Dayton looks back – mainly looking forward
Appeal Sports Writer
DAYTON – While sixth-year Dayton Dust Devils football coach Rick Walker doesn’t believe he will turn to salt if he allows himself to look back upon last year’s unprecedented success, he’d rather look forward and keep his team focused on this season’s aspiration.
“Our goal this year is to play for the state championship,” said Walker, whose Dust Devils finished 2006 with a 10-1 record, losing to eventual state champion Virgin Valley, 21-19, in the Class 3A state semifinals.
While Walker doesn’t need the walk down memory lane, that historical season deserves at least a brief stroll.
The 2006 version of the Dust Devils enjoyed several school firsts, including its best-ever record (improving on the previous high of 7-4, set in 2005), opening the season with three or more consecutive victories (it peaked at 10-0), and beating Truckee (twice) and Spring Creek – the former for another first, the Dust Devils’ Northern 3A championship.
“It was a great year up until the last (game),” Walker said in his office with a wry smile last week. “It was hard watching film (of the Virgin Valley game). I hate to count how many times I watched that film over the summer. I was left with the feeling that we gave it away. It was hard to stomach.”
Walker has also lost 13 seniors, including record-setting quarterback and Northern 3A Most Valuable Player Travis Wood, Northern 3A Lineman of the Year Brandon Seymour, and All-Sierra selections such as multi-position threat Erik Hopper and linebacker Josh Avery, among others.
Wood and Seymour went on to sign with Sacramento City College.
That all said, Walker isn’t looking at last season’s record as a be all-end all scenario.
“We went 10-0, winning four or five close games, some of which went down to the last second,” Walker began. “We didn’t blow anybody away. (Against Virgin Valley) we had seven turnovers and lost by two points. We still had a chance; the kids were still fighting.
“Our goal this year is to play for the championship. I could care less about our record. We were 10-0 and didn’t get it done. A state title this year is our goal.”
Adding to Dayton’s challenge is that it has only 23 players for its varsity squad, a fact that surprised one of the Dust Devils’ returning standouts, senior running back Brandon Aguilera, who was asked if he expected more players based on last year’s success.
“I did expect more,” said Aguilera, who rushed for nearly 800 yards last year. “A lot of people looked up at us – people who didn’t play football – because we were 10-1. You’d think they would look at that and want to be part of that (by playing) football, but we only got a couple of new kids.”
Walker is attempting to counter the effects of many of his players being forced to play on both sides of the ball by emphasizing conditioning.
“I hate to have them line up and run, so we’re doing footwork drills, cones, resistance runs where they drag other players around with towels around their waists, up-downs – more quick-burst exercises with little rest. They’re getting plenty of it (conditioning,) if you ask them.”
Another of Walker’s approaches is to keep captains’ spots and starting positions open until there is a clear-cut winner, thus promoting stronger competition.
As of last Thursday, Walker said only senior offensive guard/defensive tackle Juan Rodallegas was certain to be a captain.
The quarterback position was up for grabs between junior Tanner Wood (brother of Travis) and senior Ryan Randsdell. Wood was a backup as a sophomore, but Randsdell hasn’t played competitive football since eighth grade.
One positive for Dayton is that its offensive and defensive lines average 230 pounds.
Senior Vadim Gladwill – a returning all-conference defensive end – will see more time as an offensive tackle. He will have help on the line from senior left guard Brett Remington (6-0, 235) and tight end Anthony Onstott (6-3, 230).
Seniors Byron Trigueros (wing and wide receiver), Donny Parker (split end) and speedster Trace Feemster (running back) will add to the Dust Devils offensive attack.
Newcomer and junior Nick Bircheff is expected to see some time at running back in addition to his duty as a middle linebacker, while returning senior Thomas Higday is expected to start at weakside linebacker.
Although he was yet to be named a captain, Aguilera said he felt as though he had to do his part from a leadership standpoint.
“Basically, I have to get it through (the newcomers’) heads that we’re not the same team as last year,” said Aguilera, who has added about 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame (he now weighs 200 pounds). “We’re going to have to work a little harder with our depth chart not being good. With a lot of people playing both ways, it’s got to be more than just me leading. We have a lot of leaders out there, but it’s going to be harder because of the numbers.”
And Walker doesn’t think the Northern 3A Conference will be any kinder this year just because the Dust Devils are a bit thin in numbers.
“Truckee is coming off their worst season in at least 10-to-25 years – they’ll be right there,” Walker said. “We met Fernley at a defensive camp; they’ll be real strong. It’s a great league. Sparks has a lot of kids back. We beat Spring Creek for the first time ever. Last year our league was 5-0 against the 4A. We’re a pretty good league. We don’t have a lot of teams, but it’s a good league with a lot of good coaches doing a good job in it.”
Not only may the Dust Devils benefit from the strength of the league’s competition, Aguilera said the returning Dust Devils will be able to draw upon the lessons of all the close, tough games from last year.
“When it comes down to last season, when it was gut-check time and we needed to battle back when it was third-and-whatever and we had to hold them, it’s definitely nice when it comes down to it (to draw up that experience),” Aguilera said.
Dayton will waste no time in jumping right into the fire. Friday at 7 p.m. it will host state runner-up Moapa Valley in its season-opener.
“It’s a great test for us,” Walker said. “It will let us know where we’re at. They have a lot of kids back. It’s a test for us and that’s fine with me.”
And Walker most likely wouldn’t mind if his players applied a little of what they learned in the school’s greatest season ever. Sometimes looking back can be a good thing – especially if it helps in the journey ahead.