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By Steve Breazeale
The rush of the spring practice schedule has finally worn off for the Dana Hills football team as they head into in their mandatory three-week “dead period” that started on June 17. After their successful spring practice they will look to pick up where they left off on July 8, when summer practice officially gets underway.
Here are some main offseason story lines that will be important to follow as the fall season draws closer.
Dolphins Busy in Spring Passing Leagues
The Dolphins hosted their annual Airstrike Passing League Tournament on June 8, which featured some of the top teams in the state. Santa Margarita, Oaks Christian, Mater Dei and Chaminade were just a few of the elite teams that competed in the deeply talented field.
When drawing up the brackets for the tournament, Dana Hills head coach Todd Rusinkovich found himself putting his team in the same pool as Mater Dei and Chaminade, who went on to face each other in the finals of the event, based on online rankings. The Dolphins went 0-4 overall at the tournament.
Although they went 0-4 at the Airstrike, the Dolphins had considerable success elsewhere in the passing league circuit.
Sea View league opponent San Juan Hills hosted the Southwest Shootout on June 1 and the Dolphins went 4-1 overall. At a passing tournament in San Diego on June 15 the Dolphins went 3-2.
While passing league success does not mean much in terms of translating onto the football field in the fall, Rusinkovich felt his team made strides in the unique format.
“Passing leagues let you work on things…what we try to do during 7-on-7 is install new stuff or work on the things that we have been doing and try to make those the best that we can so that we’re ready for 11-on-11,” Rusinkovich said.
“The main thing is that the guys competed and grew closer together as a group.”
Attempting to Build on Last Year’s Success
Last season was an historic one for the Dolphins, as they shared a claim of the Sea View League title for the first time in school history. But the success was not always there, especially in the preseason.
The team lost their first five games out of the gate, including three games against Trabuco Hills, Fountain Valley and JSerra that were decided by a combined 14 points. The Dolphins were knocking on the door of victory but could not break through.
That was until the proverbial switch was flipped in a game against Irvine on September 28. The Dolphins scored what at the time was a season-high 22 points en route to a 22-7 victory. The win prepped them for league play, which began the next week. They would go on to finish 3-1 in league and missed out on the CIF-SS playoffs because of a coin flip loss.
Seniors played a big role in the Dolphins run to the league title but there were also key underclassmen who made an impact that will be returning for the 2013-2014 season.
The spring practices have been a showcase for the Dolphins talent and a test to see if the players will build on last year’s success as well as their failures.
“They’ve been there, they’ve done that,” Rusinkovich said of his returning players who went through last year’s trials. “The younger guys learn from the older guys and the older guys pass down their wisdom and we’re able to get going the following year instead of starting the process all over again.”
Strength on the Lines
Graduation always takes a toll on the varsity rosters of high school football teams and Dana Hills is no exception. Gone are the likes of Matthew Slade, the Sea View League defensive MVP, and Devon Vise, a defensive end who was the overall league MVP.
Despite the loss of those two talented players, Rusinkovich believes his front lines will be a strength of the team this year.
The offensive line will be bolstered by returning seniors Kyle Strickland (tackle), Jacob Harbin (right guard), Blayne Wagstaff (tackle) and Connor Shirvan (left guard). After starting on junior varsity last year, junior center Brandon McDermott will be the young gun on the offensive line.
“It was a younger group last year and they’ve made strides, learning in the fire last year, which is always tough to do especially for offensive lineman going against talented defensive lineman,” Rusinkovich said. “Those guys continued to get better throughout the season last year and really picked up right where they left off.”
Seniors Ivan Saguilan (6-foot-4-inches) and Justin Stafford (6-foot-6-inches) are what Rusinkovich calls “two gigantic seniors” that will be on the defensive line for the Dolphins on opening day. Saguilan led the team with four passes blocked at the line of scrimmage last year. Both Saguilan and Stafford will also play tight end for the Dolphins.
Justin and Brian Scott burst onto the scene last year and will be featured in the Dolphins future game plans. Rusinkovich praises the brothers’ physical abilities on the field but also says that they are among the smartest players he has ever coached.
Justin, a senior linebacker, racked up a total of 83 tackles, one interception and one sack last year as a junior. In a recent offseason defensive test, it was Scott who earned the highest marks on the team.
After starting senior running back Marcus Hughes went down mid-season with an injury, Brian Scott was called upon to fill his shoes. In his first game as a starter, Scott immediately made his presence felt by running for 217 yards on 22 carries, scoring two touchdowns and adding a memorable highlight reel play that saw him break several tackles for a 77-yard scoring run.
Offensive coordinator Jake Rusinkovich has been tailoring his offensive line’s blocking schemes to coincide with Scotts’ power-running ability.