Despite having to play in the rugged Delta Valley Conference, the Davis High football team has managed to go 5-5 in each of the past two seasons.
But this year, the Blue Devils have a new head coach — John Wiley — and are in a new, even more grueling environment: the eight-team Delta League.
For 2014, the Sac-Joaquin Section realignment has DHS in the same conference with some old and new foes. The Devils still will see former DVC members Monterey Trail, Franklin, Grant and Elk Grove in addition to some strong new faces in Jesuit, Sheldon and Pleasant Grove.
Davis already has seen two formidable opponents in scrimmages with Folsom and Sacramento, workouts it has used as learning tools for the upcoming season.
As preseason practices have unfolded, Wiley — a former All-SEC defensive back at Auburn who was the defensive coordinator at Christian Brothers last season — has made one thing clear: Everyone on the roster will be expected to play, many of them going both ways.
“Our situation this year: We started with 38 kids, now we’re down to I think 34 kids now,” Wiley told The Enterprise on Friday. “We’re very small in numbers; everyone is going to have to play. The kids know at some point, you’re going to have to get into the game and the expectation is ‘next man up’ and we expect them to perform the same as the person who was in the game.”
On the offensive side of the ball, three-year varsity running back Winfred Roberson (818 rushing yards, seven TDs) is gone, leaving a group that includes senior Wally Perez and junior Cole Morse, a monster last season in JV, to fill that void.
A starting quarterback has yet to be officially named, but both senior Quinn Williams and junior Jack Beckman have had strong moments in camp.
The starting signal-caller will be looking to connect with wide receiver Nate Curtis, who came on late last season to pace the Blue Devils with 367 yards and six scores. He is joined by Bailey Yarrow, Marquis Turner and Alex Levine to form a group of reliable wideouts.
A completely revamped offensive line will be responsible for opening running lanes and protecting whoever wins the QB competition. Zac Slavich, Bailey Murray and Jordan Weston have graduated, while last year’s left tackle, Jonah Williams, transferred to Folsom. Last year’s center, Michal Goodison, is back, but he’s playing middle linebacker, leaving five spots to fill.
Starters are still be sorted out, according to Wiley, but Nate Ortiz, Ben Gore, Nicholas Amoah, Trent Hart-Vasquez and Anthony Pedroia played the majority of the first-team snaps in a recent scrimmage.
On the other side of the ball, DHS defensive coordinator Ty Brown is expecting a lot from an upperclassmen-laden defense.
“We’re expecting these guys to fly around and play fast, play physical, play smart and play Blue Devil football like we’ve done in the past,” Brown said. “Each week, we’ve gotten better and better and better and it’s just a matter of staying humble and staying hungry at this point.”
The Devils will be anchored by their own Legion of Boom in the secondary. Four experienced and athletic seniors — cornerbacks Turner and Curtis, free safety Yarrow and strong safety Quinn Williams — will man the defensive backfield and promise to make it tough for opposing quarterbacks to throw.
With a new head coach comes a new formation in the defensive front as Davis moves from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
The three-man line is a spot where Brown thinks the locals will be excellent, despite the loss of Jonah Williams. Sophomore Tucker Fisk, senior Nash Nunes and Pedroia will be responsible for putting the pressure on the opposing QBs and stopping running backs in their tracks.
At the linebacker spot, Blue Devil three-year mainstay Brendan MacDonald is now suiting up for Claremont-McKenna College, leaving Perez and Goodison to fill the void in the middle.
Brown also has high hopes for sophomore linebacker Ishmael Perez, who was the standout of Thursday’s scrimmage against Sac High, intercepting a pair of passes.
Notes: DHS opens the season on Friday (7:15 p.m.) against River Valley, the first of two straight contests at Ron & Mary Brown Stadium. Following a Sept. 12 game with Vintage, the Devils head to Stockton to play Edison in their final nonconference matchup. Delta League play begins Sept. 26 when Davis hosts Elk Grove.
— Reach Thomas Oide at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterThomas