Preview of Rocklin Thunder football

Coach Benzel will have to fill some important positions
By: Andrew Hazard Gold Country Media Correspondent
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Last year Rocklin finished third in the Sierra Foothill League with a record of 3-2 (7-4 overall). The Thunder must replace quarterback Jimmy Laughrea who graduated. Laughrea led the SFL last season in throwing percentage (.600), passing yards (2,527) and passing yards per game (229.7). QUARTERBACK Senior Austin Tautu is expected to take Laughrea’s place in 2011. Tautu played in four games last season, completing three of 11 passes for 38 yards, and he had two touchdowns to go with two interceptions. Junior Daniel Kniffin should also compete for the starting job. Kniffin threw 12 touchdowns and three interceptions for the JV team last season. Four of the six schools in the SFL should be returning their starting quarterback from 2010 (Del Oro senior Bobby Heatherington, Granite Bay senior Brendan Keeney, Nevada Union senior Josiah Paye and Woodcreek senior Shaun Mize). RUSHING Thunder head coach Greg Benzel must replace the SFL’s second-highest leading rusher in Brian MacDonald. MacDonald rushed for 1,300 yards, recorded 13 touchdowns and only had one fumble in 2010. Senior Marvin Gardner, who rushed for 196 yards and scored two touchdowns on 42 carries, should compete for the starting role with junior Denzel Williams, who rushed for 258 yards and had three touchdowns on the JV squad last season. Rocklin isn’t the only SFL school that must revamp its running game. Del Oro, Granite Bay, Nevada Union and Woodcreek all must replace its leading rushers from 2010. Roseville’s senior running back Casey Lambert should return this season. Lambert was the SFL’s leading rusher (1,587 yards) last season and scored 18 touchdowns. RECEIVING Rocklin must also teach the system to a new group of receivers. The Thunder will miss wide receiver Nick Williams who easily led the SFL in receptions (83), receiving yards (1,241) and tied for the league lead in touchdowns (8). Rocklin does return senior Matt Laughrea. Laughrea only had 18 receptions last season for 68 yards but scored four touchdowns. He along with Dominic Giampaoli, who should be moving up from JV will help ease the loss of Williams. Giampaoli had 12 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns on the JV team last season. He also played in some varsity action. Rocklin will also miss Cj Torretta who graduated. Torretta recorded 492 receiving yards on 40 receptions and he compiled seven touchdowns last season. Del Oro senior wide receiver Daniel Thomas is the SFL’s most productive returning receiver. Thomas had 42 receptions, gained 706 yards and caught four touchdowns in 2010. DEFENSE Defensively Rocklin has seven players returning who have played defensive back at some point, including Giampaoli, Spencer Davis, Sheldon Wen, Matt Garrison, Jake Shelske, Konnor Elvick and Nathan Clowdus. Roseville must replace four of its top six leading tacklers from last season and the SFL’s leader in interceptions in Beau Smith. SPECIAL TEAMS Matt Laughrea helped out at times with the kicking game and can be an asset to Rocklin’s special teams squad if needed. Williams will be missed on special teams. Last season he recorded 332 yards on 16 returns for an average of 20.75 yards each run back. If Rocklin can make the best of its team chemistry then the Thunder should have a good season in 2011. E-mail Placer Herald Sports at