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Kickoff coverage takes a holiday

Here’s a little-known fact about your good buddy Fielder: I played football my freshman year.

That’s right. I was on special teams, which is where my high school’s coach sticks the reserves.

I was listed on the roster as a defensive back, but my primary role was the “wedge buster” on the kickoff coverage unit. I ran down as fast as I could and hurled my body into the cluster of blockers a few yards ahead of the ball carrier, carrying out my coach’s instructions to “cause a four-car pileup.”

It was cool.

My coach didn’t care about our health and made us practice kickoffs a lot. But officials at the college and pro levels are doing their best to eliminate that part of the game with rule changes that encourage touchbacks. (When was the last time an NFL place-kicker complained about a “K” ball? Been awhile, huh?)

And with depth at a premium for most local prep teams, I suspect coaches aren’t willing to risk injuries by working on kickoff coverage at practice.

That probably explains why we saw so many long kickoff returns last week.

By my count, there were nine kickoff returns for touchdowns in Division I and Division I-A, including two by Cimarron-Memorial’s Maurice Bennett in a 48-7 victory over Durango. Clark and Desert Pines each brought a kickoff back for a TD in their 42-40 slugfest won by Desert Pines; Shadow Ridge scored on three kickoff returns, two by De-Zhon Rogers, in a 58-26 loss to Liberty.

I wanted to ask Liberty coach Rich Muraco whether a lack of reps on kickoff coverage explains the big plays his team gave up, but he banned me from practice. The Patriots were probably practicing special teams.

After a slow start, I’m starting to find a groove with my picks, and I’m pretty confident heading into this week. Be sure to check out a few more of my plays at Nevadapreps.com.

■ Coronado at Liberty — Last year’s matchup ended with some tension as the Patriots threw deep late while leading by 18 points. I’m sure everyone has forgotten about that and will sing “Kumbaya” at midfield before the opening kickoff.

The Cougars had two weeks to prepare for this game after beating Huntington Beach (Calif.) in their opener. Former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez went to Huntington Beach. The Cougars could use him against Liberty. … Liberty by 10.

■ Moapa Valley at Desert Pines — It’s too bad this showdown is happening now, since it’s effectively the Division I-A Sunrise League title game. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association really should look into flex scheduling. Move this game to Oct. 17 and create some drama. Just a suggestion.

The Jaguars are averaging 45 points per game, but they haven’t faced a defense as stingy as Moapa Valley’s. Uncle Lefty likes under the total of 48, and if he’s right, that probably bodes well for the Pirates. … Moapa Valley by 2.

■ Canyon Springs at Arbor View — This game between two of the most physical teams in the area should have more collisions than a WWE tables-ladders-and-chairs match. I’m expecting at least three “Wooo!” hits to occur.

The Pioneers had difficulty getting off the field on defense against Cheyenne. That could be an issue against Arbor View’s ball-control offense. … Arbor View by 4.

■ Bishop Gorman at Centennial (Calif.) — The Gaels’ 23-20 overtime win over Bingham (Utah) cost them the No. 1 spot in the USA Today rankings, and now they travel to Corona, Calif., for a dangerous matchup.

The Huskies are known for their high-powered spread offense and scored 52 points in a win last week, but at least they won’t try four fake punts like Bingham did. Or will they? … Gorman by 7.

Last week: 6-1, 4-3 (with points)

Season: 10-5, 8-7 (with points)

Contact Fielder at Fielder@nevadapreps. com. Follow @FielderNVP on Twitter.

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