Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Germaine Carmena admits his freshman year at Canyon Springs was a waste.
He was the biggest football player on the field at 6-foot-1, 250-pounds for the Pioneers’ ninth-grade team and didn’t bother lifting weights. He was already dominant, he reasoned, so why put in the extra work?
Even worse, he didn’t put effort in the classroom and saw his grade point average dip well under the 2.0 threshold to be academically eligible.
Now, a senior and one of Southern Nevada’s best defensive linemen, Carmena’s summer has gone drastically different than other prospects.
Instead of taking recruiting trips and sorting through college scholarship offers, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle was busy making up work in the classroom to become a college qualifier. Until then, the schools recruiting him —the likes of Arkansas, Arizona State and Boise State, for instance — can’t offer him a scholarship offers
He highlights our list of under-the-radar players primed to have a breakout season in 2017.
“I didn’t know you needed grades for a scholarship,” he says. “I thought you only needed talent.”
And he has plenty of that.
He had 20 tackles and seven sacks in 2016 in his lone varsity season after being ineligible as a sophomore. Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair says recruiters rave about Carmena’s speed and athleticism, and says he has the quickness of a tight end and not of someone who is more than 300 pounds.
“This kid would literally have 20 scholarship offers (if he was a qualifier),” McNair said.
Carmena has also found his stride in the weight. With the help of a growth spurt, he’s trimmed down and looks the part of a college prospect.
“It’s going to be a big senior year,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to make up for.”
Here are the others:
Jake Bowden, linebacker, Las Vegas High School
Las Vegas High linebacker Jake Bowden is listed at just 5-foot-8, 140-pounds. Yet, despite being undersized, the senior had 70 tackles — including eight for a loss — as a junior. He’s one of the leading returning tacklers in the area.
“It’s all mental. I have always been small. I have always been undersized,” he said. “But my game is big. I’d like to think I play like I am 6-foot-1, 230-pounds. I am going to stick my nose in there no matter how big you are.”
Bowden labels himself as being “quick, but not very fast.” What sets him apart is his ability to read the play and being in the right spot on the field.
“I am not going to chase someone down the field 40 yards,” he said. “I am going to meet them in the hole and chase them sideline to sideline.”
Saundre Spiller, running back, Faith Lutheran
When your quarterback leads the team in rushing with more than 1,000 yards and the most celebrated player on your team plays wide receiver, the running back often is overlooked.
When that running back is just 5-foot-8, 180-pounds and as humble as they come, it’s easy to be in the shadow.
But Faith Lutheran senior Saundre Spiller made the most of his touches in 2016 with seven touchdowns and nearly seven yards per carry, and will be heavily involved in the Crusaders attack this fall.
“They don’t focus on me,” he said of opposing defenses. “They focus on other players on the team. They are so worried about stopping him (San Diego State commit Elijah Kothe), they forget about trying to stop me.”
Spiller, though, takes no credit for individual success. He doesn’t care about stats; only wants to win games.
“It’s all our offensive line and their technique, and how much offense we practice,” he said.
Braxton Harms, safety, Green Valley
There’s no telling where Braxton Harms might wind up on the field for Green Valley. Last season, because of injury, the safety and wide receiver also saw action at quarterback.
He’s the type of utility player every team desires. He’ll anchor the defense at safety, and see plenty of snaps offensively at running back and wide receiver.
At safety, he had 37 tackles and interceptions last year.
“If someone is coming at me, I will tackle them,” Harms said. “If a lineman is coming at me, I will put my shoulder into them.”
The senior Harms, who will be a three-year varsity player, knows there’s one way to no longer be considered under the radar.
“I just have to go make plays to get my name out there,” he said. “I have to be a leader on the defense and keep the energy level up.”
Jared Ables, linebacker, Foothill
Foothill senior Jared Ables had 121 tackles last season as a junior for an eye-catching average of 11 tackles per game. This season, he wants even more.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Ables will be in his third varsity season. While he was one of the city’s leaders in tackles, he had just one interception and two caused fumbles — two categories he also wants to add to.
“I am looking to advance that number and get more tackles,” he said. “Basically, make more plays.”
Ables was a safety during his sophomore season on varsity, and now leads a defense with many underclassmen.
“We have a lot of young guys, and they all like to hit. We are aggressive,” he said.
Roberto Valenzuela, quarterback, Legacy
The best quarterback in Southern Nevada is either Bishop Gorman’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a four-star recruit and UCLA commit, or Liberty’s Kenyon Oblad, a four-year starter with multiple scholarship offers.
Lost in the shuffle is Legacy’s Roberto Valenzuela, who this summer was the Most Valuable Player at Boise State camp, Legacy coach John Isola said.
“I am a pro-style quarterback with running capabilities,” Valenzuela said. “I like to stay in the pocket, but, of course, don’t let me free in the open field.”
Legacy had a near 2,000-yard rusher last season in Sam Turner leading the offense, meaning most of Valenzuela’s job was to receive the snap and handoff. He passed for 986 yards and seven touchdowns.
This season, the 6-foot, 170-pound Valenzuela expects to get more opportunities to pass.
“I think I have my breakout year,” he said. “I have a lot of weapons to work with so I am excited.”