HURRICANE – For the majority of high school football teams, it’s fairly common to return about half of the starters from the previous season. Diamond Ranch Academy, however, is no ordinary high school.
When the Diamondbacks kick off the 2014 season Friday in Enterprise, they’ll be taking the field with exactly one returning player from last season’s 6-6 team.
“Our only returning starter is a wideout, and that’s Jalon Cook,” head coach Robbie Diaz said. “That’s what makes it difficult. Everybody else is new, but we do have some pretty good talent this year.”
Since Diamond Ranch operates as a therapeutic boarding school, the athletic teams see a lot of turnover from season to season. However, because the students also live right on campus, it provides a unique bonding opportunity when the teams do come together.
“It’s a lot easier than a lot of people think actually,” said senior Ryan Gardiner, a receiver and defensive back from Idaho. “We live together, unlike a lot of high school teams, and we bond every day. We eat everyday together, we lift everyday together and we’re out here practicing everyday together. It’s pretty easy for us to bond.”
Gardiner is one of those talented new pieces that Diaz is excited about. He said the Idaho product is a talented player that will do a little bit of everything for the Diamondbacks. As well as manning one of the corner positions, Gardiner will primarily work out of the slot on offense, but will also see some time in the backfield. He will also operate as the team’s primary punt and kick returner.
“He reads the field well, (is) lightening fast, and was being looked at by some of the colleges around here,” Diaz said. “He’s a really good athlete.”
At quarterback for Diamond Ranch is going to be a first-year football player in baseball convert Noah Courtney. Standing 6-foot-7, Courtney isn’t the most mobile QB, but should be able to see the field well.
As excited as the Diamondbacks are about their offense, the defense may be even better.
“We’re going to have a scary defense for sure,” Gardiner said. “A lot of the valley I don’t think is ready for what Diamond Ranch has this year. We’re going to be a lot faster than we have been in the past — so many weapons on both sides of the ball.”
Brothers Luke and Stephen Hoffman go both ways as well, but will man the defensive end positions for Diamond Ranch. At 295 pounds, senior Tanner Gilmore will also be a load up front.
A talented linebacker group that includes Sam Nipp and Marques Pina will back up the line. Diaz and Stephen Hoffman also raved about the play of junior safety Trevor Alvarez.
“He is just a hitter,” Diaz said of Alvarez. “He loves to fly around, loves to be part of the action. He’ll probably lead in tackles, because that’s just what he does.”
Despite the challenge of bringing together a new group and teaching some kids the game of football for the first time, Diaz said he feels this team is far ahead of where the 2013 team was to start the season.
The Diamondback players are feeling that unity as well, and are already making bold declarations.
“I know the whole team, we’re state champs. We’re going to be state champs,” Minnesota native Stephen Hoffman said. “I have no doubt in my mind it’s a state championship season, and we’re going to bring it home this year.”
Gardiner echoed his teammates thoughts.
“Nothing less than a state championship. That’s what we’re going for. We don’t even want to lose a game,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to fight every week and just take care of business one-by-one and hopefully be state champs by the end of the year.”
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.
Diamond Ranch 2014 Schedule
• Aug. 22: at Enterprise, 7 p.m.
• Aug. 29: vs. Parowan, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 5: at Whitehorse, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 12: vs. Monument Valley, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 26: vs. Altamont, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 3: at Duchesne, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 10: at Monticello, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 17: vs. Kanab, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 24: vs. Rich, 7 p.m.
Fall Sports Previews
Part 8 of 8
Inside: Enterprise, Parowan, Beaver