ST. GEORGE – Some changes had to be made, and they were. That about sums up the offseason for the Dixie State football team.
Joining head coach Scott Brumfield will be two new coordinators. The offensive coordinator slot was filled by former Dixie High School coach Blaine Monkres. Monkres, known for his offensive organization and precision, will inherit an offense that returns nine starters.
On the defensive side, the coordinator position was filled by Shay McClure. McClure has been serving as defensive coordinator for Humboldt State, DSU’s rival in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). HSU has been consistently one of the top teams in the GNAC during McClure’s tenure.
Asked what immediate impact the two additions to his coaching staff made, Brumfield said, “The inflow of different coaching philosophies from two coaches I respect. Not that the former coaches were bad, but they were my former players, men who had played in my system. We have made some changes based on what these two coaches have brought with them.”
This year will mark the end of Dixie State’s GNAC era. Starting next year, the Red Storm will compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). While the new conference fields teams as or more competitive as the GNAC, it will cut down on traveling costs for the new arrivals.
The Red Storm, coming off a 1-10 overall record and winless in conference play in 2014, still garnered a preseason ranking of fifth in the GNAC ahead of Simon Fraser and South Dakota School of Mines. Azusa Pacific is picked to repeat as champions with Humboldt State picked to finish second. Dixie State fans have reason to believe the Storm will exceed preseason expectations.
“The biggest difference other than the coaching will be our speed on both sides of the ball,” said Brumfield. “We have always been able to match up against other teams with our size. But this year we have improved greatly in our speed in both our skill positions and on the line on both sides of the ball.”
The biggest question yet to be answered is who will take control of the reins at the quarterback position. There are five players competing for the spot. Returning starter Hayden Gavett appears to have the inside edge. Before Gavett went down with injury last year, his play had been inconsistent (42/85 passing for 561 yards and 3 TDs). But he has had time in the spring to adjust to the new offense, while most of the others are new arrivals. Also competing is Dixie High School alum Blake Barney. Barney has just returned from a two-year LDS mission after winning the state title for the Flyers. Trevor Rea, a true freshman from Plano, Ill., is also among those competing.
Myles Burton returns at running back. The senior has seen plenty of action over the last two seasons including leading the team in rushing last year (95 carries for 389 yards). He will be joined by junior transfer DeJon Coleman. Two freshman who may see immediate action are Orlando Wallace from Cathedral City, Calif., and Clifford Simms from Compton, Calif.
At the wide receiver spots, veterans Nate Stephens (75 catches for 985 yards) and Aubrey Reed (9 catches for 96 yards) return. Stephens, an all GNAC performer, also handled return duties last year. This year he will get some help from Damarrio Hammonds, a true freshman from Oakland, Calif.
“Damarrio (Hammonds) has incredible speed,” said Brumfield. “He will see a lot of action in the return game.”
The offensive line returns all five starters. Lucas Beddow leads the bunch as an all GNAC performer. Joining him are CJ Dever, Jake Hardcastle, Zack Taves and Nyles Amelita.
“Our offensive line is not only experienced, but deep,” said Brumfield. “We have the luxury of platooning or plugging someone in quickly should one go down.”
Leading the defense will be four-year letterman and all-GNAC performer linebacker Robert Metz (91 tackles). Metz, who led the team in tackles, has good size and speed at the position and was seemingly in on every play last year. Trevor Oakley (60 tackles, 5 TFL) also returns as a starter.
The defensive line took the biggest hit with graduation. Returning player Benson Laumatia (29 tackles, 3 TFL) will anchor the middle. Newcomers Safari Bolden, James Lautogia and Renno Sagapolu will also start or be in the rotation.
The defensive backfield return Jacob Witham, who led the team in interceptions (4), and Colton Olsen as starters. DeShawn Perkins (1 int) also saw considerable time last year.
Alex Giordani (6-8 FG, 25-30 PAT) returns as kicker. Junior transfer Corey Stens will take over the punting duties from Metz.
For the past couple of years the Red Storm have tried to outscore their opponents, having been unable to shut down the offensive powerhouses in the GNAC. Mostly, especially last year, they have come up short. While opposing teams outscored DSU at almost twice the clip, much of it was due to turnovers pinning the DSU defense deep in their territory. It is too early to tell whether the coaching overhaul will pay immediate dividends. Usually coaching philosophy takes a few years to solidify, getting the players needed to fit the system. But sometimes a change is needed to inspire the players with great effect. A conference title may still be too lofty of a goal. But an even record is not. Even though DSU plays the two conference leaders twice each, the Storm has two very winnable road games (SFU and SDSM). If they can win their remaining home games against Western Oregon, Central Washington and Colorado Mesa that will get them to .500. If they can steal the final game against CWU on the road that will give them a winning record. APU and HSU are not unbeatable. The first two games, home games against Colorado Mesa and Central Washington, may be a harbinger for the rest of the season.
The Storm are preparing for the season-opener at home against future RMAC foe Colorado Mesa University on Saturday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.
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