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Desert Pines welcomes new challenges

As lights came on above Desert Pines High School’s football field Thursday evening, the Jaguars were all smiles.

Coach Paul Bennett felt refreshed. Burly lineman Michael Cisneros said there was “nothing like suiting up” in his uniform. And running back Eric Wilkes was ready to pursue some lofty goals.

“Being starting running back this year, I want to lead my team to a championship and get a ring on my finger,” Wilkes said.

Thursday marked the first day of official noncontact football practices within the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, and Desert Pines looked eager to start a season filled with promise.

“We’re excited,” Bennett said. “We had a good summer program that we put together, and we’re just excited to be out here. The sooner, the better.”

Desert Pines offers among the more intriguing storylines entering the season because of realignment in the NIAA.

The Jaguars have moved from the old Northeast League in Class 4A to the new Division I-A Sunrise League. Desert Pines will be joined in the new league by old Northeast foes Chaparral and Sunrise Mountain along with former Class 3A schools Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley.

The top four teams in the new league will reach the postseason.

Desert Pines had reached the 4A Sunrise Region playoffs each of the past six years even while knocking helmets with Northeast powers like Las Vegas High and Canyon Springs.

“I had my doubts about (realignment) at first, and then I said, ‘Some things you can’t fight,’ ” Bennett said. “So you just move with it, and we’re excited about it.”

With Las Vegas and Canyon Springs off to the new Division I, it would seem logical to think that Desert Pines will be in the mix for the Division I-A Sunrise title – and perhaps a I-A state title.

But Bennett said the Jaguars are taking nothing for granted.

“Moapa has a very good program, Virgin Valley comes in with some good things, and Boulder City has been doing a lot better over the years,” Bennett said. “And we’ve always contended with Sunrise (Mountain) and Chaparral.”

Desert Pines will rely heavily on Wilkes, who will play running back and outside linebacker. The 5-foot-9-inch, 215-pound junior put up big offensive numbers last season even while playing behind Leon Hayes, who is now a defensive back at Texas-El Paso.

Wilkes rushed for 893 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, earning first-team All-Northeast honors as the Jaguars (4-6) reached the playoffs. The shifty, powerful runner has even bigger plans for this season.

“I think we have potential even though last year’s team was bigger,” Wilkes said. “We have a lot of heart.”

Although hulking offensive lineman Cedrick Poutasi graduated and is now playing at Utah, the Jaguars still have plenty of size. The 6-4, 270-pound Cisneros will anchor both lines as a guard and defensive tackle.

Desert Pines will start the season against visiting Cheyenne at 8 p.m. Aug. 23. The game will be televised as part of the “Thursday Night Lights” series on Cable 12.

Opening the season against Cheyenne, a likely contender in the new Division I-A Sunset League, on local TV has given players much to look forward to.

“It’s exciting,” Cisneros said. “We can try to set the standard for the rest of the season.”

Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @tristanaird.

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