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After winning the school’s first league title, the Dana Hills football team returns a veteran group hungry for the playoffs
By Steve Breazeale
The coin flip is as pure an example of luck as there is. Half of the time it is going to fall your way and other times, it’s not.
That is the reality the Dana Hills football team had to face in 2012, as they claimed a share of the Sea View League title for the first time in school history. They were eying the CIF-SS playoffs but first, they had to win a coin toss.
Because of the three-way tie with co-champs Laguna Hills and Capistrano Valley, a coin flip scenario was held and after losing it, the Dolphins were left as the odd man out and watched as two other teams with identical in-league records entered the playoffs.
There was hope that the Dolphins would earn an at-large bid, awarded to two teams in the conference who suffered fates similar to Dana Hills, but because of an 0-5 preseason record, the Dolphins were snubbed again.
Senior quarterback Mac Vail thinks about the end to last season, in particular a loss to Laguna Hills on October 26 that ensured the three-way tie, every day. One play here or, in this case, one flip of the coin there, and the Dolphins could have extended their season.
Last season may have ended with a league title, but the veteran group that returns to take the field in 2013 has Dana Hills thinking they have what it takes to make sure their fate will not be determined by anyone else.
“That’s something I still think about every day. We’re definitely not going to let that happen again,” Vail said. “It was a coin flip and yes we got screwed but at the same time we shouldn’t have been in that position. If we would’ve won more games in the preseason we would’ve been in. So that’s on us this year. We’re not going to sit around and talk about it, we are going to go out and get it.”
This year the Dolphins return 14 starters from last year’s campaign. Several impact seniors have departed but the Dolphins have a solid core to build around.
They are sticking with the same West Coast offensive scheme that they employed last year, which will allow Vail to work the short passing game and give way to standout running back Brian Scott, when need be.
Controlling the tempo of the offense will be the big men up front on the offensive line, which fields three veteran players.
Seniors Blaine Wagstaff (left tackle), Kyle Strickland (left guard) and Jacob Harbin (right guard) all saw time last year and have made big gains in the weight room and on the field, according to head coach Todd Rusinkovich. All three players stand at 6 feet 2 inches tall and Harbin and Strickland are members of the 1,000-pound weight lifting club. Junior center Chris McDermott and senior right tackle Jake Hannah round out the group. Scott, who had a breakout year in 2012 after rushing for 442 yards in six games, has been witnessing the line’s offseason efforts first-hand.
“I feel extremely comfortable behind the line. Even in these drills I see them destroying our own players,” Scott said. “You see them in every hit, all their energy and focus, their group mentality is all there.”
Rusinkovich also likes the versatility of his line, which he says has the strength and quickness to get out in front to block for Scott.
The Dolphins receiving corps took a hit to graduation and will field a relatively untested group. They had a strong passing league season, with players like Sean Schulte, Ted Fitzgerald, Reid Lundeen and Drew Falk all proving they can make plays. Rusinkovich said they have all made a good transition to pads and even though they have limited varsity experience, they are an athletic bunch.
When the Dolphins started out with several losses in a row in 2012, they made a defensive scheme switch that ignited their league title run. After starting in a 3-4 formation, with three down linemen and four linebackers, the Dolphins shifted to a 4-3, which put some of those big backers on the line. Graduated seniors Devon Vise, who won the Sea View League MVP, and Cody Betzler wreaked havoc against in-league opponents and fueled the newly invigorated Dolphins defense. In their final five games the Dolphins held their opponents to an average of 14 points per game. They will be sticking with that same scheme for 2013.
Seniors Ivan Saguilan, Justin Stafford and junior Adam Page were all a part of last year’s defensive line in some capacity and will make up the line this year, along with left tackle Scott Aiello. First-year defensive coordinator Joe Morris will employ Connor Shirvan, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds, at the nose tackle spot in one of the tweaks made to this year’s defense. Shirvan played left guard last year.
Protecting the middle of the field will be first-team All Sea View League defensive selection and outside linebacker Justin Scott, one of the team captains. Scott had 83 total tackles, one sack and one interception in 2012. Patrolling the middle will be junior middle linebacker Brett Bill. Team captain Hank White will start at the other outside linebacker spot.
Michael Vogeler’s experience in the secondary at the strong safety spot will be crucial to the Dolphins’ defensive efforts. Vogeler, along with cornerback Brandon Torres, are the only defensive backs on the depth chart with varsity experience. Vogeler is among the fastest players on the team and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash in the offseason.
“Vogeler is the catalyst of the defense right now. He is going to be a big-time playmaker for us,” Rusinkovich said.
It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins pick up where they left off when they open their season at home against Trabuco Hills on August 30. It will be the first of five games against tough opponents. San Clemente, JSerra and Villa Park, the reigning Century League champs, are all slated to face the Dolphins in the first five weeks of the season.
It’s fitting that the preseason schedule be a daunting one for this particular Dolphins team. The veteran-heavy roster who experienced last year’s slow start have said that this year’s schedule should not be taken for granted. They know, after all, that a coin flip could be waiting for them in the end.
“Rolling ahead … to know what it feels like to win, that’s big. Especially for the varsity guys who went through that … for them to experience starting out 0-5 and overcoming that adversity … that in itself says a lot about their characters,” Rusinkovich said. “They’re going to be able to apply it so we can get a faster start this year. They know their main focus is to get a Sea View League championship and win every game that they play.”