Coming off two straight playoff appearances, including a 7-3 record last season, Douglas football coach Mike Rippee has high expectations for this year's team.
"We're a veteran team with a lot of experience," said Rippee, whose Tigers lost a tough 7-6 decision to Galena in the first round of the playoffs last year. "We have 35 seniors with a tremendous amount of depth. Five of our kids started as sophomores. This team has great work ethic and senior leadership.
"This is one of the first times where I feel we have a bullseye on our backs. Other coaches in the area know about us. Our expectations are much higher. It's a long road, though, and nothing is guaranteed."
Rippee hopes that the team can build off that playoff loss to Galena.
"We came that close to moving on to the second round which we've done only once before (since moving to 4A)," he said. "Last year was our first home playoff game since we started 4A."
One reason why Rippee is so upbeat is that despite the loss of tailback Evan Bill, wide receiver Craig Bell, linemen Adam Johnson, Zach Johnson and Danilo Aguilera to graduation, many key members of the offense return.
The offensive unit averaged 330 yards per game.
"We want to run the football, but it's no secret we can throw the ball," Rippee said. "Last year our strength was that we had Evan Bill and he ran very well. We want to get our fullbacks (Jake Peterson and A.G. Bell) more involved in the offense this year."
And, when you add quarterback Luke Rippee's scrambling and passing abilities you have a very potent backfield.
Luke Rippee, who ran for 239 yards and threw for 1,251 yards and 14 touchdowns, is backed up by Eddie Shope and Pat Sergott. Shope completed one of three passes for 27 yards last year, and Sergott didn't play.
"Luke is a good quarterback," said the elder Rippee. "I expect Luke to be more of a leader on the field. He's focused and doesn't say a lot out there.
"We're comfortable with Eddie back there. Pat Sergott is coming along. He didn't play last year and it takes time to develop. This is a good offense that averaged over 34 points a game."
Replacing the explosive Bill at tailback is no easy task, but the Tigers are blessed to have a capable replacement in Dusty Cooper, who is in his third year on varsity.
Cooper started at fullback as a sophomore, but got hurt before his junior year. He carried 25 times for 111 yards and a score in limited playing time behind Bill.
"He's one of the fastest backs in the league," coach Rippee said.
Luke Rippee will throw to a talented wide receiving corp led by Andy McIntosh (39 catches, 715 yards, 6 TDs), Tommy Welton (2-47-1), Eric Emm, transfer student Chris Boulware and Nolan Brockhage. McIntosh has been hampered by an injury to his left quadricep in the preseason.
"We have some depth there," coach Rippee said. "Chris is starting to come on. Eric is a hard worker."
Both tight ends -- Stormy Herald (6 receptions, 71 yards, 1 TD) and Nick Summers (6-114-1) -- are back. Dan Senger and Pat Hughes are the backups.
Guard Paul Mannelly and tackle David Silvestro have already locked in starting jobs. Nate Walsh, a defensive starter last year, and Garrett Hostetler are vying for starting jobs at tackle and guard respectively. The center spot is up for grabs between Austin Glenn and Johnson Riggs.
Tyson Estes, a guard, and Jake Marsh, a tackle, also are looking for playing time.
"We're trying to go one way (on the line) as much as possible," coach Rippee said.
If coach Rippee has concerns, they are on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers gave up 280 yards per game last year, including 190 on the ground.
"We have a certain amount of inexperience," he said. "Half of the guys there started last year.
"Our league is a running league. We want eight guys in the box as much as possible. Our third linebacker is like a strong safety."
The Tigers have a gaping hole to fill at nose guard, as all-Sierra League and Northern Nevada Lineman of the Year Grant Hall has graduated. Marsh, Jesse Sarratea and Dewayne Rey are the candidates to replace Hall.
"We know we have a big hole to fill," Rippee said. "If you're going to play a '50' defense you better have a nose guard that can play."
Estes, Senger, Walsh and Hostetler are battling for playing time at defensive tackle. Summers and Herald are the defensive ends.
Jake Peterson returns as a first-team all-league linebacker. Anthony Ripoli, Keenan Copp, Kyle Luken, Mark Winters, Tyree Holdridge and Cory Hartzell also figure into the picture.
Shope, Welton, Brockhage and Emm are the top candidates at cornerback, and Luke Rippee will start at safety.
Shope and Emm are backing up Rippee at safety. Emm also is expected to help out with kickoffs, PATs and field goals.