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Ranch hands

Eichten and Snell take over West Ranch’s offense with Foothill League success in their sights

Posted: August 30, 2009 10:20 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch running back Zak Snell, left, and quarterback Connor Eichten will be key figures as the Wildcats move into a new era. Snell ran for 112 yards and a touchdown in scarce action last season, while Eichten played for the junior varsity team.

 
West Ranch football is moving into a new era.

Jake Bernards, the only starting quarterback the program has ever known, has moved on to San Diego State.

The top four rushers from the 2008 Wildcats are gone, too.

Fortunately for new varsity head coach Sean O’Brien, he didn’t have to look far for solutions.

O’Brien spent the 2008 season as the junior varsity head coach, and his quarterback was Connor Eichten.

Now, the junior signal-caller will take the reins of the varsity offense.

“He’s a great kid,” O’Brien says. “With Jake being the only guy we have had, Connor knows he is walking into a situation where he is the new guy, but he has the kind of skills to step in and do what we need him to.”

Lining up behind Eichten will be senior Zak Snell, who didn’t see the field much last season but rushed for 112 yards on his six carries, including a touchdown.

“Zak is great,” Eichten says. “He’s one of the most respected guys on our team, and he does a great job of leading by example. He is elusive, and he has great speed. Having him in the backfield is a major plus.”

While both players are stepping into different roles, O’Brien knows both have the mental capabilities to fill their new spots in the program.

“I like to refer to Connor as an airline pilot,” O’Brien says. “He is so calm and collected that he isn’t the kind of guy that goes into the huddle yelling at his team about what the next play is. He just calmly goes in there and says what is going to happen, like the pilot that comes over the speaker when you are getting ready to take off for a flight. It’s like, ‘Our final destination is the end zone. Who wants to go with me?’”

Snell is also a quiet and confident leader.

He has been putting in extra time during training camp, working with the special teams unit after practice.

“The first thing that jumps out at you about Zak is his dedication,” O’Brien says. “When we’re done with the team workout you know that Zak isn’t anywhere near being done.”

Snell puts in the extra practice time because he has a clear goal for his senior season.

“Obviously, we are going to take things one game at a time,” Snell says. “Still, thinking about having a winning record in league and showing the rest of the teams that we are a team that they need to work on to beat is definitely out there.”

One of the keys for West Ranch to make the leap is the play of Eichten.

While the Wildcats will likely focus on ball possession this season, cornerback Branden Pistone knows that West Ranch needs its quarterback to perform well.

“Connor is huge for us,” Pistone says. “I think what he brings to the team is he gives us a really good chance of winning. Zak and him are a really good combination and I think they complement each other well.”

Snell is also focused on the new program instituted by O’Brien, which is designed to help younger players mature since the Wildcats are now running the same systems at every level.

“I think we all need to be leaders throughout the program because we are really one team,” Snell says. “Yeah, as a senior I know that I have to step into the role of being a leader, and I am excited to be in that role.”

Eichten hopes it all leads to West Ranch’s first winning season as a member of the Foothill League.

“I think about what we can do and about being the quarterback, but it’s not like it’s something I lose sleep over,” Eichten says. “I think this season is going to be great. You can tell how much we have improved this summer, and all the reps I have done have really helped.”

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