Lincoln Fighting Zebras: New league, new challenges, same determination

By: Aaron Jackson
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The Lincoln High School football team comes off a 2017 season that featured an 8-3 record and a second-place finish in the Pioneer Valley League. In the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Playoffs, the Fighting Zebras lost to Del Oro by a score of 16-14 in a heartbreaker.


In that final game of the season, the Zebras took the lead with a minute and a half to go. Following the kickoff, the Golden Eagles flew to midfield and kicked a game-winning 53-yard field goal for the victory.


This season, Zebra Town’s football nation moves up to the newly formed Division III Foothill Valley League.


After decades in the PVL, the new FVL will feature teams such as Nevada Union, Rio Linda, Oakmont, Ponderosa and Placer. Lincoln changed leagues and are now in Division II for the Sac-Joaquin Section.


“We do have some history in playing these guys,” said head coach Chris Bean. “You obviously have a very talented Placer team that is returning a ridiculous amount of starters from their near-state championship run. They aren’t the only ones; you throw in Nevada Union and Ponderosa, who we’ve battled the last two years, along with Rio Linda, who has one of the best running backs in the section. It’s going to be a challenge.”


Rio Linda running back Cameron Skattebo had nearly 1,000 yards rushing and nine touchdowns last season.


After losing big elements from both the offense and defense due to graduation, the 2018 Lincoln group is still focused and confident they can get back to the big stage.


“It’s the same as every year; there’s a culture and a legacy that has now been established,” said Bean. “We expect nothing but winning seasons. We have a chance to lay down a bit of history as being the first team to win an FVL title.”


The Zebras lost key players on both offense and defense, including defensive lineman Dylan Quinn and center Kenneth Lucas. The defense also lost linebackers Jack Boatman (144 tackles) and Antonio Nevarez (112 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks) and strong safety Carlo Rodriguez (87 tackles).


Returning for his second season at linebacker is junior Grady Manley, who had 107 tackles.


In total, the Zebras are replacing 14 of their 22 starters from last season.


To prepare for the new league, Lincoln has upped its schedule to include other “big boys” such as Oak Ridge (Aug. 17), Antelope (Aug. 24), Whitney (Sept. 17), PVL foe Center (Sept. 14) and Eureka (Sept. 21).


On offense, this year’s squad will be without star receiver James Sweet, who was third in pass catching for the entire section and ranked 26th in the state. Replacing Sweet is returning senior Harry Rounds, who had 448 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2017.


The Zebras also have other stars returning on offense, including kicker Brett Woolley, who went 4-for-5 last year on field goals. Running back Deven Coffer returns, coming off a 700-yard rushing season with 225 yards receiving. Coffer also had eight touchdowns to his credit.


“We’re struggling on our offensive line, but our offense overall is strong,” Bean said. “Our defense has a lot of depth returning, and our defensive line is our strength.


“We feel very confident that as long as these kids continue to buy in and put out the effort expected, we’re going to be competitive in every single game we play.”


Essential to Bean’s offense is the one under center in returning, sought-after quarterback Tommy Turner.


Turner threw for 2,465 yards and 28 touchdowns last fall. He had a 59.1 percent completion percentage and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.8.


“I want to see us put up 30 (points) a game, and I want to see us limit turnovers,” Turner said. “I’ve witnessed firsthand the work ethic being improved. We have been forced individually to buy into everything, and we know the challenge we face ahead.”


Lincoln leaves behind a legacy in the PVL, but Bean and his staff have been building a culture prepared to make a big step into the future. It’s true a number of outstanding Zebras have come and gone, but there always seems to be someone in the wings just waiting for an opportunity to shine.


“We’re more talented from an athletic standpoint this year, top to bottom,” Bean said. “That talent however doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t followed by leadership.”