Over the next two years, The Dalles football team will play an independent schedule, so head coach Steve Sugg is looking forward to the opportunity to teach, mold and shape an up-and-coming roster of 38 underclassmen to build for the future.
“We have a really young team, so our main focus is teaching the fundamentals of blocking and tackling,” Sugg said. “So, we are really working hard on teaching them the basics of the game. That is going to be our focal point. We will start there and build upward. That is our emphasis.”
Joining Sugg on the sidelines are Dan Telles, Matt Eby, Jermaine Hisatake, Ryan Manciu, Mark Scott, Joe Abbas, and recent TD graduates and football standouts, Gabe Wilson and Riley Bardes.
“I got a lot of new coaches and it has been a learning process all the way through,” Sugg said. “The coaches are kind of learning how I want to do things and the kids are responding to that well. I think it is going to be a positive thing for this program. I got a lot of young coaches too and a couple right out of college, so they can relate more easily to these young guys. I think that is good for everyone.”
Coming back to the team in 2016 are receiver and cornerback Glenn Breckterfield, all-league lineman Blake Davis and veteran starting quarterback Dominique Seufalemua.
As three of the elder statesmen of the group, their words of encouragement and leadership by example will be pivotal in the tutorial process.
“The upperclassmen that are here, we just need to do our best to leave a positive impact and be better leaders and show these young guys what it takes to be successful,” said Seufalemua, who was an all-league selection last year. “It starts with the work in the offseason and during the season. Summer workouts are important because if you get bigger during the summer, you will be bigger and stronger and it will get you better prepared to play a full season.”
Last season, The Dalles posted a 1-7 record and went 0-3 in Columbia River Conference action.
The Riverhawks scored 152 points and allowed 288 points, so Sugg is working on improving both sides of the ball.
One big hole left was the graduation of first-team all-league running back Devin Wilson, who amassed 925 rushing and receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Sugg is sticking to his offensive philosophy of spreading the field to try to get the ball to his skill players in open space.
Having a veteran starter at quarterback is luxury to have, especially with audibles and play calls, so Seufalemua will have a lot more responsibilities in moving the chains.
Last year, Seufalemua completed 102 of 203 passes for 1,339 yards with 12 touchdwons and 14 interceptions. He also added a rushing touchdown.
“A lot of it for me is footwork because Sugg is going to emphasize our run game a little bit more this year with a lot of motions, bellies and counters, which can be confusing for the defense,” Seufalemua said. “If I can make the throws when I get the opportunities, it will be good for our offense.”
In 2014, TD scored 74 points and racked up 1,192 yards of offense, just 314 on the ground. This past season, the Hawks scored 152 points, reeled off 2,231 yards of offense, 1,339 through the air and an average time of possession of 24 minutes and 57 seconds per game.
TD had 124 first downs, allowed 26 sacks in eight games, scored 21 touchdowns and converted 15 of 23 in the red zone.
If Seufalemua and the offense is going to move the ball, offensive line play is going to be critical, so Davis and Julian Hernandez will anchor a line that will fill three or four spots.
“I am really excited about what our offense can do with the linemen we have. We have a lot of studs out here. A lot of quick guys,” said Davis, a second-team all-league winner last season. “We have one returning senior, but he is really good. The rest of those guys are young, but they work hard. I think we should have a good offensive line this year. I am pretty excited.”
The defense showed some glimpses last year, but with a lack of depth, that unit eventually wore down in the second half, as the opposing offenses scored 129 second-half points.
TD allowed 321 yards a game, but allowed 34 percent on third-down conversions, had 56 tackles for loss, recovered 12 fumbles, had 11 interceptions and sacked the quarterback 15 times.
With a new coordinator at the helm, Sugg said he wants the team to fly around the football, gang tackle and play assignment football.
Breckterfield said defense is an area where the team needs to show the most improvement.
“Our secondary needs to step up,” Breckterfield said. “We like to run man coverage back there. If we can’t play man, then we can’t blitz and put pressure on the quarterback, so it could be a problem if the other receivers get open and the quarterback has too much time to throw the ball.”
Along with new coaches, some new players and other changes, The Dalles uniforms will undergo a major facelift this season, changing from the traditional University of Southern California look to an Arizona State University style and color with the new Nike sponsorship.
A new look, equals a new attitude, Davis said.
“When you have new uniforms, it changes things a little,” Davis added. “I think it brings more kids out. We have new jerseys and I feel it is a more positive feeling here in practices. Change is good, so if you look better, you play better and hopefully we can get more wins.”
Sugg is laying the football foundation down brick-by-brick with his set on 2018 for the ascension to prominence on the gridiron.
It will be a process, so he preaches patience during the pivotal time.
“We are young, but I am excited to work with these young kids,” Sugg said. “We are trying to get something built up for the next two years. We are going to an independent league, so we have two years to try to get things straightened out a little bit, so I am looking forward to that.”
TD travels to Woodburn, another independent 5A program, for its season opener at 7 p.m. on Aug. 26.
After that contest, the Hawks then travel to Madras for a game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2.