The Reed football program in Sparks, Nev., has made the big-school state title game twice in the last three years and received the honor of being invited to the Sollenberger Classic to open the season in the annual football showcase featuring top programs from Arizona and Nevada.

The Raiders are a considered power in the Reno portion of the state.

It hasn’t always been that way, not when Ernie Howren took over the program 14 years ago.

Reed was coming off a 1-8 season in 2000 and duplicated that record in his first year in 2001.

But Howren didn’t let the first-year struggles shake his belief system that he gleamed from watching how programs like Wooster and McQueen went about their business.

The three Ds — discipline, drive and dedication — were instilled and the program was rewarded with a regional title in 2004, the first of five during Howren’s tenure.

“Those first years have really made us appreciate where we were and where we are now,” Howren said. “Expectations have always been high, but now everyone truly believes in what we are doing, so we have been able to keep it rolling.”

The sustained success is one of the reasons the Raiders were invited to play in the Sollenberger where they will take on Mountain Pointe in the second game of the weekend at Bishop Gorman’s Fertitta Field on Saturday, Aug. 23, in Las Vegas. The first game features Brophy Prep against Bishop Gorman the night before.

Howren said ever since the invitation was extended and accepted for the opening weekend showcase, the program has received a lift in confidence.

“The list of teams that have played in the Sollenberger are pretty impressive, and it has been a good rivalry,” he said. “We are excited to be part of the event. It is quite an honor to be playing a team like Mountain Pointe.”

The Pride made quite a stir last year in the Sollenberger when they scored on their first offensive play from scrimmage and never trailed Gorman, which went on to win its sixth straight Nevada title by beating Reed in the finals.

Howren admittedly didn’t know much about the Mountain Pointe program until last year’s Sollenberger and has been even more impressed than the initial introduction after diving into game tape.

“You can tell they are one of the top programs in the nation,” said Howren, who has a career record of 111-47. “They are physical and athletic. They are fast and they stay within in their assignments, so they are disciplined.”

Pride coach Norris Vaughan said much the same about Reed as the coaching staff starts to begin break down the film now that the game is just a month away.

“I expected it is going to be a really good test,” Vaughan said. “They are a lot like we were last year. They are the No. 2 team in the state and they are getting ready to play a team that was nationally ranked. They are all pretty excited every day to play Mountain Pointe like we were wanting to play Bishop Gorman. I’m sure they are going to be ready to rock ’n’ roll.”

Like Mountain Pointe, Reed has to replace most of the skills players from last year’s 12-2 state runner-up squad. They have a solid foundation in the trenches and will have quality talent step into the openings created by graduation.

Howren singled out five players he expects to be leaders and top players in quarterback Jackson Gilmore (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), defensive lineman Alden Giang (6-4, 280), defensive lineman Nick Gregg (6-4, 280), offensive lineman Cody DeHaan (6-4, 250) and offensive lineman Cody Carr (6-3, 320).

It’s a good group that has led a promising summer, including a week of full contact at Nevada’s team camp, as the Raiders focus in on another year of high expectations.

“The summer is all about establishing leaders and going through the process of the becoming a different team with the seniors gone,” Howren said. “We have had a good summer and found out who is ready to step up to be leaders and fill in the holes we have. We have a month or so to go, and we can’t wait to get it going.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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