2017 high school football preview: Desert Mountain

Desert Mountain High School defensive lineman lineup during a run defense drill at a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Across the board, there are some big shoes to fill on the Desert Mountain High School football team, but Head Coach Dave Sedmak is confident in his up-and-coming players.

With losses such as three-year quarterback Austin Nuessle and wide receiver Kade Warner to graduation, Coach Sedmak has striven to find guys who will fill these and many other roles, particularly on defense.

So far, he’s finding success in crafting this year’s team.

“There’s a lot of competition at receiver, defensive back and linebacker,” he said in a July 25 interview. “We know who our best quarterback is. We know who our best running back is and we think we know who our five best offensive linemen are.”

Many of those competing for those spots are juniors, largely because there are more juniors on the team than any other class.

“They’re going to be trial by fire at first and they need to be able to deal with it early and just continue to improve,” Coach Sedmak said.

Desert Mountain football players run through a drill during a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

A year ago, Desert Mountain finished 4–6 overall (4–1 in 6A’s Desert Valley Region), essentially splitting the season into two phases.

The first was six losses to start the season with the second being a four-game winning streak to end the season.

Furthermore, the Wolves were one point away from going undefeated in region as they lost 35–34 to Pinnacle.

Coach Sedmak says the season turnaround came because his team “never packed it in,” an attitude he hopes carries into this season.

The first half of last season also served as a learning curve for the coaching staff as the school hired Coach Sedmak two months prior to the opening game.

He also said 2016 was Art Alfred’s first year as a defensive coordinator.

“We learned some things through the year but having that year behind us and having an offseason together, we’re hoping that’ll help. It should help,” he said.

With better coaching experience to bolster it up, Desert Mountain eyes a return to the playoffs in search of its first postseason win since 2012.

Before the postseason begins, DMHS will have to navigate a schedule that features four 2016 playoff teams and four teams with winning records in 2016.

Notre Dame Prep would have been a playoff team had a probation not kept it out of the postseason.

The Wolves open with Chaparral at home. September will not be friendly to DMHS as it faces NDP, Basha, Desert Ridge and Pinnacle in a row — three of which made last year’s playoffs — with three of those games being on the road.

Coach Sedmak said in order to return to the postseason, his team needs to put in a daily effort of being focused, competing, improving and dealing positively with adversity.

“Those are all important factors and how we handle that will determine how the season ends up,” he said.

Offense

The Wolves will feature a pro-style spread passing game offense, Coach Sedmak said. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner will enter his fourth season as offensive coordinator.

A Desert Mountain running back rushes into an open hole during a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Junior quarterback Kedon Slovis will take the reigns of the offense as a junior, filling the shoes of Nuessle. Coach Sedmak said he sees a lot of talent and potential in Slovis.

Nuessle led the Wolves to a potent passing game a year ago, ranking fourth in the state in passing yards and first for average yards per game, according to maxpreps.com.

Slovis will look to 2016 all-region senior Josh Walker as a top returning receiver. Walker reeled in 844 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last year, just behind Kade Warner.

Coach Sedmak said he expects juniors Vince Ellison, Drake Mueller, Armand Reichelt, Riley Tucker and Max Walker to make impacts at receiver.

At running back, Coach Sedmak said 2016 all-region senior Nick Hill has the spot locked down.

“We have some other guys that may fill in as necessary but talent-wise, he’s in a class all by himself,” Coach Sedmak said.

Hill is the top rusher from a year ago, accumulating 851 rushing yards and all 11 of the Wolves’ rushing touchdowns. He also was a threat in the passing game as he had 552 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.

As a whole, DMHS doesn’t run the ball as much as it tallied 804 total rushing yards in 2016.

The Wolves return juniors Ben Roots, Ryan Pileggi and Evan Beason on the offensive line. Coach Sedmak thinks juniors John Pascual and Kyle Badaly will likely fill the other two spots on the offensive line.

Looking at the offense as a whole, Coach Sedmak said he thinks it’s the team’s biggest strength.

“We have an excellent core of receivers and running back,” he said. “We have some explosive people on offense and a little bit of depth there. We have more than four guys who can play at this level.”

At kicker, senior Brayden Narveson will return after a second team all-region performance last year.

Narveson will play this season with a commitment to Iowa State in his back pocket. Coach Sedmak said he is excited about him because he will get to kick full time for the team and has shown solid improvements.

A Desert Mountain defensive player breaks through the offensive line during a run defense drill at a July 26 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Defense

Desert Mountain’s defense took the biggest hit from a year ago as out of the seven players who notched 30 or more tackles, only one is returning.

One of the biggest losses is linebacker Ari Watson who led the team in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss, according to maxpreps.com.

Cornerbacks and team leaders in interceptions Chad Christel and Josh Graffice are also gone.

Despite losing many on defense, Coach Sedmak is confident because he now has a full defensive staff in place to fine tune the defense.

“We’re thinking just being able to spend a lot more time in the spring and the summer defensively than we did last year is really going to help,” he said.

The Wolves defense will technically be a 4-3 but will resemble a 4-2-5 defense as one of the outside linebackers will serve in a similar role as a nickelback defender while still being a linebacker.

This season, all three linebacker positions are open and Coach Sedmak said seniors Jack Sachen and Chase Linsenbach as well as juniors Cole Daddario and Jack Frus are all in the running.

Serving in that nickelback/linebacker position, Coach Sedmak will look to Reichelt and junior Matt Anderson.

“Matthew Anderson was probably going to be the guy at that position but he hurt his knee in spring ball so he’s slowly getting back into it,” Coach Sedmak said. “We’ll have him back at some point this season.”

Hill, Josh Walker, Mueller and Max Walker all look to have double duty in the secondary along with sophomore Henry Powers and senior Luke Donovan.

Last year, Donovan made 57 tackles, three interceptions and caused two fumbles, making him a top returner on defense.

On the line, junior Connor Lewis and senior Andrew Vanhof will likely play as defensive tackles, Coach Sedmak said.

As for defensive end, juniors Michael Dankworth, Dane Carlton and Brandon Kron as well as senior Salvador Gonzalez and Aidan Storm all look to fill the spots.

“Even though we lost starters, we do have who we think are good players with good competition at a lot of the spots which will certainly help too,” Coach Sedmak said.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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