Dayton has gone 20-24 in Jesse Herbst’s first four seasons as head coach.
That’s a far cry from when the program won 16 games from 2008-18.
It’s also proof that the culture has changed under Herbst as they’ve shifted their mindset from shooting for .500 seasons to trying to win a district title.
With 14 seniors returning and coming off a second straight season with a playoff win, it’s time to reach higher.
“It’s not just trying for a .500 season anymore, we want to win championships,” Herbst said. “We’re senior-laden, have tons of experience back and the kids are believing. We still have a long way to go, but if they believe, that’s step one.”
On top of the experience back, the Greendevils have some depth to work with, Herbst saying they’re close to 40 players on the roster, a nice number for a Class A football team.
“There’s 137 in the whole school, so to have 40 of them out is great,” Herbst said.
The biggest question mark headed into the season is how they find a way to fill the void of Landyn Hopper graduating. Hopper had over half the team’s carries last season, his 218 rushing attempts going for 1,721 yards and 19 touchdowns in the Greendevils run-heavy offense. Hopper also led the team with 292 yards passing and four touchdown throws. Hopper’s rushing total accounted for 64% of the Greendevils rushing yardage in 2022.
Herbst said he “has a stable full of horses” to carry the load this season and expects at least five to six kids to get carries in a game this season.
“Hopper was an amazing talent and irreplaceable. You can’t replace him, but we’ve got five or six kids that are athletic as can be that can carry it,” Herbst said.
A couple of those to tote the rock will be Mason Johnson, who returns off a 50 rushes for 336 yards and five touchdown campaign and moving DeAngelo Jimenez off the offensive line and into the fullback position in their veer offense that will be run dominant.
“You’ve got to be able to run the football in Class A,” Herbst said. “This isn’t 6A where you have the luxury of kids just playing offense or defense. A lot of our kids play both ways and we need to be able to run the ball and control time of possession. The veer allows us to do that.”
Defensively is where Dayton should be the strongest. They return the majority of their secondary and linebacking core with Caleb Crutchfield the leading defensive returner, accumulating 84 tackles and two interceptions last season.
Outside of a 55-0 loss to Newport Central Catholic and a 36-8 loss to Kentucky Country Day in the second round of the playoffs last season, Dayton allowed 15.3 points per game in the other 10.
“Defensively it feels like we haven’t stopped playing since last year,” Herbst said. “Granted we haven’t been in pads yet (as of July 27), but we’re flying around to the football.”
Other key pieces that return on defense are Johnson, Jimenez, Eric Simpson, Enrique Soard and Landon Graham.
The Greendevils enter a new district in realignment in the Class A, 3rd District with Newport Central Catholic, Bellevue and Newport. The Thoroughbreds are the heavy favorite in the district coming off a state semifinal appearance while Newport moves down from 2A and longstanding rival Bellevue trying to revamp their program.
“Should be a very competitive district. Newport coming down to Class A is a gamechanger,” Herbst said. “NewCath is always what they are and Chad (Montgomery) will get Bellevue back competitive this year. We were there five years ago. You got to get out of district before you win everything else.”
The Greendevils get their season started at Gallatin County on August 18. A game at Sayre on September 15 and Marion County on September 23 precedes district play when they get Bellevue, Newport Central Catholic and Newport in consecutive weeks from Oct. 6-20. Those three weeks will determine how realistic the championship goal is.
“There’s great people around me and a great group of people that care about the kids. This has all been great timing. Our administration is amazing and everyone has been on track for us to succeed. Getting kids out is where it’s at and that’s proof in our numbers,” Herbst said. “We keep it simple, we don’t have any superstars or standouts, just solid kids that are experienced and in this system for four years.”
DATE OPPONENT SITE TIME
Aug 18, 23 Gallatin County away 7:30 PM Aug 25, 23 Pendleton County home 7:30 PM Sep 1, 23 Owen County away 7:30 PM Sep 8, 23 Ludlow home 7:00 PM Sep 15, 23 Sayre away 7:30 PM Sep 23, 23 Marion County away 3:00 PM Oct 6, 23 Bellevue home 7:00 PM Oct 13, 23 Newport Central Catholic TBD 7:00 PM Oct 20, 23 Newport home 7:00 PM Oct 27, 23 Trimble County home 7:30 PM