Note: Diamond Ranch finished with a 7-4 overall record in 2012 and was first in 1A South with a 4-0 record. It lost to Altamont 35-20 in the 1A quarterfinals.
The Diamond Ranch football team is in rebuilding mode. Again.
The 1A program consistently has talented athletes to fill its roster, a knowledgeable coaching staff, and an all-time record higher than .500 (12-9), with a region title in just two years of varsity play.
And yet, due to the nature of the school — a youth residential treatment center with 12-month programs — the Diamond Backs are in a constant state of rebuilding.
“Every year we start almost from scratch,” said head coach Robbie Dias. “Everything we talked about the year before, everything they knew about Monticello, about Rich is gone. We start from square one. Plus, some guys have never played football.”
The first time Dias had the opportunity to even see the kids on this year’s roster in game situations was when the Diamond Backs went to the Dixie summer camp. He and his coaching staff were pleased with that first outing.
“We did really well in summer league,” the coach said. “This year, we have boys who are excited about football; they are ready to play.”
This year, the team does have one returner: River Aguire, a senior wide receiver and strong safety.
“At the Dixie camp, he was our man,” Dias said. “He made things happen, he brought the excitement. He loves to hit and fly around the field.”
Because he is the only person who played in Dias’ system a year ago, he has also become the on-field director.
“He has really taken on that leadership role,” Dias said, “and the kids have responded well. They are taking their cues from him.”
Saxon Mingus, who is new to the football team, is not completely new to the school or the coaching staff. He began attending Diamond Ranch during basketball season last year and finally has the opportunity to step onto the gridiron.
“He hits hard; he throws a beautiful ball; and he’s not afraid to run the ball,” Dias said of the 6-foot-1 senior who will be the Diamond Backs' quarterback this season.
“We feel really confident with a quarterback who can hand off to (running back) Levi (Dustin) or run or throw,” he said. “Having someone like Saxon in the backfield will be good for us.”
Dustin, another senior, will also play free safety, and Dias is excited about his ability to move around the field.
“He is very shifty and just quick,” the coach said. “He is very good at finding the holes in the defense. Over the summer, he really surprised us with his ability. If we’re not throwing, he’s running.”
Although the Diamond Ranch program has the decided disadvantage of recreating its entire system at the beginning of every season, the Diamond Backs have a setup that allows the squad to speed up the creation of team chemistry and consistency.
“There are a lot of distractions in a regular school: cell phones, jobs, girls,” Dias said. “In our school, all of that is not available. Focus is entirely on academics, weights and football.”
Diamond Ranch Diamond Backs at a glance
Coach: Robbie Dias is entering his third season as Diamond Ranch’s head coach, where he was accumulated a 12-9 overall record. He is a graduate of Dixie High.
(1 returning starters; spread)
River Aguire is the only returning starter from the team that won the 1A South region title a season ago. He will be back as a wide receiver and senior Saxon Mingus will play quarterback. Levi Dustin is the Diamond Backs’ primary running back. Dias is looking to linemen Joe Yeager, Chandler Chunning and Shane Lister to make an impact.
(1 returning starters)
The leaders on the Diamond Ranch offense will also be the key players on the defensive side of the ball. Aguire returns as a strong safety, while Mingus plays linebacker and Dustin is a strong safety. Yeager, Chunning and Lister will again make the difference for the Diamond Backs on the line.
Coaches preseason 1A South straw poll: Third
Deseret News 1A South prediction: Third
Bottom line: Diamond Ranch and all of 1A welcomes Kanab back to the state’s smallest classification. While the Cowboys will provide great competition, the Diamond Backs first need to get comfortable with the brand-new roster. Although the team has some excellent athletes around the field, Dias said it is the play at the line that will dictate the success of the team.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.