DAYTON — It’s not easy finding positives on a team outscored 154-0 in its first three games of the season.
“(Last week’s 68-0 loss at Spring Creek) score didn’t indicate a great improvement,” first-year Dayton head football coach Tom Eck said. “I’m aware of that.”
It’s getting to the point where Eck worries about even fielding a team when the Dust Devils travel to Truckee (1-2, 1-1 in Division 1A) for its week-four matchup at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We are at about 15 to 20 individuals (eligible to play),” Eck said Wednesday.
One of those players, Blake Fletcher, Dayton’s junior quarterback, running back, linebacker — and as his coach said “water boy if we asked him to do it” — has more than stepped up for the struggling team.
With several players out because of injuries, many ruled ineligible this week as a result of Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association concussion protocol — including junior running back Jesse Schmidt and senior receiver Ethan York — Fletcher has remained Dayton’s most consistent player on both sides of the ball.
“It’s rough,” said Fletcher, who moved to Dayton eight years ago from Salt Lake City. “It’s hard to replace someone like (Schmidt and York) who play a key role. It’s hard. We have a limited amount of kids trying to stay as healthy as possible.”
“Everybody will agree Blake Fletcher has stepped up and has become that guy,” Eck said. “Good or bad, he gives a complete effort to improve our chances. Blake’s attitude, whatever he can do, he’s going to do it.”
That attitude was evident this summer.
Fletcher, a 6-foot, 180-pound tight end coming into the year, knew his position wouldn’t be a factor in Eck’s flexbone formation, triple-option offense, usually with a fullback behind the quarterback, two slot backs and two receivers.
“We didn’t have a tight end in our offense,” Fletcher said. “I figured I’d try something new.”
Along with playing significant minutes on defense and special teams, Fletcher has split time with junior quarterback Tayton Watson behind center, each working with quarterbacks coach Kage Walker.
“With the small amount of kids we had come out (this summer), we kind of said, ‘If there is anyone who wants to come out and try to play quarterback, they can,’” Walker said. “We are still going back and forth with him (Fletcher) and Tayton (Watson), mainly because they are both fairly new. Tayton has played it before. Blake is more mobile. Tayton is our main pass threat. We are just going back and forth for now.”
Fletcher’s effort parallels the overall state of the Dayton football team — heavy junior class off to a late start this summer following the hire of a new coach and struggling this season to make small gains under trying circumstances.
“He is one of the tougher kids on our team,” Walker said. “It’s good for him to step up and take that responsibility. We’re mostly working a lot on footwork.
“He has the tendency of dropping his elbow. We’re taking it one step at a time with him.”
So after taking a thumping in the first three games — 38-0, 48-0 and 68-0 — all while seeing several key players sidelined with injury, where does the motivation to keep going come from?
Blake’s fellow juniors have played with each other for years: Schmidt, running back Dylan Torgerson, lineman Jason Sandborn, Watson, wide receiver C.J. Wilhite, linebacker Wesley Thompson, receiver Robert Cornwell and others.
“We’ve all grown up together,” Fletcher said. “We’ve all played together since third grade. We’re all really close.”
Unfortunately for Dayton (0-3, 0-2 in Division 1A), it doesn’t get any easier with its third road game of the season at Truckee this week.
“We just keep our heads up and keep coming to practice, working harder than last week,” Fletcher said.
“I will do anything for the team.”