PRICE — Dakota Cisneros doesn't always know them, but the 16-year-old quarterback shakes their hands, accepts their advice and basks in the warmth of their congratulations.
The Carbon Dinos are no longer Utah prep football's version of Rodney Dangerfield. After opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1951, they finally have what the comedian complained he could never get — respect.
"There is tons more excitement," Cisneros said, "tons more buzz around our school and even the community. We're changing the way people look at us. It's so fun just to step on that field."
One thing that makes it fun is that the Dinos actually believe they will win. After struggling for more than a decade, Carbon looks like a legitimate threat to make the 3A playoffs.
Second-year head coach Jeff Blanc said the Dinos' success is attributable to several factors. First — and according to players foremost — there is stability at the top. Carbon struggled through eight coaches in 11 years.
"I coached at the junior high, so many of these kids we've coached since seventh grade," he said. "They know what's expected of them. ...They know they have support; they know coach will be back next year."
Senior Daulton Nelson said the coaching staff is the biggest reason for the turnaround.
"Growing up, we'd always think (the high school program) was a joke, but when we heard coach Blanc was going to the high school, we knew who he is and what he expects. He expects you to do your best week in and week out. He stresses team effort. He doesn't focus on one player and he doesn't have any favorites."
His players said if they work hard, they get opportunities to play on Friday night.
And so far this fall, that has meant having a hand in redeeming a program that is now inspiring not only the school but the community. Winning may not be everything, but it can bring a community together.
"It doesn't just build up our sports programs," said Blanc. "It builds up our student body at the high school. There is a lot of excitement around the school, a lot of excitement around town. Where our program hasn't had a winning season since 2000, now people are excited about football."
He said when the Dinos traveled to Union on Friday they actually had fans follow them on the two-hour drive to Roosevelt.
"You look at our community, and our fan support is just phenomenal," said Blanc, who played for the Dinos until 1991. "We haven't seen the bleachers full, but (Friday) night at Union ... we packed the visitors stands. Last year we had maybe 20 fans travel. The school atmosphere is outrageous right now. Things are so positive."
Friday's win over Union was definitely the most impressive. But the Dinos have also earned victories against Monticello, American Leadership and Ben Lomond. Blanc is quick to point out the wins are coming thanks to hard work in the off-season and teamwork every day, every play.
The Dinos also switched to the spread offense, which allowed them to utilize their "talented receivers," he said. "We have three or four guys with great speed, great hands. Combined with the running game (led by Daulton Nelson) and it's a good one-two combination."
"If you look at our stats, every game it's different players stepping up," he said. "Two weeks ago we had five different guys with touchdowns."
Carbon County is known more for baseball than football, but Blanc is confident there is room for two major sports.
"A lot of kids have specialized and just not played football," he said. That changed with the group he began coaching in junior high as they had tremendous success in Little League.
"We've always been winners," said Cisneros, who also plays American Legion baseball. "It's been tough to watch them lose — hard for them, hard for us."
Still, he had no second thoughts about going out for football once he hit high school because he knew who would be joining him on the gridiron.
Blanc said the key will be keeping the kids motivated when many people see their 4-0 start as a successful season.
"To make the playoffs would foster a culture that's going to change what Carbon High football is about," he said. "It would send a message that football isn't a secondary sport in Carbon County. I want them to win because I see the hard work they put in every day at practice. We're a team that doesn't make excuses. I want it for those players who played in the past and to leave something for the younger guys. If we can change the atmosphere of the program, we can change the atmosphere in our community."
Both Cisneros and Nelson said they believe the team is capable of reaching their coaches' goals.
"We don't want anything less," said Nelson. "Winning matters because it really lifts people's spirits. We've worked hard and we know we can keep going."
Prep football rankings
Team Rec. Pv
1. Bingham 3-1 1
2. Lone Peak 4-0 2
3. Alta 3-1 3
4. Jordan 4-0 4
5. Syracuse 4-0 5
Team Rec. Pv
1. East 4-0 2
2. Logan 4-0 3
3. Highland 3-1 1
4. Timpview 2-2 4
5. Herriman 4-0 —
Team Rec. Pv
1. Hurricane 4-0 2
2. Dixie 4-0 3
3. Juan Diego 3-1 1
4. Desert Hills 3-1 —
5. Pine View 2-2 4
Team Rec. Pv
1. San Juan 4-0 1
2. Millard 3-1 2
3. Manti 3-1 3
4. South Summit 2-2 4
5. Emery 3-1 —
Team Rec. Pv
1. Duchesne 4-0 1
2. Monticello 3-1 3
3. Diamond Ranch 4-0 2
4. Rich 1-2 4
5. Milford 1-2 5