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December 22, 2014

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high school football:

Gorman won’t be fazed by bright lights of nationally televised game

The three-time defending state champions will play Friday on national television for the sixth time since 2010

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Bishop Gorman football players Marquis Hunkin, Tajon Allen and Jamir Tillman Thursday, July 26, 2012.

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Sollenberger Classic, Division 1-A and Wiz Khalifa

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Back from Arizona, a heartbroken Ray Brewer recounts the costly mistakes that made Nevada teams go 0-2 in this year's Sollenberger Classic. Fellow Las Vegas Sun sports reporter Case Keefer helps him cope by looking at this week's national showdown between Bishop Gorman and Maryland's Our Lady Of Good Counsel. The two also babble semi-coherently on the rest of the week's games and high school football players' favorite rappers. Don't forget to subscribe to Prep Sports Now on Itunes.

The Bishop Gorman High football team has been there and done that.

On Friday, they’ll start doing it again by hosting yet another quality national opponent for an ESPN-televised game.

Although most high school teams in Southern Nevada typically play in front of light crowds, a capacity 5,000 fans are expected Friday at Gorman’s Fertitta Field for the Gaels' season opener.

Just like the past two seasons, Gorman’s schedule is loaded with nationally respected opponents, and several games will be shown on television. They won't be on the local Thursday Night Lights telecast; they will be on ESPN and FOX Regional.

It begins at 6 p.m. Friday when Gorman hosts Our Lady of Good Counsel from Maryland on ESPN2. Our Lady has 14 players with Division I scholarship offers — including defensive back Kendall Fuller (a Virginia Tech commit), linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (a Clemson commit) and quarterback Brendan Marshall (a Virginia commit) — and finished last year ranked No. 6 by USA Today. Gorman was No. 5.

Gorman also will play Sept. 1 at St. Louis of Hawaii, Sept. 14 against Bergen Catholic (N.J.) at home and Sept. 21 at California power Servite.

Challenging the best has been coach Tony Sanchez’s philosophy since taking over the program in 2009, helping Gorman go from a state power to a nationally recognized program. They are 43-3 in Sanchez’s tenure, they haven’t lost to a local opponent in winning three state championships, and they have finished nationally ranked every year.

Make no doubt about it, Our Lady is going to provide the stiff challenge for which Sanchez is searching.

“The biggest thing about (Our Lady) is they are so talented,” he said. “At the end of the day, we feel we have talented kids, too. It is going to be fight until the end.

“We have to do a great job of throwing the ball early because they will load up in the box on us. We have to do a good job not giving up the big play because they are a big strike team. If we do all that, we have a realistic shot of winning the ball game. It won’t be easy, and it’s going to come down to the end. But we have been there before, so it won’t be overwhelming.”

Last year, Gorman split a pair of games at home on national television, losing in the final seconds to Armwood High of Florida but winning at the end a few weeks later against Servite.

The scene on game days — from fans parking three blocks away from the stadium because the parking lot fills up one hour before kickoff to students standing and loudly cheering from start to finish — helped create an atmosphere that was never before scene for Las Vegas high school football. The Gorman student section, which was easily 200 strong, created an environment similar to a college football Saturday.

Bishop Gorman Coach Tony Sanchez

Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez discusses the Gaels upcoming 2012 football season.

The Gorman players won’t be fazed by the bright lights of ESPN or enormity of the moment. Several are three- or four-year starters, having played on national television multiple time already in their career. This is Gorman’s sixth game on national television in two years.

“It does make it a lot easier,” Justin Sweet, Gorman’s senior defensive back, said about having the experience of playing on ESPN. “We still want to go in prepared knowing we are facing a good opponent.”

The experience isn’t the only factor in Gorman’s favor.

They also have a roster of Division I prospects, starting at quarterback with four-year starter and Arizona commit Anu Solomon. Solomon holds virtually every state passing record for his career, throwing for 7,215 yards and 101 touchdowns. He returns all of his receivers from last year, including seniors Jamir Tillman and Ryan Smith, who each have multiple Division I offers. Smith is a four-year starter; Tillman is a three-year starter.

At running back, junior Nate Starks will be the feature back replacing Shaquille Powell, who was Gorman’s top player last year in rushing for 2,427 yards and 40 touchdowns. However, the 6-foot, 200-pound Starks is no slouch and is considered one of Las Vegas’ best college prospects of all time with scholarship offers already from Texas and Oklahoma. He’ll be backed up by senior Tajan Allen, an emerging talent who has worked his way into the regular rotation.

If there is a weakness on offense, it could be breaking in three new starters on the offensive line. Gorman graduated three mainstays up front in Ronnie Stanley, Ron Scoggins Jr. and Nick Strehlow, and having to replace the unit might be easier said than done. Stanley, after all, is playing at Notre Dame.

Senior OL Tanner Britton

Senior offensive lineman Tanner Britton talks about the Gaels' upcoming season

The players are using the criticism as motivation.

Tanner Britton, a starter on the line the past three years, planned to print out an article calling the unit a weak link and put it in the other linemen’s lockers as motivation. Center Lott Haia-Kahalewai also returns and has started since midway through his sophomore year.

“We have three new guys, but they are going to step up. I know they are going to step up,” Britton said.

Defensively, the line of seniors Jake Smirk and Marquis Hunkin and junior Zack Singer and Isaiah Nacua (a BYU commit) will be Gorman’s strength. All four will likely end up playing Division I football.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Sweet, who has scholarship offers from UNLV, UNR, Colorado State, Fresno State and New Mexico, will anchor the secondary. Last year, he had several flashes of brilliance in the televised games to firmly put himself on the recruiting radar.

“We never take anything for granted,” Sweet said. “We come out every day. We grind. We work. We are getting ready to go out there and play every Friday night.”

This Friday night, it will be in one of the nation’s marquee games of the week. Yet again.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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