Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
First-year Sunrise Mountain High coach Chris Sawyers didn’t know what to expect when he took over the program in the spring.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer return to the studio to discuss all of Las Vegas' high school football teams a week before the start of the season.
He knew the Miners have been one of the worst programs in Nevada since the school opened in 2009, winning just two varsity games. After a few practices, though, Sawyers quickly realized the public’s perception was wrong.
He has a great group of kids who appear dedicated to winning. And, more important, there are some talented players.
“There is a lot of negative connotation out there about Sunrise Mountain, and obviously probably justified over the last year,” said Sawyers, who previously was the Virgin Valley coach. “It’s been a really nice surprise for me (here). The kids have been awesome. To be honest with you, (it’s been) a lot smoother transition than I thought it would be.”
Just because the bar isn’t that high — win two games and it’s the best season in school history, after all — doesn’t mean they aren’t playing for something more. They plan to compete for a playoff spot, this fall and beyond.
Establishing itself as a perennial playoff contender will require fixing Sunrise Mountain’s biggest obstacle from past seasons. They have lacked numbers to fill spots on all three levels, meaning an injury to a key contributor on the varsity would be impossible to overcome.
“That’s not something we are going to fix overnight. Numbers will be an issue,” Sawyers said.
Sawyers has recruited the hallways to attract more players to the program. He’s selling them on his spread option attack (it produced 35 points per game last season at Virgin Valley) and using football to further enjoy the high school experience. He constantly reminds players to have fun getting better every day.
“(Sawyers) wants us to have fun. He wants us in the program,” junior quarterback Matt Perry said. “He just wants us to do our best.”
Last season, Sunrise Mountain scored 135 points in nine games. Sawyers’ spread option attack could change that.
The junior class of Perry at quarterback, and wide receivers Chance Edmundson (6 foot 2, 190-pounds) and Rayshawn Johnson (5 foot 6, 135-pounds) are quickly learning the ins and out of the spread. Senior running back Wanya Calahan (5 foot 10, 170-pounds) could become one of the league’s biggest surprises, especially if Sawyers can find ways to get him the ball in space.
“People do sometimes overlook us,” said Calahan, who rushed for 502 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. “Our job is to stay focused and play the game. If we do that, week in and week out, we’ll be good. When we play our game, we could be phenomenal.”
Sunrise Mountain’s new 4-3 defensive formation will be anchored by linebackers Paul Hanlon (6 foot, 250-pounds) and Calahan, while Edmundson will lead the secondary.
“It’s been a big change. It’s a change for everyone, including myself,” Sawyers said. “It’s an awesome challenge.”