place,” Cooper said of Sprouse, “so our goal is just to keep him out on the field and spell him where we can.”

At quarterback, senior Evan Lucado and sophomore Robert Berwick are competing to start and could still be splitting snaps well into the nonleague season, Cooper said last week.

“A lot of the time when you can’t decide (on any starter), it can be like, ‘Which is the lesser of two evils?’ ” Cooper said. “Right now, it’s really the opposite of that because they both bring a lot of great things to the table.”

The Greyhounds, who went 9-3 overall a year ago (including a 4-2, runner-up finish in the PAC 7) and reached the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs, also return valuable experience on defense.

“We’re really balanced,” senior strong safety Matt Cuen said. “We don’t go one way or the other, and everybody plays well together as a team. The offense and defense fit together well.”

Davis Cracknell (who had 82 tackles and six sacks as a junior) is back at outside linebacker. He was an all-league second-team player last year, as was fellow versatile outside linebacker Adam Woodhull (56 tackles). Middle linebacker Joseph Aguiar, who had 78 tackles in 2010, also returns to form a veteran-laden unit.

Atascadero, which had won at least a share of the PAC 7 title three years in a row from 2006 through 2008, opens its season at home against Salinas at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“We’ve kind of had a little drought with the league championships,” Cooper said. “We’ve kind of been right there at the end of the season every year the last three years. We’ve been knocking on the door with a game to win to share the league title or win it outright. So this year we’re looking to finish that business.”