DAYTON — Rob Turner is quick to admit that 2012 losses to South Tahoe and Elko still sting, and with good reason.
The 37-36 loss to the Vikings and the 21-16 loss to Elko cost the Dust Devils a chance to reach the 1A playoffs a year ago.
“Both the South Tahoe and Elko games should have been wins,” coach Turner said. “Last year we were overconfident against South Tahoe. (John) Cefalu threw for a million yards. Against Elko we made too many mistakes.”
The good thing is that those disappointments are in the past, and Turner, like every high school coach in America, has high hopes for his squad this season.
“We’re smaller, but faster up front,” Turner said. “I was pleased with the turnout for weights. I think we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. I think we’re going to be better.
“I think Lowry is going to be very good because they have a lot of kids back. Fallon lost a lot of people, but the JV team there was good. Elko will be better. I thought Truckee was down last year. Success breeds success. When you play them, you’re playing against the tradition.”
Turner starts the season without two key performers from 2012 — running back Payton Morena (10 carries, 139 yards and two interceptions with 27 tackles) and running back Teryn Aguilera (599 yards rushing, eight TDs). Morena moved out of the area and Aguilera didn’t come back after violating school/team rules.
The Dust Devils will have a bit of a different look under new offensive coordinator Kyle Lastiri, who had coached the Dayton line the past couple of years. Dayton had been a predominantly running team out of the double-wing set the last couple of years, and this year will run out of power-I sets often.
“We’re adjusting more to the personnel we have,” Turner said. “We’ll still keep some aspects of the double-wing. It’s kind of mishmash offense. We’ll throw the ball a lot more. We’ve only thrown 60 times the last two years (10 for 39 in 2012). When a defense only has to defend one thing, it makes it pretty easy.”
Still, the Dust Devils’ bread and butter is ball control. It’s what they’ve done the best since Turner replaced Rick Walker as head coach.
The quarterback job belongs to Davis Winebarger for the opener. The backup is Skyler Berntson, who filled in at QB in the latter stages of the 2012 season. Berntson threw for 45 yards and ran for 289 a year ago.
“Both have their strengths,” Turner said. “We have a chance to boil it down to see who floats to the top. I don’t want to play two guys in the same game unless we have an injury. I don’t like sharing at that position. I don’t mind doing that at other positions.
“They both have decent arms. I have confidence in both of them. The offensive coordinator will have first say, but I’ll have the last say. Skyler is so valuable on the defensive side of the ball.”
Austin Fletcher, who gained 591 yards and scored eight times, will be the primary runner. The 200-pound Fletcher averaged 6.3 yards a carry. He’s joined in the backfield by Jesse May (195 yards rushing, two TDs), Quinn Santana (171 yards rushing, 13 receiving) and John Aguilar (JV in 2012).
“Austin will do whatever we need him to do,” Turner said. “It’s just a matter of how much abuse we want to heap on him. We need to find a way to get him some rest. We have to develop some young running backs. If Davis played quarterback, I’d split Skyler and Austin at tailback, but I also want the best player at each position.
“Jesse is a great receiver out of the backfield. He runs the traps well. Santana didn’t get a ton of reps. Aguilar is very fast.”
The wide receiver/slot positions will be manned by Jack Phillips, Dalen Mendoza and Julio Meza. Phillips played some quarterback last year, while Mendoza and Meza were on the JV squad. Jaret Reid and Adam Smith are the tight ends.
“Both Dalen and Julio are very fast,” Turner said. “They have come along very quickly in the new system. Jack has great hands, and he’s a strong kid.
“Both are good athletes. Jaret is not a big kid, but he’s so tough. They both can run block and catch the ball.”
Turner lost three starters in the interior line, and that’s probably his biggest concern.
“It scares the heck out of me,” Turner said.
Jonathan Joiner (6-0, 210) and Keith Combs (5-9, 200) will start at guard and tackle, respectively. Brad Gillenwater is the top candidate at center, while Jesus Castaneda and Josh Koch will be the other two starters.
“We lost a lot of beef up front, but we did gain a lot of speed,” Turner said. “We want to hit hard and hit quick. We’ve been giving everybody a lot of reps.”
There isn’t much depth behind the five starters, and what depth there is will be untested at the varsity level.
Turner will once again run a 3-5-3 defense, which is a rarity at any level. The University of New Mexico ran it under Rocky Long when the Lobos blanked Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl several years ago.
“I changed from a 4-4 (my favorite defense) because I ran out of 4s (defensive ends),” Turner said. “You can make it look like any defense you want. We’re blitzing a lot for gap control.”
Castaneda, Combs, Koch and Eddie Curry will battle for playing time up front.
“Koch is strong,” said Turner. “We’re looking for him to have a big senior season. Curry isn’t big or strong, but he has a nose for the ball. We want Jesus (5-5 nose guard) to give centers fits. We want him to clog things in the middle.”
May, a starter at inside linebacker last year, will start in the middle. Santana, Gillenwater and Joyner will battle for outside linebacker spots. Fletcher, Winebarger, Phillips and Reid will be the outside hybrid guys.
Fletcher started in the middle but agreed to move to the outside, mainly because if he plays at the next level it would be as a safety or outside linebacker.
Bernston will man the safety slot, while Meza and Mendoza will be the starting cornerbacks.