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April 16, 2014

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Northeast Division preview:

Las Vegas High football eager to prove it’s still one of the state’s best

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Sam Morris

Las Vegas High School football players Kaveo Walker and Hasaan Henderson.

Las Vegas High James Thurman

Las Vegas High coach James Thurman talks about the 2011 high school football season and the lofty expectations for the perennial power Wildcats.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer celebrate the return of football season with an hour-long podcast diving into anything and everything regarding local high schools. They also look back on the victories by Bishop Gorman and Moapa Valley in the Sollenberger Classic and finish with week one picks.

Las Vegas High football coach James Thurman has a message for the rest of the Northeast Division: Talk about the cupboard being bare of talented players on his roster is grossly exaggerated.

The perennial power, which had only two defeats in league play the past four years but had to replace 18 starters from last year’s league champion and regional runner-up team, still has the personnel to be mentioned among the state’s elite.

“The cupboard was supposed to be bare two years ago; the cupboard was supposed to be bare four years ago and six years ago, but we continued to win” said Thurman, a longtime assistant who enters his first year as head coach. “We’ll be a little different this year, but we are out here four hours every day sweating our tails off. We’ll be ready.”

Because Las Vegas appears vulnerable, the team should expect opponents to be eager to knock it from the pedestal it has thrived on the past decade.

“It’s been that way forever,” Thurman said. “We tell the kids from Day One, that we are the other teams’ state championship game. If they beat us, it’s a good season for them.”

Las Vegas lacks experienced players at several positions, but has two of the city’s top offensive weapons in quarterback Hasaan Henderson and running back Farrell Victor. The seniors have started every game since their sophomore seasons, combining for one of the area’s most dynamic offensive backfields.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Henderson, who is UNLV’s top local recruiting target, passed for 2,135 yards and 26 touchdowns last year in the Wildcats’ potent spread offense. He threw for 1,508 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore, and has rushed the past two years for a combined 636 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Victor has rushed for more than 2,000 yards the past two years with 24 touchdowns. Equally dangerous in the passing game, he has 52 career receptions for 535 yards and six touchdowns.

“We have been playing together since eighth grade,” Victor said. “He knows my speed and knows where to throw it to me when I am running my routes.”

Hasaan Henderson

Las Vegas High quarterback Hasaan Henderson talks about the upcoming high school football season.

Early on, or at least until the unproven Las Vegas wide receivers get their feet wet, the duo will be counted on to lead the way.

“They aren’t afraid to get after each other a bit,” Thurman said. “They are competitive with each other. If Farrell does something good, he’s not afraid to let Hasaan know about it.”

On the line, senior Tony Verdugo (6-foot-2, 285 pounds) and Fabian Lechuga (6-foot-1, 280 pounds) will be the primary blockers. Verdugo is blossoming into a college prospect and has a mean streak, Thurman said. Also, junior kicker Jay Mattox was an All-America last year after making 10 of 13 field goals.

Defensively, the Wildcats are led by defensive end Kaveo Walker (6-foot-3, 220-pounds) who led them in sacks last fall. Linebacker Randy Ramirez (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and nose guard Lamont Evans (6-foot-3, 300-pounds) are underclassmen Thurman feels will enjoy success.

Put it all together and Las Vegas hopes to equal its success from last year — well, take that success one step farther.

Las Vegas lost in the Sunrise Regional title game to Liberty in a game where the players were physically dominated.

“If we played them 10 times, I really feel it would have been a coin toss,” Thurman said. “Offensively, we struggled and that put our defense on the field a lot.”

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