Even though no varsity football team at the school has ever posted a winning season record since Dayton High opened its doors in 1983, first-year head coach Rick Walker is optimistic that the Dust Devils are ready to try and make a run at more success.
"That's the corner we need to turn and we know that," Walker said. "It's been a challenge, but the commitment the kids put in over the summer, they're committed to turning that corner."
The Dust Devils enter this season -- which kicks off Saturday with a 1 p.m. non-conference game against Incline at Galena High School -- with a squad that is young and relatively inexperienced, yet extremely enthusiastic.
"We're pretty young for the most part. Most of these kids are juniors and we're pretty excited about that," Walker said. "We had a good summer and now I think they're ready to show people what we've been doing. We had a lot more show up than we have in the past, and we had very good turnouts for the two team camps we went to (Nevada Union Defense Camp at North Tahoe and Feather River Camp)."
Two of the main standouts from a team that went 1-8 last year, Ryan Jacobsen and Ivan Trigueros, are now playing at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif. Coach Butch Cattanach stepped down as head coach, but has returned as defensive coordinator along with a handful of senior returnees.
Among the senior leaders are Brian Irwin and Anthony Cupp, who will start at defensive end. Cupp (6-2, 235) started at quarterback last year but has been moved to tight end.
"He didn't look at it as a demotion, which I didn't want him to do, and he's stepped in and worked hard this summer," Walker said. "He's a good sized kid and he worked hard in the weight room during the offseason."
Irwin (5-10, 210), a veteran to Dayton's program, will start at fullback in addition to defensive end.
"He's been four years in the program," Walker said. "He didn't miss a day all summer, so he's going to be solid for us."
Senior Jake Deen is new to football but well known as a standout for Dayton's basketball program.
"Jake is playing football for the first time, but we're excited to have him out here," Walker said. "It looks like he will play safety, backup quarterback and some at slot. He's pretty fast and he's a good sized kid, so I think he will be able to shake things up a bit."
Another varsity returnees is Joe Sandoval, who played center last half of last season as a sophomore. He will return at center and start on defense at middle linebacker.
"We feel pretty confident about our defense," Walker said. "We have some kids stepping up that were maybe question marks before. Our speed on the perimeter is pretty good, we have some pretty solid kids up front and our defensive ends are pretty stout kids."
Some promising players are up from the J.V. level, including outside linebackers Tim Torres and Dustin Watkins
"Dustin broke two bones in his leg last baseball season, but he has come back and is doing an outstanding job. He was kind of a question mark until we put the pads on and started knocking around a little bit. He's been a great surprise," Walker said of the junior.
Casey Skog has moved up to take over at quarterback and is expected to play some linebacker. Dylan Morris is also expected to contribute at receiver and cornerback, Justin Cross at tailback and Steve Novello at the slot.
"Dylan is fast and strong; he's going to be one of our major threats," Walker said. "And Justin has looked real good at tailback so far."
The Dust Devils will operate offensively from multiple formations, according to Walker.
"We'll run some I and some single-back," he said. "I like to have a good balance. Most coaches want to be able to establish their run game and control the clock a little bit. Of course, I'd like to be able to do that, but we have some weapons with Dylan Morris and Jake Deen."
The Dust Devils face the challenge of playing in a Northern 3A conference that has produced state championship teams five of the last six years. Tahoe-Truckee now comes in as the defending 3A state champion.
"I think it's going to be pretty tough," Walker said. "Manogue, Truckee, Spring Creek, Fernley and Lowry are all good programs; great programs."
That's just fine by Walker, who is in his second year at Dayton and has previously coached in Montana and Oregon.
"Hopefully we're closing the gap a little and we're going to be able to make it tighter. That's a good thing. We don't want to win this league when people have dropped in talent. We want to win it when everybody is just as tough as they always have been and we have reached that level. That's what we're shooting for."
Though young, things are looking up for Dayton football.
"We are building," said Rich May, who coached with Walker on Dayton's freshman squad last year. "Those juniors, there's some talent there. When they were freshmen, they had a really good season and they had a pretty good J.V. season last year. They know that winning feeling and they don't want to get away from it and it's showing out here in the practices and everything."