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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Red Devils football ready for a fresh start

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The scent of pigskin is in the air along with a fresh sense of hope for the new season as the Dawson County High School Red Devils prepare to kick off their 2017 football campaign with a trip to take on Park County High in Livingston this Friday night.

The Red Devils have 51 kids out for this year’s team, with 15 seniors, 10 juniors, 13 sophomores and 13 freshmen, according to head coach Ryan Buckley. Coming off of last season — where DCHS posted only a single win, which came against Park County — Buckley said he believes he has a group which can break through this year to have a more successful season than the Red Devils have had for a long time.

“I want our kids to come out and compete every day and try to get better in practice and work to improve the culture and if we do those two things the football part will take care of itself,” Buckley said. “I think we’ve taken those steps the last four to five years, and I think this is a group of kids that can get us over the top and where we want to go in that aspect.”

Buckley said that his high hopes going into this season are buoyed by the fact that the Red Devils “have a decent amount of experience coming back,” especially along the offensive and defensive lines.

“For the most part, we do have some great experience and a lot of these guys played a lot of varsity minutes last year,” he said.

As noted, Buckley sees his team’s greatest strength as being along the offensive and defensive fronts.

Protecting signal-caller Cade Dokter, a senior, and opening up holes for the DCHS running backs is an offensive line that Buckley said he believes has a good mix of size, athleticism and game experience. With his confidence in his offensive line, he said the Red Devils will have a run-first mentality, with the hopes that a strong running game will open up big downfield plays coming off the play-action pass.

“We have a good group of guys up front, so I think we’ll look to run the football,” Buckley said. “They’ve got some decent size, but these guys can also move.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Buckley said the defensive backfield has “some holes” they are going to have to fill with younger, less experienced players, but that the front seven on defense should be solid, with several returning starters from last season along with others who saw significant playing time last year.

“Definitely, I think our strength will be our front seven (on defense),” Buckley said. “I think we have some kids up front who can put some pressure on the quarterback, which will be nice.”

Throughout practice this summer, Buckley said he and his coaching staff have also been working hard to cut down on miscues.

One of the issues they wanted to clean up was the team’s propensity for allowing big plays. Buckley acknowledged that too many times over the last several years, the Red Devils have ended up losing games or having close games get away from them because they allowed their opponent to convert a big downfield play in situations where they had a long ways to go on third or fourth down to move the chains. To try and cut down on that, he said he worked more of those kind of situations into practice this year.

“We came in this summer and we thought about those situations and we got to thinking how many times in practice have we practiced defending a fourth down and 20 or a third down and 15?” Buckley said. “So we’re trying to play more situational football where maybe before the kids kind of took for granted what needed to be done.”

Big penalties at inopportune times are another thing that have bedeviled DCHS over the last few years, and Buckley said he and his staff have also been working in practice this summer to try and clean up that as well.

“In practice we’ve been more watchful of that stuff,” he said.

The Red Devils will put all that practice to the test this Friday Night in Livingston when they travel to take on the Park County Rangers. Opening day is coming a week earlier this year for DCHS, as in the wake of conference realignment the Eastern A Conference moved to a nine-game schedule for this season. Every game the Red Devils play this year is a conference game. While Buckley said it will take some more practice and some getting used to for the coaching staff, he said the kids are excited about the nine-game schedule and he likes what it means for determining playoff spots.

“I think we’re ready to go. I do like the nine-game schedule and the fact that in our conference, who goes to the playoffs will be decided on the field,” Buckley said.

As for Park County, Buckley said the Red Devils had best not take them lightly, even though they were the one team DCHS beat last year and, like the Red Devils, have struggled mightily on the football field the last several years.

“I think it’s going to be competitive and we’ve got to be ready to play,” he said. “They’ve got some athletes, so we’ve got to be sure that we’re prepared and ready to go Friday night.”

Buckley noted that in last year’s trip to Livingston, even though the Red Devils won, they “didn’t travel well,” getting off to a sluggish start and missing several opportunities to put the Rangers away early. He said he is looking for his team to come out much stronger from the start this Friday night and take it to Park County from the get-go.

“I think they’re excited. I think they want to amend for (not travelling well in last year’s game). I think they want to prove to us that they can travel well,” Buckley said of this year’s squad. “We just want to come out aggressive offensively and defensively.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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