Despite losing 21 seniors from a team that advanced to the Northern 4A Region semifinals last year, the Douglas High football team is moving on with new faces and high hopes into its 2017 season.
“We’re excited about the year and excited about moving forward and hopefully continuing our growth as a program,” said Ernie Monfiletto, who is entering his sixth season as head coach and 22nd season overall with the Douglas program.
Douglas officially kicks off its season on Saturday with a 10 a.m. contest against the Rigby Trojans (Rigby, Idaho) as part of the Rocky Mountain Rumble at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.
There are some key returnees who helped the Tigers end their 2016 season with wins in three of four games to secure second-place in the Sierra League. They followed that up with a 24-6 win at home against Spanish Springs in the opening round of the region playoffs.
Offensively, the Tigers return with the same multiple-look scheme, led by senior quarterback Hunter Hickey (5-foot-11, 180 pounds). Hickey received second-team all-league recognition last season, as he completed 78 of 138 passes (57 percent) for 747 yards, plus he rushed for 623 rushing yards. Among his top highlights for the season was an 88-yard touchdown run with 1:28 left in the third quarter to help Douglas turn a 10-point deficit into a pivotal 32-28 homecoming win against Sierra League rival Bishop Manogue.
“Our offense, I think we’re going to be competitive,” Monfiletto said. “There’s no substitute for experience at quarterback and he (Hickey) was incredibly productive, and a great leader. I couldn’t ask for a better person to build the program around.”
Monfiletto named other returnees who figure to contribute from the skill positions, including tailback Dakota Lowden, as well as Kane Hoyopatubbi, Andrew Williams and Jack Overton.
Lowden started the season at outside linebacker last year and saw limited time on the offensive side.
“When given an opportunity to run the ball for us, Dakota did a great job,” Monfiletto said. “Any other year, if he hadn’t been behind Ryland (DeSomber) and Dawson (Coman), he would have been a starter. Dakota worked extremely hard in the weight room and he’s going to do great things, with Jake Thorsen and Nate Cruz fighting for time at that position.”
One key coming into the season is how a young offensive line develops. Among the incoming seniors expected to lead the charge are Austin Aiken, Ryan McIntosh, James Monroe, Cody Freitas, along with junior Andrew Browning at center. Aiken and Brown received all-league recognition as defensive linemen in 2016.
Anthony Munoz and Ulises Gonzales are also expected to contribute, along with Alex Rice (6-0, 260), who returns to Douglas after playing as a sophomore last season for a Grant Union High School (Sacramento) team that went 8-4. Claudio Magana is expected to step in at tight end.
New faces to watch at other skill positions include Williams at sweepback and Overton in the slot.
“(Overton) has had a tremendous summer,” Monfiletto said. “At camp, I think he caught four touchdown passes and he did a tremendous job of running the ball and running routes. That H-back is kind of a hybrid of receiver, running back; he’s made a strong commitment in the offseason to get better and he’s an important part of what we do.”
Devon Ryan, a 6-1, 185-pound junior, is expected to contribute as a wide receiver.
“Devon is going to be a force to be reckoned with as a target to throw the ball to,” Monfiletto said. Another weapon moving into the lineup is junior kicker Chris Flores (6-0, 210).
Douglas features considerable experience with its 3-4 defensive scheme. Among others, Aiken returns as a first-team all-league and second-team all-region defensive tackle and Browning as a second-team all-league defensive tackle. Other returnees who received honorable mention recognition were Freitas at defensive end, Hoyopatubbi at defensive back and Lowden at defensive end.
Aiken (6-3, 275), Browning (6-2, 220), Freitas (6-1, 190) and Rice figure to be mainstays on the defensive line.
“Those are four big horses on that defensive line who are not necessarily starters, but they’re at the forefront of where we’re going,” Monfiletto said.
Christopher Merritt returns to play at inside linebacker, while Jayden Foster, Byron Fair and Flores also figure into the picture. Senior Paul Costello is new to the program and is fighting for the other inside linebacker job. Costello played as a freshman in Salinas, Calif., however, he did not play in his sophomore or junior years.
“He has great knowledge of the game, great football IQ,” Monfiletto said of Costello.
Christian Gray, Hoyopatubbi and Williams lead the returnees in the secondary. Cruz will also compete for time at strong safety and Gabe Wetzel figures to be in the mix at cornerback, along with Cole Kudrna.
“Our strength, along with our defensive line, is our defensive backfield,” Monfiletto said. “We’re going to be more consistent with that defense … we’re going to be better on defense, no doubt.”