DAYTON - With success comes expectations.
Dayton had a winning season record for the first time in school history, but lost some key players to graduation, yet head coach Rick Walker is expecting bigger things this year.
"My expectations are high every year," he said. "We've gotten better every year that I've been here.
"We want a home playoff game. That's our goal. We want to be first or second in conference. We're bigger and stronger up front. Kids are buying in. We had an average of 45 guys in the weightroom this summer compared to 30 last year."
To accomplish that goal, the road goes through Truckee and Spring Creek, and both teams knocked off Dayton a year ago.
"I've read a lot of things about Spring Creek," Walker said. "Until you beat them, Truckee is the top dog in the league right now. I feel we've established ourselves as the next one there.
"North Tahoe is struggling with numbers. They were one of the hardest-hitting teams we faced. Sparks will be better this year."
On offense, the Dust Devils return quarterback Travis Wood (6-2, 175), arguably the best passer in Northern Nevada, running back Erik Hopper (5-10, 155), tight end Josh Aaker and starting offensive linemen Kyle Yoder (6-0, 215), Rob Bell (6-1, 230) and Tony Sandoval (6-1, 240).
Wood threw for 1,959 yards and 20 scores a year ago. Hopper, who played behind Zane Walker, carried the ball 33 times for 247 yards and six scores, and also caught 13 passes for 91 yards. Aaker (6-4, 190) was a big-play receiver at tight end, catching 13 passes for a 25-yard average and four scores.
Brandon Aguilara and Corey Cupp will battle for the other running back spot beside Hopper.
"He (Wood) has presence for such a young kid," Walker said. "He stays in the pocket and takes some hits. He's got a strong arm and his mechanics are good.
"I hope he (Hopper) can do the exact same things that Zane (Walker) did. I think he might be a little faster than Zane. Aaker is a tough kid. He's been in the program three years. He's one of the strongest kids on the defensive side of the ball."
Save for Aaker, Wood lost his three best receivers from a year ago in Trent Wood, Danny Hopper and Zane Walker. Coach Walker estimates that the trio probably had at least 100 receptions.
Travis Wood will be throwing to Jordan Stokes, a transfer from Liberty High in Las Vegas, Tommy O'Brien, Michael Martin, Jesse Vickers, James Yater and Shane Castro.
"He (Stokes) might be a little faster than Trent," Walker said. "I don't think we're going to miss a beat."
Yoder returns at center where he was an honorable mention 3A selection last year. Bell returns at guard and will be joined by Nick Brown (6-4, 230), who is up from the junior varsity team. Sandoval will be paired with either Sam Armstrong (6-1, 235) or Brandon Seymour (6-4, 250). Armstrong is Dayton's heavyweight wrestler, and it's his first year playing football.
Kyle Lastiri (6-0, 330), Jeremy Stanfield (5-10, 180) and Josh Coughlin (5-10, 210) provide reserve help. Stanfield seperated his shoulder, and coud work his way into a starting spot.
Defensively, look for the Dust Devils to vary between a four and five-man front.
Matt Beard (5-10, 190), Armstrong, first-team all-conference pick Ray Vela (6-1, 235), Listiri, Brown and Seymour will handle the line responsibilities.
Walker said he plans on rotating the linemen around tonight against North Valleys, and then make some decisions as to positions and playing time.
Bell and Stanfield are the top candidates at middle linebacker. They have big shoes to fill, as Scott Brower and Andy Salazar led the Dayton defense a year ago. Brower had more than 120 tackles last year and showed he really had a nose for the football.
Josh Avery (5-7, 165) and Wade Guiliani (5-10, 170) are the top outside linebackers/defensive ends. Vickers also will compete for time there.
Stokes and Aaker are slated to start at the safety slots, and Hopper, Cupp, O'Brien, Yater, Martin, Castro and Rudy Reyna (5-5, 140) are in the mix at cornerback.
n Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281