The numbers are up. The athletes seem to be stronger. The consistency of a culture that begins with kids playing Blue Devil-style football is paying dividends.
Now, as Steve Smyte approaches his fourth season as Davis High’s gridiron coach, this week’s Sierra Football Camp will give those in Devil Nation a real feel for what to expect come the season opener at Yuba City on Aug. 30.
“We’re on the way. This program is definitely on the upswing,” Smyte says. “I look at the depth on the offensive line, the three quarterbacks we have in camp and guys like (linebacker) Brendan MacDonald and (lineman) Bailey Murray. … I’m excited.”
DHS — along with Casa Roble, Liberty (Brentwood), Sacramento and Del Oro — will spend Tuesday through Thursday meaning business in a grueling, two-a-day series of workouts.
In the mornings, the squads will work on situations — second-and-goal, third-and-long and red-zone challenges. In the afternoons, full-contact scrimmages give coaches ideas for what needs to be tweaked once conditioning (Aug. 5) and regular practices (Aug. 12) begin.
The Blue Devils are coming off a 5-5 campaign in which many felt the locals were nonetheless playoff-worthy (Nevada Union, also 5-5, sneaked past Davis for the final postseason berth).
Observers know two moments last fall — the sloppy 26-21 loss at Rio Americano and a controversial callback on a Grant Dickerson “touchdown” — cost the Devils dearly.
But Smyte doesn’t linger on the past. His focus is forward and — despite the news that standout receiver C.K. Hicks will be missing in 2013, after an ACL injury suffered Friday at a UCLA camp — the coach sees this Devil glass as more than half full.
At quarterback, Emilio Barba, Quinn Williams and Quentin Jones have all brought strengths to the mix.
Smyte points to junior Williams as “the best athlete of the group,” adding that senior Barba “know the offense the best.” Jones “is young with a great arm,” meaning the competition for a starting nod is “wide-open … we feel good about all three.”
Returning lineman Murray (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) commands respect in practice and draws concern from opposing coaches.
“He has stepped up and taken control,” Smyte told The Enterprise. “He wants to go out with a flourish.”
Murray has cleaned 285 pounds in weight-lifting workouts — a number that would impress most Division I college linemen. He played much of 2012 with a broken left arm and comes to his senior year healthy and ready to switch to guard.
Part of the reason for the change is that Murray gets some help on the right — Georgia transfer Jonah Williams.
Williams is a 6-5, 230-pound sophomore who, according to Smyte, finished fourth in his home-state junior varsity shot put.
“Our lines don’t have the size that we had last year,” Smyte says. “But they’re quicker, more experienced and deeper.”
Smyte pointed to returners Nash Nunes and Marvin Grant and JV call-ups Logan James and Marcos Herrera as reasons for additional optimism.
Then there’s MacDonald …
“Everything we do defensively revolves around him,” the coach continues. “He’s going to have a lot of options from his inside linebacker spot.”
Sporting a 4.5 grade-point average in the classroom, MacDonald had some eye-popping on-field stats as a junior: 51 tackles, four forced fumbles, an interception and an 80-yard touchdown reception as a rarely targeted tight end.
“The (Ivy League schools) like him a lot,” Smyte says of his 5-10, 230-pound standout.
At running back, DHS finds itself with depth and experience — Winfred Roberson, Wally Perez, Austin Lampley and newcomer Talek Deery.
Smyte said he loved the way sometimes-fullback Roberson cleared the way for tailbacks. He also gave a shout-out to Perez: “He looked amazing. He’s running the ball well, with aggressiveness.”
Deery adds speed, says the coach, and Lampley was an able starter toward the end of the season. Roberson’s 803 yards rushing and nine touchdowns were team bests.
One step backward on Friday was the news that Hicks, a highly touted pass-catcher, will be lost for his senior season.
Hicks was to have been the busy Z-receiver, a cornerback and safety on defense, the punter and a go-to kick returner.
“We’re all just sick about it,” Smyte said over the weekend. “But we know he’ll come back from this.”
Smyte said he talked with Hicks: “He’ll still be our captain. He’ll be with us all year, helping out, encouraging and inspiring our other players. You know, we just picked up another coach in C.K.”
Without Hicks, the Blue Devils remain deep at wideout. Nate Curtis, Joey Dossa, Ted Riffle, Bailey Yarrow and Andre Foster are just a few of the names that came to mind when Smyte talked about life after Hicks.
“They’re all have shown us something,” the coach says.
Davis greeted 38 players for spring football and currently has 36 or so in the Sierra Camp.
When Foster returns from ankle surgery and others are back from vacation or college-campus visits, Smyte thinks he’ll have more than 40 on his 2013 roster — the biggest head count to date in his four years at the helm.
“Like I said, we’re headed in the right direction,” the coach reiterates. “(Sierra Camp) will be the only chance over summer that we’ll have to put the pads on, get to hit. It really helps in us be able to access what we have.”
Notes: Under Smyte (after back-to-back 2-8 seasons in the previous seasons), DHS has gone 1-9, 2-8 and 5-5. … “Our JV and frosh teams were excellent teams and we’re getting solid players from (the Junior Blue Devils),” Smyte said with a hopeful eye on the future. This fall’s schedule: at Yuba City (Aug. 30), at Foothill (Sept. 6), at Armijo (Sept. 13), Rio Americano (Sept. 20), Woodland (Sept. 27), bye on Oct. 4, Monterey Trail (Oct. 11), Franklin (Oct. 18), at Laguna Creek (Oct. 25), Grant (Nov. 1), at Elk Grove (Nov. 8). … Earlier this month, DHS split its normal spring camp into two parts, surrounding finals week.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.