By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
Coming off the most successful season in the history of the Del Norte High football program, the Warriors could rest on their laurelscontent in what they accomplished last year.
Not a chance.
On the contrary, it only ignited in the squad a deep desire to take it to the next level this year and go even further in the playoffs.
And with several key starters from last year's team returning, that goal appears to be attainable.
"I'm excited. I'm ready to be up with the big dogs," said senior Phillip Bailey, who plays on both the offensive line and the defense, adding he and his fellow teammates are focused and determined to do even better than last year.
In 2006, Del Norte went undefeated in Big 5 Conference play and had only one loss in the regular season. That came in the first game against Brookings, who the Warriors will face again on Sept. 7 in Brookings at 7:30 p.m.
In the North Coast Section playoffs last season, the Warriors won two playoff games at home before losing to Novato on the road. If they had won that game, they would have played for the section championship at the Oakland Coliseum.
Practice makes perfect
At practice on Tuesday, the players and coaches were hard at work in the evening session of their two-a-day practices, which began on Aug. 20.
The coaches closely watched each move the players made, shouting instructionsfrom wide receivers catching balls, to defensive players working on their hitting drills.
"I want you to keep talking to each other." "Nice effort. Good completion." "Keep talking to each other. Communicate." "Excellent job getting up the field," were some of the comments coaches shouted to the team.
"We have experienced players who want to win league and go to the playoffs," head coach Lewis Nova said. "There's a lot of talent here. It's a matter of the kids stepping up."
Nova said he has liked what he has seen so far in practices. The team has been focused, has done a good job executing plays, and seems to be ahead of where they were at this point last season, he said.
Senior Trevor Rook, the team's starting running back who was named league MVP last year, agreed. He said he has been pleased with the effort of the returning players and those new to the squad.
"I think we're getting the plays down better than last year," he said. "Everything is coming together for us. I feel great about this season."
While practices have gone well, Nova said there have been a fair share of players getting "banged up," and some injuries occurring. At this point, Nova said nothing has been serious enough that a player may miss substantial time.
"We just need to get healed up," he said.
On offense, the vast majority of the core group of players is returning from last year.
In the starting quarterback spot is last year's returning starter, Chad Freeman, now a senior. Nova said he does an excellent job controlling the offense and is a veteran leader the Warriors are glad to have coming back. Freeman also is a good runner, which adds to his versatility, Nova added.
"He's fundamentally sound and he works so hard to get better," Nova said.
Rook returns as the starting running back. Nova said he has great vision and is impressive in the way he quickly finds a hole opened up by the offensive line and gains positive yards.
"He's such a hard runner," Nova said. "He's so elusive."
The wide receivers bring a lot of skills and experience to the table. Cody Hoffman and Taylor Duncan, both juniors, return to the starting slots.
Nova said Hoffman is "a fast possession receiver. If the ball is thrown to him he's going to get it."
Duncan is "a good route runner," who has good hands and does a nice job earning extra yards after the catch, Nova said. The starting tight end is Saxon Schultz, who Nova said has good hands, can catch the ball well and is a good blocker who will be a key part of the offense.
On the offensive line, the team has lost several players to graduation, but Nova said he believes they will still get the job done.
A key member of the o-line will be Bailey, a returning starter. Nova said he brings size, quickness and strength and should help solidify the line. Nova said senior Jake Young and junior Roger McCovey, who both start on defense, appear as though they will also play on the offensive line.
On defense, defensive coordinator Friz Baldwin said he believes his defense will continue to dominate this year, with several players returning. Last year, the team had four shutouts and caused headaches for opposing offenses with their relentless play.
"I think we've been looking pretty good," Baldwin said.
He added the defense will not change too radically and will continue to use a 3-5 scheme.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Baldwin said.
Key players returning include Schultz,McCovey, Hoffman, Young and Brock Coulson and James Sampier.
Baldwin said these core players bring a variety of skills to the table, and are dedicated to improving and have a hunger to succeed.
A new player to the varsity squad that the coaches say could contribute on defense, probably at linebacker, is Joseph Alexandre, who Nova said has shown good potential.
"He's a hard worker," Nova said.
Baldwin said a newcomer that has intrigued the staff is junior Dru Parker, who recently moved to the area.
While still raw and trying to learn the defensive system, Baldwin said Parker has the potential to be a contributor to the defense, with his decent speed and great size. Parker stands an imposing six feet 3 inches tall, and is about 300 pounds.
Today, Del Norte travels to Fortuna for the annual Big 5 Jamboree, where the team will run 10 plays on offense and defense against each fellow conference opponent.
The Warriors first game at home is on Sept. 14 against Hidden Valley.