With football season right around the corner, Gianni Gigliello, junior at Rancho Cotate High School, makes a big jump to catch the football during the team's first practice. The team started their practice Mon., Aug. 5 at Cougar Stadium. Their first non-conference game will be Sat., Aug. 24 at 7:15 p.m. at Sacramento High School.
Photo by Jane Peleti
With 48 wins over the last five seasons and five straight NCS semifinal appearances, the 2019 Rancho Cotate Cougars are hoping this is finally the year they will break through and make the NCS Division 2 Final.
Since taking over for Ed Conroy after the 2016 season, Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling has accumulated a 21-4 record and built off the success that Conroy installed into the program. The Cougars have also made the Division 2 NCS semifinal in his first two seasons. Monday, August 5 marked the first official practice of the new season. This was the first time Hotaling got to see his team with pads on.
“We’re trying to get our feet wet and hit the ground running, and build on what we did all summer,” Hotaling said. “It’s the first time we can really put on pads, so we get to see how they bang, see how they move in pads.”
As with every athletics program, players graduate. The Cougars lost about half their team from last year, most on the defensive side of the football. Hotaling knows and expects younger players who have been in the system to step up.
One player mentioned by Coach Hotaling who figures to be a key piece for the Cougars young defense is Junior Middle Linebacker Mihalis Santorineos. After playing varsity last year as a sophomore, Santorineos is ready to take the next step and become more of a leader for not only the younger linebackers, but the whole defense.
“Right now, I lead the defense, it’s my job to help everyone out,” Santorineos said. “There’s a possibility I could be captain even though it’s typically for seniors. As of now I’m just doing my part to help the defense.”
Santorineos mentioned his personal goal is to be a leader that everyone can come to and rely upon. He’s already starting by showing the other linebackers the ropes and telling them what’s expected in order for the season to go as planned.
The strength of the Cougars will be their offense, led by Senior Quarterback Jared Stocker. Stocker embodies the culture of this year’s Cougars. Stocker was unable to play in last year’s semifinal loss to Marin Catholic. He used last year’s injury as motivation for his final season
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, no matter what,” Stocker said. “Ever since the injury I felt like I had something to prove. I want to go out there and dominate teams.”
Stocker used the off-season to improve every aspect of game, but he said he focused on the physical aspects, like improving his size (gaining 20 pounds), speed and throwing velocity.
Both Coach Hotaling and Stocker believe the Cougars offense will be must watch television. Between the running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive line, the Cougars will have no shortage of versatile players to put up points.
Since the offense will be the strength of the Cougars, it will be on them to make sure the Cougars get over the hump and finally reach the NCS Championship game. Stocker knows the offense will need to work hard every day to reach their full potential.
“We need to push ourselves as far as we can, no one on this varsity team has been in a championship game, so I feel like we need to push ourselves hard enough to get to the next level,” Stocker said. “We need to support each other, be there, bond as a team and just get better. We should get there.”
Though the regular season doesn’t start until Aug. 24, fans of the team will get an opportunity to watch them play this Sat., Aug. 17, as the team will have a home scrimmage. After Saturday’s scrimmage the Cougars will travel to Sacramento to take on Sacramento High School.
Not only can community members come out for the scrimmage, they will also have the opportunity to watch the Cougars play two televised games. The two televised games are Sept. 20 against Pleasant Valley and Sept. 27 against defending Division II Champion Campolindo High School.
Coach Hotaling had a simple message for those in the community who want to see the team play this season.
“If you’ve never been to a Rancho game, come out, check it out and bring the kids,” Hotaling said. “You will have a really fun time.”
Stocker and Santorineos echoed Coach Hotaling’s message.
“Tell the community that we will be ready and stronger than last year,” Santorineos said. Stocker’s message was focused on bringing home championships this season.
“We love the support that the community brings,” Stocker said. “They are always there for us and we love it. We want to be a successful team for them this year.”