With two years as Sparks’ quarterback under his belt, Vasquez is ready to lead a very young team this fall.
Vasquez threw for 1,641 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago as the Railroaders finished with a disappointing 1-9 record, missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
It won’t be any easier to end that postseason drought this season as only four of the nine teams in the Division 1-A North will qualify for the playoffs.
Sparks coach Rob Kittrell expects it will be a tight race between perennial powerhouse Truckee and fast improving Fallon. The Greenwave nearly knocked off the Wolverines last year. Kittrell said Lowry and Elko should also be pretty strong this fall.
But as one of the nine seniors, Vasquez will be relied upon heavily in trying to lead the Maroon and Gold back to the postseason.
“We’re going to miss him when he leaves,” Kittrell said. “He’s been great to be around the past two years and watch him grow. We don’t necessarily have the weapons we’ve had at receiver the last two years, but we’re getting there. You can tell he feels very comfortable as the starting quarterback this year. I see a lot of confidence coming from him.”
Kittrell said Sparks will run a little more two-back sets than in the past couple seasons. In the backfield, Sparks will have a pair of track stars in senior Mario Guadron and junior Hennessey Banks, who will split time at tailback.
At receiver, the Railroaders will have the same amount of quickness as last year when Erik Garcia and Esteban Bravo manned the outside. However, instead of having a couple guys standing at over 6-feet, Kittrell said juniors Cedric Sanchez, Brandon Silva and Mastor Sells are much shorter and provide smaller targets for those sideline throws.
In the trenches, Sparks has Tanner Webb and Ryan Buzick returning at a guard and tackle respectively. Kittrell said that duo is two of the better linemen the team has had in the past few years. At center will be sophomore Gerardo Valencia. Junior Willie Martinez (guard) and David Ballentine (tackle) will round out the rest of the offensive line.
Defense will be a question mark early on in the season. The Railroaders do return three starters on defense. Linebackers Guadron and Webb will join defensive tackle Buzick as the anchors of the defense.
However, the defense will have to be much-improved after allowing at least 47 points in seven of its nine losses last season.
Kittrell is looking for the seniors to lead the young players and he thinks the work ethic has been good, but there needs to be a change of mentality by everyone.
“We’ve probably been a little harder than years past, and they’ve stepped up and answered the call. They’ve been working real hard,” Kittrell said. “I don’t expect another 1-9 year. We’ve talked a lot about that and how it’s not acceptable for us. We’ll see what happens. Our JV last year only won two games. I think our senior class, minus Geo, they’ve only won three games the past two years. They don’t have a lot of experience winning, so early on is going to be crucial.”
Sparks opens up the season at 7 p.m. Friday against Yerington and then will play nine straight league contests.