Jim Donaldson has had a good ride. He began his tenure at Desert Chapel with a win over Palm Valley, then lost eight consecutive games before going 44-13 over the next five seasons.
Last year, the Eagles reached the California Interscholastic Federation title game. In Donaldson’s six years, Desert Chapel has once again become one of the preeminent 8-man football teams in California.
To continue that in 2016, Donaldson will have to find a way to replace the production of two of the most prolific players in program history.
Gone is tailback Ethan Skarmas, who tallied 2,991 yards of total offense and 42 touchdowns a year ago, and quarterback Kaleb Whan, who threw for 2,657 yards and 43 scores. Skarmas also led the squad on defense, with 141 tackles and five interceptions.
“We don’t stress the losses,” Donaldson said. “We stress working as a team. That’s our focus.”
Multiple starters have departed with Skarmas and Whan, yet Donaldson says he has more collective experience than he has had in some time. A number of players with some kind of starting experience return, including a handful at key positions.
Among them is Chris Cin, a tailback and linebacker who’ll be tasked with stepping into the role Skarmas played. Cin has started for the Eagles in the past, and will now be in more of a featured role, where his quickness and field vision will be an asset.
The quarterback competition has come down to senior Joey Spoelder and junior Dylan Foli. Both could see time at the position, and it’s possible both will end up starting in one role or another — either under center or out wide as a receiver.
“There’s been a really, really, really good attitude this year,” Donaldson said. “Really positive. That’s really what we want to start a new season.”
Part of that outlook has come from the arrival of a new athletic director, Tim Ingram, who Donaldson said has brought a “new spark” to the program and athletic department. Donaldson said the school is excited about the vision Ingram has brought, which includes future upgrades to the stadium and playing surface where the football team plays.
That’s at least a year or two away, Donaldson said, but it’s in the works. Until then, he said there’s still a job to do, and the Eagles will enter 2016 with the hopes of getting back to the CIF title game, without two of last year’s top performers.
“That would be great,” Donaldson said. “But really, we just want to teach these kids on and off the field, work hard and leave it all on the field.”
Looking deeper at Desert Chapel
Head coach: Jim Donaldson, 45-21 in six seasons
Last league title: 2013
Last season’s record: 11-2 (3-1 Victory League), lost to Joshua Springs 72-6 in CIF SS Division 2 eight-man championship game
Returning starters: five on offense, five on defense
Biggest personnel loss: Ethan Skarmas. He was not only the top offensive threat in the Victory League, but might have been the most versatile defender in the league as well. His leadership and production is a loss that will be difficult to overcome.
Biggest question: Who will replace Skarmas and quarterback Kaleb Whan, and will it be enough to fill the void left by two of the most productive players in program history?
Breakout player: Chris Cin. He’ll have his hands full replacing Skarmas, but he should get opportunities out of the backfield to put up some big numbers.
Projected record: 7-2, 2-2 in Victory League
Coach quote: “We lost some key guys, but we like the team we have coming back. They have experience and have been working really hard this summer.”
Sept. 2…Hillcrest Christian
Set. 15…Lucerne Valley
Sept. 23…Foothills Christian
Sept. 30…at Bloomington Christian*
Oct. 7…Desert Christian Academy*
Oct. 14…at Joshua Springs*
Oct. 21…University Careers & Sports Academy
Oct. 28…Palm Valley*
*indicates Victory League game