The east-siders are in unfamiliar territory for the first time in a generation.
Enterprise High’s football team is coming off a 1-9 campaign – its worst season since 1979. Injuries piled up last fall, graduation sent off skilled players pushing too hard to steer the Hornets back on course.
What’s left is a new crop of guys to restore this decade’s most decorated program in Shasta County. It’s a group without star power. A squad with a lot to prove.
But that sets up the opportunity to uncover talent and see what lies ahead for the black and gold.
“Over the years before I was a coach, the kids have always done a good job coming with a work ethic and a workman mentality,” said Chris Combs, an Enterprise alum and second-year varsity head coach. “They see obstacles and challenges in front of them, and they don’t stop working because they are in the way.”
The Hornets are adopting that persona for the year. The “wow” factor may not be returning like in years past. Gone are the third-year varsity leaders who were handed the reins after a stretch of three straight Northern Section championships. Although the Hornets are searching for their playmakers, Combs is hoping the unknown will result in their favor.
“This year we have a lot of kids no one knows about. They don’t know their names. There isn’t much film on them,” Combs said. “We’ll work as hard as we can. We might not have the size or speed or strength or bodies, but everyone is going to be in a game with us to the end and that’s going to surprise people.”
Among the underrated are senior receiver Michael Michoff, junior running back Eli Cortinas, senior fullback/linebacker Mikey Hartman, and quarterbacks senior Pierce Embury and junior Zach McNeil, who are battling for the starting job. That nucleus could spell trouble for opponents along with the depth at receiver on the roster that Combs says doesn’t have a drop-off to eight or nine guys down the list.
Up front on offense is an O-line dedicated to always pushing themselves to be better, Combs said. Returning tackle Dylan Cuevas and guard Kobe Joseph are joined by Zane Pixton and Isaac Vang, who Cortinas said is the hardest working linemen out of the bunch. It also helps that longtime assistant Ron Wooley is back on the sideline and is valuable for his technical instruction but is also a guy Combs calls an “institution.”
The talk of the “no-name” squad reaching the 2019 Hornets is fueling their offseason preparation.
“I like the feeling that everyone is doubting us,” Embury said. “Everyone thinks they’re going to have an easy game with us but with the incoming juniors and the seniors — it’s our last year — we’re really going to come out powerful.
“We have a quick running back, power and speed to throw the ball, linemen dedicated so we’ll be able to do anything we want.”
The talent pool for skill position carries over on defense where the Hornets look strongest in the secondary. Sophomore safety Jahari Johnson’s head-turning speed makes him a newcomer who should be on everyone’s radar, Combs said. Outside linebacker Roberto Cruz is the only one with significant playing time at that level but is joined by Hartman, whose physical style of play slots him as a starter in the 4-3 base defense. On the line, senior Jacob Anderson, Kobe Rodriguez and Evan Sanchez are disruptors.
The schedule helps Enterprise break in its new starters with an extra week of fall practice since it starts the season on a bye before opening on the road against reigning Northern Section Division III champion West Valley.
It was the only Hornet win a year ago and the lone defeat the Eagles suffered until losing in the state playoffs. It could set an immediate tone for the season.
“I think if we come out and win our first game against West Valley, that will change everyone’s minds about us,” McNeil said.
Enterprise gets home dates against Lassen, Sutter, Chico and Shasta before wrapping up on senior night against Red Bluff. Those first three home opponents went a combined 28-9 last year.
But if there’s one date circled on Enterprise’s calendar it’s River Bowl at The Hornets’ Nest on Oct. 25.
“Winning River Bowl is our No. 1 goal,” Cortinas said. “We haven’t won it in a while. Us winning it will show everybody that we’re back.”
For Enterprise to have a successful season, it has to live by the school’s mantra of “We Not Me” more than ever before, Combs said.
“They will have to do it for each other,” Combs said. “They know there’s no one that’s ‘the guy’ that will do that so they have to step up and each take a piece of it and run with it.”
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