Note: Diamond Ranch finished with a 6-6 overall record in 2013 and tied for first in 1A South with a 3-1 record. It lost to Duchesne 42-14 in the 1A semifinals.
Ask just about any coach in 1A to name a potential dark horse in 2014, and one team is almost always mentioned first: Diamond Ranch.
Citing strong coaching and unfamiliarity with the Diamond Backs’ roster from year to year, opponents of Diamond Ranch always have a hard time assessing just how good the squad from Hurricane will be each season.
In truth, it’s not easy for Diamond Backs coach Robbie Dias to rattle off the names of the players who will suit up for him this season, but the fourth-year coach has put together one observation.
“We’re probably our most talented this year than any other year,” he said.
Still, Dias will be tasked with leading almost an entirely new team from the one that reached the 1A semifinals a year ago. Only one player returns — wide receiver/defensive back Jaylon Cook.
“It’s definitely difficult just because you’re starting from scratch,” Dias said. “You have to teach everything, and a lot of my guys, it’s even their first time playing ball, so you’re teaching everything new.”
Though he’s still familiarizing himself with the personnel at his disposal, Dias is looking forward to how his group of wide receivers will perform in 2014. Cook will be joined by Nick Doughty, who at 6-foot-3 shined at the All Poly Camp in June.
“We like to 50-50 it,” Dias said of the run-pass ratio he prefers out of his spread offense. “We try to run the ball a lot, but we like to go to the air. Especially this year with the receiving corps we have we’ll throw a lot.”
The quarterback position hasn’t been solidified, but Noah Courtney has emerged as the front-runner and Dias said Doughty may see some time there as well. Kaelin Kyles and Ryan Gardner will share the carries as the featured running backs. Andre Machado will play tight end. Anchoring the offensive and defensive lines will be Dylan Feilneier and Tanner Gilmore, the latter of which Dias called a “good athlete.”
“We’ll try to keep the spread and try to get those players to adapt to our spread offense, but if it doesn’t look like we’re gonna be able to do that and run that, then we’ll change it up and find something else,” Dias said.
In addition to Cook, Feilneier and Gilmore on the defensive side of the ball, Dias is expecting good things from his linebackers Sam Nipp and Marques Pina and safety Trevor Alvarez. The defensive end spots will be held down by brothers Luke and Steve Hoffman.
Dias is giving particular attention to the defensive side of the ball in practice, working to ensure that his players are well-conditioned. Last year’s semifinal game against Duchesne helped him realize that needed to be a priority in preparation for 2014.
“I felt like we came out of half right there with them and defensively we just died out,” Dias said. “That’s been one of our main focuses, just really working that defense and finding guys that we can actually rest and stop some of these teams, especially that wing-T or the option.”
In totality, Dias enjoys the label his team has been given as a dark horse and is looking forward to how this year’s group will come together.
“I’m the coach and I don’t even know who my go-to guys are until we put pads on and we start getting into games,” he said. “As much disadvantage as we have, there are a few perks, and I believe that’s one of them, that we can fly under the radar. Not a whole lot of people know what we’re gonna bring to the table and then it’s all just more of a surprise.”
Diamond Ranch Diamond Backs at a glance