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A Lightning-Fast Aerial Attack And Hard-Nosed Defense Has Rocklin Football In Contention For Serious Sac-Joaquin Section Success • PICTURED ABOVE: Senior wide receiver Nathan Kent... Rocklin Football | Beware Of Thunderstorms

A Lightning-Fast Aerial Attack And Hard-Nosed Defense Has Rocklin Football In Contention For Serious Sac-Joaquin Section Success •

PICTURED ABOVE: Senior wide receiver Nathan Kent

To win games in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s premier football conference, you will have to find creative ways to score. Five Sierra Foothill League teams average under 16 points allowed, and outside of struggling Grant-Sacramento (0-3), teams combine for a 17-4 record with an average scoring ratio of 33-13.

The Rocklin football program’s solution isn’t actually that creative. It’s more of a four-finger death punch — quarterback Kenny Lueth and receivers Nathan Kent, Elias Mullican and Kyran Bell.

These aren’t just starters or options. These are game-changing, highlight reel-nabbing stars.

Because of their exploits, and assistance from the SFL’s top statical defense, Rocklin has outscored opponents 153-22 across three games. This includes three running clocks and lots of fourth-quarter bench spots for starters. 

Worth mentioning: All three of Rocklin’s opponents (Turlock, Davis, Capital Christian-Sacramento) were playoff winners during the last full season (2019).

“We have a lot of weapons, and it starts with Kenny, who has a mental approach to the game that is so good,” Rocklin Offensive Coordinator Tim Kenny said Monday. “He is a field general with a live arm that is spectacular. He has good pocket presence and is willing to stay in the pocket and deliver a throw.”

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Despite being yanked in all of Rocklin’s first three contests, Lueth (6 foot, 4 inches, 210 pounds) is 27 for 41 with 651 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He passed for 306 yards and four scores against 2018 SJS champion Capital Christian on Sept. 10.

Rocklin Football, Kenny Lueth
Kenny Lueth takes a shotgun snap during Rocklin’s season-opening win over Turlock on Aug. 21. (Ike Dodson photos)

His biggest dogs are also well fed.

Kent (6-3, 170), one of the fastest receivers in the state, grabbed eight balls for 152 yards and two touchdowns through three games. His speed is verified. He ran the state’s top 400 meter time (47.47) during the 2020 track season. The CIF didn’t host a track postseason that year, but the time would have been third on the podium at state in 2019. His 100 personal best (10.73) would have been top-15 at the same meet, while his 200 record (21.68) would have been top-10.

Kent has offers from BYU and Army, and is deeply committed to playing a collegiate career with a military service academy football program.

“Nathan creates problems for any defense,” Coach Kenny said. “His speed is off the charts and he is pretty special in practice.”

Mullican (6-0, 170), Rocklin’s slot receiver, spent most of the 2020 season taking carries from the same position. He’s exploded early in 2021 with eight catches for 201 yards and five touchdowns through Sept. 10.

He brings a dangerous combination of speed and playmaking ability to each snap.

Rocklin Football, Elias Mullican
Elias Mullican leaps across the goal line for a touchdown during a 41-0 win over Turlock.

“He has been the guy who gets us started, scoring that first touchdown,” Coach Kenny said. “He also plays physically as a corner on defense, and never really leaves the field.

“He does it all.”

Bell (6-0, 160), is the reigning SFL high jump and long jump champion. He has caught seven passes for 220 yards and three scores over the first three weeks of action.

“Kyran is our ‘Z’ receiver, and he has benefited from those over-the-top throws,” Coach Kenny said.

Despite the overload of talent in Rocklin’s aerial assault, the Thunder have been steadfast in achieving offensive equilibrium. Thanks to players like Anthony Johnston (5-10, 190), Rocklin ball carriers have plowed for 453 yards and eight touchdowns.

“We always strive for balance,” Coach Kenny said. “We want to be unpredictable.”

Rocklin Football, Kyran Bell
Kyran Bell gets into the touchdown act during Rocklin’s win over Turlock.

Rocklin’s stout offensive line has made both approaches successful.

The group is led by Brad Baur (6-6, 280) and Bobby Piland (6-2, 295). Much was also expected of tight end Peyton Smith, who injured his shoulder in the second fall practice, and could return this postseason, at the earliest. Smith is a preferred walk-on for Vanderbilt, according to Coach Kenny.

Baur has four college offers, including Cal Poly. Piland is committed to Air Force, and also shines at defensive end. The brawny gridder entered the 2021 season as Rocklin’s biggest name for a reason. He is a four-year varsity senior, also considered one the best wrestling heavyweights in the SJS. He was one of only two underclassmen to win multiple matches at the last SJS Masters Wrestling Championships (2019).

“Wrestling and football go hand-in-hand,” Piland explained. “Wrestling has done so much with my hand-fighting, balance, stamina and strength, even in awkward positions.”

Piland said Rocklin’s team chemistry has been one of the program’s biggest strengths. The team rallies together for team dinners and linemen host another weekly meal, just for the big boys. The Baur family emptied the pantries for Capital Christian week.

“This team thrives because we have learned to work together and to trust each other on every single play,” Piland said. “And it doesn’t matter if it is the weight room or the field, we all get along together and we have great coaches who have helped build us up together.”

Rocklin’s sensational defense is also led by the likes of Rio Patton (5-9, 180 LB), Derek Houston (6-1, 205 LB), Kaleb Larson (6-0, 195 DL), Kaiden Baker (6-3, 210 LB), Austin Adams (5-9, 165 DB) and Teeg Slone (6-0, 180 DB).

Bobby Piland
Bobby Piland (70) raises the football triumphantly as the rest of the defense celebrates his fumble recovery against Turlock.

When you calculate what you need to win games in the SFL, this squad just ticks all the boxes. And apparently there is room to grow.

“Looking at film, we know we are not even close to playing our best,” Coach Kenny said. “We must continue to clean stuff up, and that will help us continue to improve.”

Whitney-Rocklin (2-2) looms Friday in a rivalry meeting that Rocklin has controlled by a 9-2 record since 2010. It’s also the opening day of SFL contests, and the first chance to put teams like No. 1 Folsom (3-0), No. 20 Del Oro-Loomis (4-0), Granite Bay (3-1) and Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills (2-1) on alert.

And once you hear the thunder, how close is the lightning?

Ike Dodson

Ike Dodson currently works as an information officer for California Correction Health Care Services. Prior to that he was an award-winning journalist with over 14 years of experience writing about the Sac-Joaquin Section.

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