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Napa High football

It'll be the first Big Game for Napa High seniors Cole Rasmussen, left, and Erick Camacho, rear, and the second for Jose Santos, middle, and Jesus Pimentel.

Erick Camacho didn’t play Napa High football as a sophomore or junior, and Cole Rasmussen skipped his junior season. As seniors, Camacho starts at defensive end and Rasmussen sees time at tailback and wide receiver.

In their fourth years with the program, Jose Santos moved from right guard to center, and Jesus Pimentel from left tackle to middle linebacker.

Santos said the biggest difference on the offensive line between this year’s 7-2 team and last year’s 0-9 team going into Friday night’s Big Game is intensity.

“We’ve moved forward,” he said. “We’ve put what happened last year in the past. It’s a lot easier since most of us don’t play both ways.”

Pimentel, who played both guard and linebacker last year, said he likes new head coach Richie Wessman’s platooning system.

“I like playing just one position because you get way better at that one position,” he said. “It’s also a good opportunity for everybody to be involved and not be on the sideline. Everybody’s having a good bond and coming together as a whole team.”

The 5-foot-8 Camacho agreed he doesn’t have the height typical of a defensive end.

“But I think I make up for it with my speed off the ball,” he said. “I’m pretty quick when the ball is snapped and I jump off. That’s something I can do when offensive linemen are bigger than me. I played linebacker my freshman year, but I wanted to try something new.”

He said first-year defensive coordinator Askari Adams has been fun to play for after coming onto the staff with Wessman this year.

“He’s a really good coach. He’s kind of tough sometimes, but he motivates us a lot to do our jobs,” Camacho said. “He’s a nice guy, but he works us really hard. He’s always told me to stay low, get off the football. He’s helped me with staying low and firing off the ball and beating the person in front of me.”

Rasmussen said that along with running the ball, he’s been backing up at wide receiver since senior Logan Van Zandt sustained a broken finger.

“It’s hard for him to catch the ball, so they want me as a back-up in case something happens,” Rasmussen said. “I didn’t play last year because I had some personal stuff going on and had to focus on myself, but I’m happy to be playing with my buds again.

“It’s probably the last year I’m ever playing football, so playing with all my friends is kind of the reason I come out every day. It’s more motivating now, having coaches who know what they’re doing and want success for us. Our coaches want to help us get better and help us win. Coach Wessman knows what he’s talking about. That’s kind of the biggest thing. He’s kind of a no-B.S. kind of guy. He’ll tell you exactly how it is.”

Santos said football has made him more motivated in the classroom.

“I struggle a little bit with my academics, but I try to keep it up to par just so I can have fun out here with all my buds,” he said.”If grades don’t work out, football’s not going to work out. A lot of us try to sit in the front and try to learn as much as we can. If one of us is struggling, we always have people come up and say ‘OK, do you need help with this class? We need you on the field.’ We work as much as a team off the field as on the field.”

Camacho said his grades are also better than they were last year, when he wasn’t playing football.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes to do both,” he said of being a student-athlete. “You can still do it, but it’s very time-consuming.”

Pimentel is in the Independent Studies program.

“I’m doing way better in school,” he said. “I have more time for classes, so I know how to manage my time better and set a time for doing homework.”

Rasmussen said he not only gets “pretty decent” grades but also offers to help teammates with their classes. He doesn’t know what he wants to do next year yet, though.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I may go to trade school or community college, or work for my dad. He has his own landscaping business down in Livermore.”

Santos would also like to learn a trade instead of go to college.

“I’ll see if I can get an apprenticeship somewhere. Maybe go into construction, or be a mechanic,” he said.

Rasmussen said he’s not surprised how well this year’s seniors have bounced back from a winless season, under their fourth head coach in as many years.

“We were 4-6 our freshman year and the team before us was 3-7, and then we went up to JV and were 7-3. So in my opinion, if we would have kept going at the rate we were going, we would have been just like this if not better.

“The events that set us back are in the past. Those were two hard years to struggle through. Now that we’re through that, we’re all back together and playing together as a team.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.