On a rare summer morning in Hurricane when it wasn’t obscenely hot, the defending 1A state champion Diamond Ranch Academy football team practiced under overcast skies and 76-degree temperatures.
Running back Aaron Kern addressed the team in a huddle after practice. He told the group of around 20 kids that it’ll take hard work and dedication for DRA to be competitive this season.
Of the 20 or so boys playing football for the Diamondbacks this season, almost three-quarters of the players are new on the team.
Around two-thirds of the boys have never even played a varsity football game. That fact is nothing new.
“Typically we start out with a completely new team … so every year you never know what you’re going to get,” new head coach Ricky Dias said. “It’s funny, our offense changes based on our personnel.”
Dias takes over for his brother Robbie Dias, who led Diamond Ranch to an undefeated 11-0 record and a 1A state title last season.
The Diamondbacks averaged 39.4 points per game on offense and gave up an average of 7.9 points. They shut out opponents five times and held opponents under 10 points twice.
The state title is an amazing accomplishment made even more eyebrow-raising considering the school is a residential treatment facility for troubled youth, and the typical stay is around a year, unlike other high schools where kids are often on the same team for four years.
As a result, the first day of football camp is like walking into kindergarten class for the first time: there’s a lot of new faces.
There’s seldom anyone from Utah, either. Dias said last year’s team had “two or three” Utahns. DRA’s key returners are from all over, too.
Kern is from Lake Charles, Louisiana; quarterback Thomas McCann is from Denver, Colorado; and middle linebacker Jack Dowdell is from Bozeman, Montana.
It’s hard to tell how good DRA could be given the amount of new players on the roster, but the goals are lofty.
“The goal is to repeat but our main focus right now is to put together a team that can come together and compete,” Kern said.
The Diamondbacks will have to stave off challenges from consistent 1A contenders such as Rich, Duchesne and Kanab if they want to hoist the trophy again.
Dias said at the Southern Utah team camp last summer, the Diamondbacks hung with 5A and 4A teams. He said a similar thing happened this summer, so he’s optimistic.
More video from Diamond Ranch football practice. QB Thomas McCann putting one right in the bread basket pic.twitter.com/NbYCqklKBh— Patrick Carr (@patrickcarr_) August 7, 2016
“We’ve got a good team with good athletes; I think we’ll be competitive. Will we be as good as we were last year? That’s tough to say. Last year’s team was pretty special,” Dias said.
Regardless of what kind of team DRA turns out to be, Dias expects it’ll take four or five games for the Diamondbacks to be cohesive. McCann and Kern realize that as well.
“Last year it took time, and this year it’ll take time too. I think we do have something special, but it’s not going to be as easy of a road as last year,” McCann said.
Back in the post-practice huddle, after the team has all run four 100-yard sprints, Kern brings the team together. They’re all exhausted, but he tells them it’s part of the process. They all put their hands in, and the chant is “Repeat.”
Follow Patrick Carr on Twitter @patrickcarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/patrickjosephcarr1/ or call him at (435) 231-3834.
Prep football 2016
The Spectrum & Daily News’ team-by-team prep football preview schedule:
Today: Diamond Ranch Academy
Sunday: Desert Hills
Monday, Aug. 15: Snow Canyon
Tuesday, Aug. 16: Hurricane
Wednesday, Aug. 17: Pine View
Thursday, Aug. 18: Canyon View
Diamond Ranch Academy Diamondbacks
Coach: Ricky Dias (First season)
2015 record: 11-0 (4-0, 1A South Region)
Players to watch: QB Thomas McCann, RB/CB Aaron Kern, WR Jaron Bruce, LB Jack Dowdell, LB Sam Nip, CB J.D. Bruce
Schedule: The Diamondbacks open against new-look Enterprise on the 19th, then they have a bye week before a tough game at Duchesne, which DRA beat 34-30 last year. Diamond Ranch plays Rich and Kanab at home this year.
August 19: at Enterprise, 7 p.m.
September 2: at Duchesne, 7 p.m.
September 9: vs. Layton Christian, 7 p.m.
September 23: vs. Rich, 7 p.m.
September 30: vs. Parowan, 7 p.m.
October 7: at Monticello, 7 p.m.
October 14: vs. Kanab, 7 p.m.
October 21: at Milford, 7 p.m.