Last year everything came together for the Nampa Christian football team.
With a talented class finally reaching their senior year and 19 returning starters, the Trojans ran through the 2A Western Idaho Conference and won their first league title since 2015.
Players like Landon Cheney, the league’s Player of the Year last year, Offensive Player of the Year Dane Bradshaw and Caleb Johnson, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year have graduated.
While Nampa Christian coach Daniel Jenkins said his team will be much younger this year, he knows the cupboard is far from bare.
“We have a lot of guys that have played at the varsity level over the past two or three years, just not a lot of experience,” said Jenkins. “They’ve done a great job this summer learning and really stepping into key roles. I’m excited to see these new group of athletes into their own.”
This year’s senior class is similar size to last year’s — 10 seniors as opposed to the 11 who graduated. But getting to watch how last year’s group approached the game will be beneficial to not only the seniors, but the juniors and sophomores who were in the program last year, as well.
“These new guys have to get experience and trust that even when they make mistakes, it’s all a learning process,” Jenkins said. You just keep learning along the way, and by the time you get to the end, you’ll be right where those guys were.”
Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill for the Trojans are those of Cheney, a three-year starter at quarterback who Jenkins joked that the rest of the conference is happy to see gone. The coach said it’s currently a two-man race to be the starter for the Trojans this year between junior Aiden Thompson and sophomore Tyler Szilagyi.
“Both of those guys had a really great offseason,” said Jenkins. “They put in work on and off the field, just going to various camps, working with different trainers and really just trying to elevate their game to step into that leadership role. Those are big shoes to fill, but both of those guys are very capable.”
Senior Trevin McConnell returns after getting some time at wide receiver last year and junior Maiko Nevarez moves from the running back position to catch passes for the Trojans. Junior Hunter Hafer is an up-and-coming receiver who Jenkins thinks will take a step forward this season. Junior Addison Taylor will be stepping into the tight end role.
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The Trojans also have a stable of running backs who Jenkins thinks can give the offense some production. Senior Muluken Knudsen was a starting wide receiver last year and will take on a dual role this, spending some time at running back. Senior Devon McDaniel and his younger brother, sophomore Mason McDaniel, as well as sophomore Matthew Nevarez will all get carries this season, as well.
“We have some young kids who are really coming up,” Jenkins said. “They’ve worked hard to learn as much as they could from those guys last season.”
They will run behind a pair of returning all-conference tackles in seniors Ethan Pearson (First-team selection) and JeanCarlo Siguenza (Second-team). Both are three-year starters.
“They understand their roles now as seniors,” Jenkins said. “When I came back to Nampa Christian, both of those guys were sophomores and their eyes lit up when we said ‘you’re going to be varsity starters for us.’ Their eyes were like ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for that,’ and now three year they’re going into their senior year saying ‘I see what you were preparing me for and I’m ready to take on this leadership role.’
“Those guys are two of the best athletes, especially at our level, in the state. I’ll argue that with anyone one just because of their leadership and what they’ve gone through the past three years.”
Guys like Sean Barton and Derek Vander Schaaf, who both saw playing time last year and got a couple of starts will also be starters on the line.
That group figures to be starting on the defensive side of the ball, with Siguenza being a first-team all-conference defensive line selection and Pearson being an honorable mention.
Devon McDaniel is back at linebacker after earning second-team All-Conference honors last year, while Taylor also played some linebacker last year and Jenkins said he’s having a great summer at the middle linebacker position. Mason McDaniel is also another guy Jenkins said could have a breakout year at the position.
Nampa Christian graduated four All-Conference defensive backs from last season, but Maiko Nevarez had an interception last year will be back and Knudsen, who has played in various defensive roles for the Trojans will setting in to anchor the defense at safety.
“The other positions, we will have to gain experience for those guys,” Jenkins said. “They haven’t done it at the varsity level and they’ve seen this summer that the varsity and J.V. level are very different speeds. Once we get caught up to speed, I think we’ll be just fine.”