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Gauchos talent loaded, but so is the NBL

The question isn't how good will the Casa Grande High School varsity football team be? Just a little over a week into practice, the answer is obvious — Casa Grande will be very good. The tougher question is how good will the Casa Grande football team be in relation to the several other good football teams in the talent-ladden North Bay League?

The Gauchos start finding out the answer to that question on Sept. 27 when they begin league play with a home game against long-time rival Montgomery. Between now and then is a tough ore-league agenda hat includes, Eureka, Heritage and Napa.

Casa Grande head coach Trent Herzog believes the answer to the tough question will be that the Gauchos can compete with the best the NBL can throw at them. "If we stay healthy, focus on the little things and improve every day, I like our chances," he says.

Staying healthy, while important, especially to several key individuals, may not be quite the issue it was last season when Casa Grande went 7-4 overall and 5-2 in its first year in the NBL. Both league losses — to Rancho Cotate and Cardinal Newman — came in its last four games after the Gauchos had suffered a number of injuries, especially to its offensive line. "They (injuries) are part of football," Herzog says, "but we have more depth this season."

Casa Grande has a multitude of talented athletes, but all discussion begins with senior quarterback JaJuan Lawson, the latest in a long line of outstanding Gaucho quarterbacks. "He's special," Herzog says. The coach isn't the only one who thinks that way. Even before beginning his senior season, Lawson had had 15 scholarship offers from Division 1 schools. Most have been to play quarterback, although a few colleges have expressed interest in the 6-foot, 1-inch 195-pound speedster as a defensive back. Although hampered by an ankle injury for the last four games of the season, Lawson still passed for 1,860 yards last season, completing 110 of 170 passes. He had a quarterback rating of 108. He also ran for 550 yards, averaging 5.34 yards per carry. He passed for 17 touchdowns and ran for eight more.

Lawson's talents are a given. Where the Gauchos are anticipating improvement is on the offensive line. Lack of depth hurt last season when Casa was forced to use All-League running back Elijah Qualls at center after a series of injuries decimated their offensive front. Those injuries also forced two sophomores, Brendan Jackson and Peter Parrick, into prominent roles. They are back, bigger, more experienced and better.

"Jackson (6-feett, 2-inches, 285 pounds) could be the best lineman the school has ever had," Herzog says. "He is tough, works hard and is dedicated. He's a football player."

He is also an example of why the Gauchos' new depth is important. On the second day of practice, he suffered a meniscus injury. "We're not certain how serious it is yet," Herzog says. "Hopefully we'll be able to get him back soon."

The coach says Parrick (6-feet, 4-inches, 290 pounds) is also a talented lineman. "He has tons of potential," the coach says. "He worked hard in the off season to lose 25 pounds."

Another important lineman is junior Greg Poteracke (6-feet, 3-inches, 270 pounds). "We're real excited about his potential," Herzog says. Poterache will start at tackle opposite Parrick when Jackson is healthy. Meanwhile, he will be shifted to guard.

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