The Sonora Wildcats opened their 2011 season with a 26-0 thumping of Johansen. Wildcat senior fullback Nolan Dambacher carried 13 times for a game-high 100 yards, scored a touchdown and, as per his custom, was bestial at middle linebacker.
SONORA WILDCATS NOLAN DAMBACHER (LEFT) AND BRANDON CAMARA (RIGHT) are the 2011 All-Area Co-Most Valuable Players. Dambacher played middle linebacker and fullback and Camara was strong-side linebacker and fullback. Both received a nice compliment from Wildcat Co-offensive coordinator Kirk Clifton. This award, said Clifton, was deserving and "a slam dunk." AMY ALONZO ROZAK/UNION DEMOCRAT
In Week 2, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Dambacher rushed for a game-high 140 yards, scored twice and was again medieval at linebacker.
Next up for Sonora was a road contest vs. Calaveras.
“I’m looking at the film of Sonora from those first two games and I’m getting a headache watching Nolan Dambacher carrying the football so effectively,” recalled Redskin defensive coordinator Doug Clark. “Now I’ve known Nolan forever so I make the decision that we will completely structure our defense to try and contain him. I am literally game-planning to stop Nolan. We assigned six guys on him — six. I’ve got four down linemen and two linebackers focused on Nolan.
“But I’m watching the films over and over and notice No. 6 on Sonora. He’s hitting the holes fast like Nolan. He’s running over people like Nolan. So I call (Sonora co-offensive coordinator) Kirk Clifton who is a life-long friend of mine. I say, 'Hey, Kirk! Who is this No. 6? I knew you had Dambacher but who’s this guy? I can’t game-plan around both of these guys!'
“And Kirk lets me know that No. 6 is Brandon Camara, a junior, and that he’d be out against us because of an injury (concussion).”
In Sonora’s first two contests, the 6-foot, 205-pound Camara had gained 137 yards total on 18 carries, a 7.6 average.
Despite the added attention, Dambacher still gained 52 yards rushing on his 10 carries and Sonora defeated Calaveras 31-19.
And it was this 2011 game that stands out most to Sonora head coach Bryan Craig with regards to Camara.
“It’s interesting that my favorite game of Brandon’s is the contest that he didn’t even play in,” said Craig. “What I admired so much was the way he was cheering on all of his teammates. He showed fire on our sidelines. I could easily pick out six or seven 85-yard runs Brandon had for us as my favorite memory. But as a coach, it’s the game he didn’t play — still showing so much emotion cheering for his teammates — that I will never forget.
“As for Nolan, it would be quite easy to say my favorite memories of him this season are one of the many outstanding tackles he made. Nolan hits hard, plays hard and never stops. Or I could pick out the tremendous leadership qualities he showed every game and every practice. Or just pick one of his many great runs. But what stands out to me is one play on special teams. Nolan is long-snapping for us on a punt and the opposing returner runs to a sideline with some room. We’ve got guys chasing this runner but it’s Nolan who blasts out of nowhere to come catch this guy and knock him out. A clean hit completely — but an outstanding play from a great player who had to run a long distance.”
Dambacher never did stop running in 2011.
He averaged 6.8 per rush on his 99 carries for 681 yards total. On defense, he ran forwards, backwards and sideline-to-sideline making tackles.
The Valley Oak League is renown for spewing out tremendous linebackers year after year. In 2011, it was Dambacher who received First-Team All-VOL at middle linebacker.
On top of that, VOL coaches gave Dambacher a rare distinction — two First-Team honors. Dambacher was First-Team VOL on offense as well.
Alongside Dambacher on defense this year, playing strong-side linebacker was Camara. In Week 2, Camara made an interception and returned it 87 yards for a score.
After sitting out vs. Calaveras, Camara returned in Week 4 and promptly went on a six-game streak with at least 120 yards on the ground and two rushing scores.
In Sonora’s November post-game win over Bear River, Camara broke a 33-year old school record by gaining 315 yards rushing — on just 15 carries. In that contest, he also tied an all-time school record with five rushing scores — two of those being 85-yard romps.
All told, in 2011, Camara gained 1,446 yards on 112 carries for an extraordinary 12.9 average per rush. He scored 22 touchdowns.
Like Dambacher, Camara also received that rare distinction of First-Team All-VOL on both offense and defense.
There was some excellent football played in the area this season. Calaveras earned a postseason slot and Bret Harte and Summerville were each one win short of the playoffs.
But Sonora, 7-3 in regular-season play, a 42-20 postseason victor over Bear River, was clearly the area’s best team. And its two best players were Dambacher and Camara.
“Those two were the heart and soul of our team,” said Craig.
And so Nolan Dambacher and Brandon Camara are The Union Democrat All-Area Co-Most Valuable Players.
“To tell you the truth,” said Clifton, “I would have been shocked if it wasn’t those two. Last year, this award was a slam dunk: Monti Wilson (Calaveras/Southern Oregon) was the best player in our area. This year, it’s also a slam dunk. Nolan and Brandon are the two guys that deserve this and I’m happy for them. They were fun to coach. What makes this award even better is that as good of football players as these two are they are even better people.”
“I think they’re both very deserving of this honor,” said Sonora co-offensive coordinator and line coach Josh Kroeze. “I really admired the way that Nolan would carry the football: He does not go down without a fight. He is constantly dragging guys. In crunch-time, you can count on him for those tough yards. And Nolan brought so much more to the table than just athletic skills. His leadership, as a captain, was outstanding.
“Brandon is a real special runner because he is not only real physical, he has such great speed. If that football field was longer, Brandon would have had a lot more yards. He’d only run 80 yards sometimes because that’s all he had to get. He’s powerful but also had the ability to outrun the fastest safeties in our league.”
“What an honor for both Nolan and Brandon to get this award,” said Clark. “Hands down, it’s deserved. I can’t think of anyone better than those two for this award.
“Sometimes running backs might take a play or two off on defense — their hearts are on offense. And you can spot that on film. But that is most definitely not the case with Nolan and Brandon. They don’t take a play off on defense. You can’t plan on running up the middle against Sonora because there’s Dambacher. And you can’t run outside on Sonora because there’s Camara.”
Throughout this season, as Dambacher and Camara kept churning out huge chunks of rushing yards, each kept paying tribute to their offensive linemen. Guard Joey Schultz, tackle Sammy Guthrie and center Ian Fremd each earned First-Team All-Area honors.
“When you’re a lineman and you have runners like Nolan and Brandon,” says Kroeze, himself a star lineman for Sonora in the 1990s, “it makes you want to play that much harder. All you’ve got to do is give either of those guys a small seam and they can take it the distance. With both, you can even miss a block and they’d still help you out. One time, Brandon just ran over a guy then took off for 60 yards.
“Nolan and Brandon play the game as linemen like to play — physical. As linemen, we want to run people over. That’s the same way with Nolan and Brandon. They are a lineman’s dream.”
“On defense, Nolan has football savvy and he knows how to find and get after that runner,” says Clifton. “Then you put him on offense and he’s a sledgehammer at fullback. His yards-after-contact is great. One guy never brought him down all season.
“Brandon has the ability to run away from people. But it’s his quick acceleration in that 0-to-10 yard mark and that 0-to-15 yard mark which makes him so special. In our offense, by design, sometimes we don’t block certain guys and it’s up to the back to get by them. Brandon got by those defenders because he is tough, intelligent, physical, fast and has great vision.”
“On defense,” said Craig, who serves as his own defensive coordinator, “the way Nolan hit and as fast as Brandon moved — because we had these two guys — it allowed us to put in certain blitz packages. Those were two spots I knew would always be taken care of.
“When Nolan hit you, you knew you were hit. Nolan was a great team leader, too. He cared about every single kid on our team. Brandon has this great sense of humor and he’s a nice guy. Then when he steps on the football field, he is no longer nice. If you got in his way, he’d run over you.
“Not to take anything away from the other teams in our area because they had some great players, too. But I’m proud to say that the two best players in the area this year were on my team.”