Note: This is Diamond Ranch Academy's first year as a sanctioned high school of the UHSAA.
HURRICANE — The wait is finally over for Diamond Ranch.
The residential treatment center for troubled teens has been going through the process of becoming an officially sanctioned school of the UHSAA since the school added football to its repertoire five years ago.
That process became a reality last year, and in just over a week the school will play its first official in-state game when it travels to Parowan on Aug. 19.
"We've just waited for so long. This is finally our opportunity to be in it and compete," said coach Robbie Dias. "We obviously want to make a statement and show everybody that we want to be in the league."
Doing so won't be easy, particularly when kids usually only spend eight to 12 months at the school. And even then, 75 percent of the players on the team have no football experience.
Some have played and are actually very good. In the case of Kyle Atchison, he's the only player who decided to attend Diamond Ranch another season to make sure he keeps his life in order. Atchison is a very good quarterback who's caught the eye of University of Utah coaches Kyle Whittingham and Norm Chow.
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, the lefty quarterback recently participated in the Football University Top Gun camp in Williamsburg, Va., an invitation-only camp featuring nearly 1,000 of the top high school players in the country. A baseball player his whole life, Atchison had never played football in his native Ohio prior to attending Diamond Ranch.
The youth facility doesn't get a lot of big guys, so the offensive line is usually made up of smaller players who've been taught how to block.
If the line can come together this season, tailback Anthony Altwood out of California could benefit in a big way.
Collectively, Diamond Ranch will have between 35 and 40 kids play football this year. The challenge is getting them to play together as a team quickly.
"I think it's going to be a lot different than we're used to. These coaches (in 1A) are awesome coaches, their boys have grown up playing together," said Dias. "It's tough in our situation because a lot of kids are used to doing it their way, and we have to bring them together and start from scratch."
Diamond Ranch went to the Kanab camp in mid-July, and Dias left the camp believing his team can be pretty good in 1A this year.
Diamond Ranch Academy at a glance
Coach: Robbie Dias is entering his fifth year as coach at Diamond Ranch, but this is its first year as an officially sanctioned high school of the UHSAA. He's a graduate of Dixie High School.
(1 returning starter; Spread offense)
Even though Diamond Ranch will use a lot of spread offense, coach Dias said he'll also use a lot of I-formation and split backs as well. Atchison is the key to everything the D-Backs do. He's athletic and has a strong arm and there's no reason he shouldn't have a productive senior season. Altwood runs a 4.6 40, and is a "stud" at tailback according to his coach.
(0 returning starters)
Joey Fischer is from a big school in Georgia, and he's a hard-nosed football player with a nose for the ball who starts at strong safety. Dias has no doubts he'll ultimately lead the team in tackles. Defensive end Tommy Milic is another player who could have a big season.
Coaches preseason 1A poll: Fifth
Deseret News 1A prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: Playing out-of-state teams and in-state junior varsity teams the past few years, Diamond Ranch has actually done pretty well. Whether that translates over to the varsity level remains to be seen. There are enough quality athletes on this team that it should compete near the middle of 1A this year, and perhaps near the top of 1A if the offensive line comes together. Regardless, the school is thrilled to be playing real, meaningful games.
Aug. 19 — at Parowan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — BYE
Sept. 2 — AGASSI PREP, NEV., 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Altamont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — DUCHESNE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — MILFORD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Layton Christian, 4 p.m.
Oct. 7 — MONTICELLO, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Rich, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — BYE