DAYTON — Football is a numbers sport.
For Dayton coach Dean Bickelhaupt and his 19 Bulldogs, numbers remain a challenge.
But there is no quit in Bulldog Country.
“It’s tough,” Bickelhaupt said of the low numbers. “One thing that is good is that we have six freshmen. We were in every game last year (a 1-8 campaign) for a half. We just didn’t have the strength to last four full quarters. You just can’t match those bigger teams pound-for-pound for a whole game. You go against teams like Waitsburg-Prescott that have 40-some kids out, and it just helps when you have those extra numbers. If you lose one good player, it puts a kink in everything.”
There is more to football than wins and loses.
“The kids put out as much effort as they can give,” Bickelhaupt said. “That’s what keeps me going. You can see that they are playing hard. Gosh, you just keep going.”
Dayton graduated seven seniors, led by its do-everything-player Wyatt Frame, and looks to a senior class of five to reload.
Lowden Smith (6-foot, 180 pounds) leads the senior class. Smith will be the featured running back and linebacker.
“Lowden is a power runner,” Bickelhaupt said. “He, like Wyatt was last year, will be our main guy. He will pound the ball for us.”
Guy Spalinger (6-0, 150) returns for his senior year as a returning starter on both sides of the ball.
“He played real well last year for our defense,” Bickelhaupt commented. “He’s working at fullback. He’s not very big, but he’s tougher than nails.”
Senior Christian Warner (5-9, 155) takes over as Bulldog quarterback.
“When he was a sophomore, he was the JV quarterback,” Bickelhaupt said. “He’s got a pretty good arm. He’s quick and darty. He’s got a positive attitude and is confident in the huddle. He fits the bill and is a good option quarterback.”
Senior Robert Loper (5-10, 180) looks to give senior leadership in the trenches.
Logan Hays (5-11, 180) returns after injuries held him out of his junior season. Hays will be counted on to anchor an offensive line spot as well as at linebacker or defensive end.
“Logan helps us fill in the line with experience,” Bickelhaupt said. “It’s real big for us to get him back.”
Holdover starter on both the O-line and D-line, Andrew Mendoza (5-10, 185), heads up the Bulldog junior class.
“Andrew is a scrappy player,” Bickelhaupt said. “He learned a lot from 2011 all-league lineman Kroft Sunderland. He’ll come and get you.”
Junior Colten West (5-10, 155) is counted on to start at safety and help out at running back. Junior Derk McCleary (5-8, 140) will also contribute.
Junior James Vance (6-2, 310) will impact the trenches once he rehabs from a knee injury.
Sophomores Tabin McHaffie (6-3, 155), Cody Snider (5-7, 240), and Colby Sunderland (5-9, 185) are all counted on for varsity help.
“Cody is a strong, stocky, kid,” Bickelhaupt said. “He has a low center of gravity, and is quick footed. You can’t hardly move him, he’s like a little truck. If he keeps at it, he will be a great lineman for Dayton.”
McHaffie will be counted on to use his speed at receiver. Colby Sunderland, Kroft’s younger brother, returns from a year at Richland and looks to step in and help the Bulldog lines.
Two freshmen are counted on to jump into varsity roles. Ben Kleck (5-9, 165) is penciled into a running back spot and Trystan Willis (5-8, 170) is holding down the starting offensive center role.
Bickelhaupt sees the other four freshmen — Tanner Bren (5-7, 130), Spencer Conwell (5-7, 130), Cal Martin (5-7, 165), and Nick Vance (6-2, 170) — as varsity contributors.
“Those kids can have success if they can stay together and stay healthy,” Bickelhaupt said. “These guys are ready to jump in. They are not intimidated.”
The Bulldogs know what it will take to build a successful 2013.
“As little numbers as we have, we’ve got to be in the best shape of anybody in our league,” Bickelhaupt said. “We’re working them to help them succeed. There is no complaint, no attitude. They do it and get it done.”
In the Southeast 2B League, Bickelhaupt knows DeSales and W-P remain at the top of the heap, but he sees a dark horse challenger.
“I think Tri-Cities Prep will surprise this year,” Bickelhaupt said. “They’ve got pretty good numbers and had a bunch of freshmen two years ago that are juniors now. They could win the league.”
The Bulldogs kickoff with a non-league battle with McLoughlin High Thursday in Dayton.