ST. GEORGE – Dixie State will be the newcomers this year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). They have been selected to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the RMAC preseason poll.
The position battles have played out and the starters have been announced for nearly every position on the Dixie State University football team. The quarterback position battle is still raging. The coaching staff has narrowed the field to two — Tyson Blackner and Josh Thompson. Blackner appeared in seven games last year and as a starter twice. He completed 49 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for 148 yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. Thompson played for Colony High School out of Ontario, Calif. In his senior year, he threw for 2,562 yards and completed over 70 percent of his passes. He threw for 25 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions.
“There were several positions that had players vying for that starting role on opening day,” said Dixie State head coach Shay McClure. “I am confident that those who did not win the position will still see plenty of action. There are times when players with different skill sets will play depending on the opposition. There are positions that require platooning players in and out. And in the game of football, unfortunately, injuries occur. “
With new offensive coordinator Reilly Murphy directing things, the Trailblazers plan to play a pro style with multiple sets. “Depending on who our opponent is and what they like to do defensively, we plan to be versatile enough to counter,” said McClure.
Also in the backfield this season will be last year’s top two returning rushers at the running back position, senior DeJon Coleman (848 yds rushing) and sophomore Orlando Wallace (370 yds rushing). Redshirt freshman Clifford Sims and true freshman Sei-J Lauago will also see action this year at running back.
At wide receiver, Aubrey Reed (620 all-purpose yards) returns for his senior year after medically redshirting last year. Joining him at starter will be junior Zach Smith and redshirt freshman Dejuan Dantzler. Platooning at wide receiver will be redshirt freshman Dvonte McKneely, sophomore Brad Duran (234 yards receiving), and true freshmen Taj Broomfield and Khaleed Davis. Senior Derrick Brown will start at tight end.
The line will be anchored by senior center Johnathan Hamilton. He will be flanked by sophomore Zach Lugris and freshman Moses Mallory at guards. Playing at the tackle spots will be senior Jared Clark and junior Tim Ah Hee. “Our offensive line is our strongest starting unit,” said McClure. “Derrick Brown will be a tremendous asset at tight end.”
Shawn Howe was elevated from defensive line coach to the coordinator position that McClure vacated. “Coach Howe and I have the same defensive philosophy,” said McClure. “We will still run a base 4-3, but Coach Howe has added his own tweaks to the mix.”
The defensive front will have Keanu Foki (17 tackles) at one end and Remington Kelly (24 tackles/2.5 sacks) at the other end. Donovan Williams (20 tackles/2 sacks) is the primary backup. Darius Matthews (13 tackles) will start at defensive tackle. James Lautogia (9 tackles) is penciled in at noseguard.
At linebacker, senior Garret Hutnick (31 tackles) and sophomore Peter Brown return. They will be joined by junior transfer Shiloh Pritchard. “I am excited about our linebackers this year,” said McClure. “As a unit they have good speed and flow well to the ball.”
In the backfield, last year’s leading tackler, junior Colton Olson, will start at free safety. Junior Trayvon Watson will start at strong safety. Junior Tyneil Cooper will start at one cornerback spot. Junior Jerome Brooks, freshman Jaylen Moore and senior Darchon Taggart (12 tackles, 1 INT) are vying for the starting spot at the other cornerback position. “Our corners have top end speed,” said McClure. “We have good depth in the backfield.”
Senior Corey Stens returns as punter. Stens had 39 punts last year and averaged 39 yards per punt. At kicker, sophomore Anthony Reyes and freshman Eric McLaughlin are battling for the spot.
Orlando Wallace will also handle returning punts in addition to playing running back. Junior wideout Justin Martin has been slotted as the principal kickoff returner.
When asked how Dixie State’s team compared to championship teams McClure coached in the past, the first-year head coach pulled no punches. “Talent-wise there really is no comparison,” said McClure. “We have 15-20 guys that could play on championship-caliber teams. But to become a championship-caliber team, you need 45-50 guys like that. That is what differentiates football from other collegiate sports. I can’t go sign three guys and turn the team around like you could with basketball, for example. Right now we are not there. But we are headed that way.
“The team with the most talent does not always win the ball game. There are other intangibles in play like toughness and focus. We are cohesive as a team unit, both on and off the field. But how will we respond to adversity? Right now, I like what I see. But the true test will come on game day.”
Dixie State opens Thursday night with a home game against New Mexico Highlands in Legend Solar Stadium (6 p.m.), then another home game in Week 2, Sept. 10, against South Dakota Mines. Mid-September will see the Trailblazers go to Black Hills State (S.D.) on Sept. 17 and former GNAC foe Central Washington Sept. 24.
The Blazers play a home game against Western State Oct. 1. For the full schedule, click here.
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