The Dunedin High varsity football team is looking at a blank slate with a new head coach at the helm and a fresh young team to cultivate.
As coach Max Smith took over, three players — including key veteran quarterback Anthony Diviney — abandoned ship. As Smith molds two young players — Mack Benson and Briggs Noun — to fill the quarterback void, the next obvious hole in the team's foundation is offense.
Time to panic? Not quite, Smith said.
“We have a good offensive line and good running backs,” Smith said.
Physical ability aside, the chemistry, familiarity and the inherited confidence that Diviney might have had this year simply does not yet exist between the quarterback prospects and the rest of the team. Until it's developed, pressure is on the running backs.
At this position, the team is well equipped.
The Falcons lead with a one-two punch in juniors Shaq Dixon and Tremaine Batten. Dixon is the “thunder” part of the combination. He’s the “pounder,” the “north-south” runner, Smith said.
“He runs well between the tackles, yet is still very shifty,” Smith said. “He just seems to slide off people. He broke a lot of tackles in the spring game.”
Dixon will have to have a big year if the Falcons hope to move the football on offense. Teams are going to bring players up into the box to defend the running and short-passing situations, so it’s going to be twice as hard for the Falcons running backs to get positive plays.
“We recognize that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us to produce,” Dixon said. “We just have to try to have that mentality to pop every carry for 10 yards.”
Again, the linemen up front will be needed.
“We have linemen we can rely on,” Dixon said.
Helping out Dixion in the backfield and also lining up at slot receiver is the lightning part of the combination: Tremaine Batten. Batten, Smith said, “is probably our best all-around back.” Batten was the starter last year. His experience and ability will be vital to keeping pressure off the quarterback position and off Dixon.
“He has all the skills,” Smith said.
“I’m happy about getting the extra touches,” Batten said.
The Falcons will have to do other things to keep teams from keying in on the run game. The Falcons worked primarily out of the shotgun last season. There will likely be some different formations come September and a lot more running backs in the passing lanes.
“We’ll all have to be more versatile in the backfield,” Batten said.
This could play right into Smith’s hands.
“My philosophy has always been: Get the football in the hands of our best players,” he said.
The talent at running back does not stop at Dixon and Batten, either.
Stancio "Stance" Howard is entering his junior year. He will figure into the passing game and pick up carries when Batten needs rest. He will be third in the rotation, and with the versatility to play just about anywhere, he could easily sub for either runner.
“He’s one of those guys that you could play anywhere on the field,” Smith said. “Our goal is to get him the ball in space.”
Fourth in the rotation is sophomore Sean Graham, who is more of a slashing runner but should see plenty of reception and carrying opportunities throughout the year.
“He had a great spring. He broke a 75-yard touchdown run in the red and white game,” Smith said.