DAYTON - When it comes to sports, it's often said that you learn more from losing than winning.
If that axiom is true, then Rob Turner learned a ton in his first year as Dayton's head coach.
The Dust Devils appeared headed for a playoff berth, but a 17-0 loss to Spring Creek and a 34-14 loss to Fernley in the regular-season finale ended Dayton's season at 3-5 in league and 5-5 overall.
"We need to learn from it, but we also have to forget about it," Turner said as his team prepares to scrimmage at Yerington on Saturday. "There is a difference in attitude this year. You can see it, You can feel it. You can hear it."
Turner felt that the Dust Devils' lack of conditioning hurt the team down the stretch last year, and he took part of the blame. He won't let that happen this year.
"We're in better shape; better condition. We're bigger and stronger. Last year we weren't able to finish games (because of conditioning).
"It was a little bit of both (blame to team and Turner himself ). I wasn't hard enough on them. I told the team I was pushing them for a reason."
And, with less than 30 on the roster, players will have to be in great shape because they will have to play on both sides of the ball.
One player Dayton won't have is Cody Yeater, who violated school/team rules last spring and isn't eligible to play. Yeater played well on both sides of the ball a year ago.
Twenty-seven isn't an ideal number for a varsity squad, but Dayton head coaches before Turner have fought the numbers game.
"We just don't get kids," Turner said. "Even when we had the good teams in 2006 or 2007 we only had between 35 and 40, It's just part of the culture here."
It's the goal of every team to make the playoffs, and the Dust Devils are no exception. They will find out very quickly if they are a post-season team with early games against Spring Creek (away), Truckee (home), Fallon (home) and Lowry (away). Dayton must win at least two of those otherwise the playoff run could be over in a hurry.
"There are no easy games," Turner said. "There are some trap games. It's a week-to-week thing. We play Spring Creek, Truckee, Fallon and Lowry to start, and year in and year out they have been in the top four in our league. We have to take care of our business week to week."
The biggest change for the Dust Devils, besides playing in the newly named 1A division is their defense. Dayton is going away from its traditional 4-4 and play a three-man front.
"We did OK with it (4-4)," Turner said. "We have a lot of smaller, faster kids."
That's the formula that colleges and pros use, too. If you are linebacker heavy you are going to use a 3-4 and not the conventional 4-3.
The top returnees on defense are lineman Josh Joyner (50 tackles), outside linebacker Taryn Aguilera (55 tackles) and middle linebacker Austin Fletcher (57 tackles).
Jesse May, Josh Koch, Christian Davis and Jack Phillips figure in the mix at defensive back. Davis had 12 tackles in limited play last year.
Joyner anchors the middle of the line, and he'll be joined by Oscar Toledo, Keith Combs, Niko Bustos, Jacob Williams, Jesus Castaneda and Jose Salas, who has never played high school football.
Skyler Berntson and Payton Morena are the starters at cornerback, and they'll be backed up by Paul Kurashewich and Joey Doyle.
The Dust Devils will be in their double-wing offense for the second year.
It's a run-heavy offense, and Dayton's biggest question mark is whether they will be able to replace Tyler Firestone and Sean deRubertis. The duo combined for more than 1400 yards and 15 scores last year. Dayton threw just 33 times the entire season, and don't expect that to change this season.
Jake Turner is back at quarterback. He was a part-time starter a year ago and threw for three touchdowns.
"The learning curve was a lot quicker this year," Turner said. "It's not the most dynamic or the most sophisticated. The kids can help each other."
Fletcher (172 yards), Tyler Ortiz, Morena, Aguilera (6 catches, 243 yards) and May are in the backfield.
Joyner anchors the line at center, and he'll be flanked by Toledo and Combs. Bustos and Williams will be at the tackles. Berntson and Davis are the tight ends, and they will mainly be blockers.
"I played Josh at center because in our offense the guards and tackles are pulling every play, and this keeps him fresher to play more defense," Turner said. "He's a good down blocker."