DAYTON — A year ago, Austin Fletcher became Dayton High’s single-season rushing leader when he gained 1,627 yards, and many thought that mark would stand for a while.
Then along came Skyler Berntson.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Berntson, who leads 3-0 Dayton into tonight’s game against visiting Truckee, has been nothing short of sensational through three games with 730 yards and nine rushing TDs. The Dust Devil senior is on a pace to gain more than 2,100 regular-season yards if he keeps up his present pace. It’s all part of his grand plan.
“One goal I set this season is I want to rush for 2,000 yards,” Berntson said Wednesday afternoon just five days after rushing for 370 yards against Spring Creek. “Once you set your mind to do something, you just have to put in the work. I think even the toughest achievement can be reached if you put your mind to it.
“I think about it (breaking Fletcher’s record and reaching 2,000 yards) a little bit. I’ve talked to Austin a couple of times. I talked to him last Saturday. He thinks I can break his record. Two hundred is what I shoot for every week. If I don’t reach it, I have to make up for it the next week. Our line is doing such a good job. It’s a hard-working group. It is hard to find any mistakes when we’re watching film. We may not have the biggest line, but we have the smartest one. I knew I was racking up yards last week, but I had no idea I was over 300.”
The 2,000-yard mark is a lofty goal, especially hard to reach if a team doesn’t make it to the postseason. To get 200 yards a game is no easy task, yet Berntson said he believes it’s within his reach because he has steadfast confidence in himself and his offensive line. He would join a distinguished list if he reaches his goal.
Only five Division 1-A players have rushed for 2,000 yards in a single season — James Edwards of Spring Creek (2004, 2,435 yards in 11 games), Cheyenne’s Myloe Lewis (2012, 2,387 yards in 12 games). Lowry’s Jace Billingsley (2011, 2,387 yards in 10 games), Truckee’s James Van Brunt (1994, 2,337 yards in 11 games) and South Tahoe’s Grant Swinney (2003, 2,056 yards in 11 games).
Coach Rob Turner said Berntson didn’t discuss any goals with him.
“Coach Kay (Berntson, offensive coordinator) takes care of that,” Turner said. “He has the kids fill out commitment cards every week. It’s certainly a possibility. Honestly, his play so far isn’t a surprise. He’s not he biggest kid in the world, but his off-season workouts and running were great. He’s so much stronger than last year, and our line has been very good this year. He has that inner drive to succeed, and you don’t get 300 yards in a game without it.”
Berntson said he’s faster and stronger than he was a year ago. Part of that is the intense lifting program he started in December, and he stopped playing baseball and went to track.
“The transition (from baseball to track) helped me a lot,” Berntson said. “I was coming into summer football workouts in better shape because of track. I was using it to help get me ready for football. Speed and power. I’m doing a better job of breaking away from tackles and getting to the hole quicker.”
“He is a very instinctive football player,” Turner said. “He’s always been a little smaller, and you have to be instinctive to find the holes. He does a good job once he gets past that first level of the defense.”
Turner has expressed concern about his star back wearing down, and as a result, he plays a lot less defense in an effort to keep fresh for offense where his body takes more punishment. So expect to see a heavy dose of Berntson the rest of the season, and expect to see Fletcher’s mark fall.
“He is in such a good shape,” Turner said. “We condition like crazy because we have so many two-way players. He isn’t a prototypical running back physically, but he fits our needs. We like to deliver the quick hit, and he can do that. Skyler will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t want any less. I don’t see us taking our foot off the gas pedal.”
Another thing that has helped Berntson is film study.
“I watch film everyday,” he said.
“I don’t even watch our own film. I’m always looking at our next opponent; looking for chinks in their armor and what plays we run will work against their defense,”
Almost lost in the shuffle is Dayton’s 3-0 start, its fastest start since 2009 when the Dust Devils won six straight to open the season.
“We’re starting to come together as a team,” Berntson said. “Most of us have been playing together for 11 years. Other teams may have come together on the field, but they didn’t play as a family, and that’s what we do.”
The family atmosphere is what kept Berntson at Dayton. He admits there was talk about going elsewhere, possibly Carson.
“Before my freshman season there was talk about going to school in Reno or Carson” he said.
“I couldn’t leave my team. At that point, I’d been playing with some of these guys for six or seven years. I just couldn’t leave.
“Sometimes I think what would happen if I’d gone to a bigger school. That’s only natural.”
Berntson hopes to parlay his success this year into getting a football scholarship. He has been in contact with George Fox University, a Christian school in Oregon, and a couple of other small schools
“I went to a camp there last year,” Berntson said. “I e-mail back and forth with the coaches every week letting them know how I’m doing.”
Berntson wants to get into sports medicine, and George Fox has a program.