Looking back on a season that put Davis High back in the area football conversation, Blue Devil coach Steve Smyte sounds like a proud papa.
“Definitely, we are on the upswing,” the gridiron mentor said after his charges went 5-5 and missed the postseason by thiiissss much.
“I am very encouraged by the future of our program.”
Smyte, who assisted at both Boise State and UC Davis before taking over in May of 2010, chatted with The Enterprise about his squad’s up-and-down campaign.
Q. Where is the program now?
A. “Look at the freshmen. They had a good season. Look at the JV and varsity … each team has improved. It’s no longer a case of starting over.
“(Four years ago we) were fighting to keep the program alive. Then we got some traction. Last year, I felt we built a foundation and this year it was our goal to be competitive, which we were.
“Now it’s to win a championship.”
Q. What steps forward stand out to you this season?
A. “We got tougher. We are understanding how to be competitive at this level. We were relatively healthy (the conditioning program paying dividends) and … our defense was outstanding, especially in the Elk Grove game.”
(Toiling in the super-rugged Delta Valley Conference — which contains the region’s No. 1 team in Franklin and two other playoff squads — the Blue Devils almost shocked No. 3 Elk Grove on the final night of the regular season.
(After that 17-10 loss, many thought a 2-3 DVC mark and being even after 10 games might sneak the locals into the playoffs. But that honor went to Nevada Union, also 5-5 with a losing league mark.)
Q. What did you think about losing out to Nevada Union?
A. “Somebody is always going to be mad. I just find it hard to understand, with the schedule we played (losses to four playoff teams while outscoring opponents, 211-14, in their five victories), that we’re not playing another game.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re staying home. But it would be ridiculous to say that Nevada Union doesn’t belong there, either.”
(Smyte suggested that Sac-Joaquin Section officials consider a couple of play-in games to avoid leaving out deserving teams.)
Q. What rebuilding does DHS have to do between now and kickoff 2013?
A. “We’ll be OK at skill positions. We’ll have to replace our quarterback (Grant Dickerson), but I’m looking forward to what (JV QB) Quentin Jones can do … and Emilio Barba moved us when he was in and Quinn Williams can play quarterback. We have all our running backs returning and most of the receivers. With C.K. Hicks, we have to find ways to get the ball to him more often.
“I think we’ll have a lot of different flavors on offense next year.
“Where we need to (rebuild) is on the line. We get our best lineman Bailey Murray back. Guys like Nash Nunes, Zach Slavich and Nick Yaver will have to step up, although all of them saw a lot of action this year.
“We have the whole offseason to get them stronger, and I know they’ll come along.”
Q. What specific 2012 moments stand out?
A. “That 99-yard (officially 96) drive against Elk Grove was amazing. It was one of the best drives we’ve ever had at Davis. Do people know how hard it is to go 99 yards against a defense like Elk Grove has?”
(On that drive Dickerson had “scored” from 2 yards out. But the apparent touchdown was called off. The drive ended when it was signaled that DHS had committed its second sideline infraction of the game. Then later, a discussion between Smyte and an official revealed the actual call was aiding the runner — the refs had decided Dickerson was pushed into the end zone. The Devils settled for a field goal.
(Smyte added: “Also (Dickerson’s) five touchdown passes on five consecutive throws in the Armijo game, (beating) our rival Woodland and those 42 points against Monterey Trail. That’s a good football team.”)
Q. On Sept. 15 you lost a nonleague game 26-21 at Rio Americano. What do you feel when you hear Rio Americano mentioned?
A. “I feel sick. To this day, I’m sick. That’s why all this talk about playoffs … it makes me so mad. It cost us the playoffs. We should have put that game away in the first three quarters. But, like my daughter Julianna told me, ‘Hey, Dad, if you had won that game, we might not have been as good at the end.’
“We learned something from that game. After Armijo (62-0) and Foothill (40-7), the players thought it was going to be easy. The Rio Americano game was a wake-up call.”
Q. Personally, what has the experience of coaching high school football been?
A. “The first year was humbling. From where I had coached before, it was tough. I’d been in bowl games and playoffs nine of 10 years at UC Davis and Boise State, traveled in the Canadian Football League …
“High school makes you a little more creative and makes you tax yourself more, especially if it’s a program that (was struggling). It was really hard for me to go into Grant three years ago with 19 healthy players. I wouldn’t trade this experience, though.”
Q. Silly question: Will you be back for a fourth season at the helm?
A. “I think so … If (Davis principal) Dr. (Jacqui) Moore and (athletic director) Dennis Foster want me back.”
(Foster told The Enterprise in an email Monday: “Steve is here to stay as long as he wants. My plan is to stay here as well and see him through to a conference title and playoff berth.”)
Notes: Smyte sent a recent email to parents, sponsors, coaches and players thanking them for their support and commitment. Among the Blue Devil accomplishments the coach pointed out in that letter were a varsity team 3.2 GPA with zero disciplinary referrals, involvement in a number of community charities and support drives, three shutouts during the season, school records for points and touchdowns and beating Woodland — among other milestones. “There is so much to be proud of … and still some unfinished business,” Smyte concluded.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.