Desert Vista football

Matt Lewis is among the Desert Vista players who hope to improve upon a 5-5 record in 2017 after a 4-1 start.

Desert Vista football players utter it to each other to push through that extra rep in the weight room or to shed one more block: “Prove ’em wrong.”

And just in case anybody forgets, it is written on the back of their custom team shirts, too.

Prove’em wrong: The players believe they were better than people believed. The Thunder finished a disappointing 5-5 in 2017 after a 4-1 start. Three of those losses were by one score. They just missed the playoffs.

Coach Dan Hinds said this is among the more motivated groups he has had. Many sophomores got playing time last season due to numerous injuries to starters and they’re now eager as juniors to prove that they belong.

“These kids really are talking about the state championship, and their motto is ‘Prove ’em wrong,’ because they’ve heard some people saying Desert Vista went 5-5 last season and they won’t be that great this year,” Hinds said. “They’re on social media and reading stuff like that, so these kids came up with the motto and they’re trying to live up to it.”

Instead of staying upset with themselves after a tough year, returning players and previous JV call-ups alike are motivated to make last year a fluke and get back to playoff glory.

“All of us that were a part of last year hated the feeling of losing, and it felt like a waste of a lot of our hard work. We’re more motivated than ever to come back and show what we did wrong and prove ourselves,” senior linebacker Preston Carter said.

Carter is part of a defense that lost five of its top six tacklers to graduation.

Senior safety Jayven Moreno said the group misses those departed stars but knew during offseason training that new players must now step up and contribute. He is convinced that through weight training and team-building exercises that the defense will come up with stops.

“We definitely thought about it, but in weight training we started rebuilding. I think a lot of new guys this year will break out on defense, and we’re really excited to get started,” Moreno said.

Carter added, “I think we just need to play as one and really gang-tackle. We definitely lost some guys, but I think we have a lot coming up that are pretty good. If we’re on the same page, we’ll be able to get some stops.”

Offensively, the Thunder are tasked with replacing Derek Kline, the graduated quarterback who led Desert Vista in passing and rushing yardage. Parker Navarro, up from the junior varsity, appears to be the new quarterback.

While Tyson Grubbs and Trayvon Offutt are expected to play a heavy role in the backfield, both by rushing and receiving, and last season’s leader in receiving yards, Dominic Shepardson, returns, there is no guarantee who will carry this season’s offense.

Hinds said he is excited that so many young players are eager to work hard and earn playing time, especially having their first full offseason in the offensive system.

“What I’ve liked to see is that there’s a lot of healthy competition going on. This is a competitive group and I think we have a lot of guys who can really have a chance to get snaps on both ends,” Hinds said. “We just implemented our new offense last year, and we weren’t able to practice it as much as we wanted because we installed it that May.

“It’s a highly intricate system, and a lot of kids made mistakes last year because they weren’t sure. Now they’ve got that year under their belt, and we’ve got a lot of practices starting in January or February, so now it’s clicking and that’s going to be a difference.”

The Desert Vista players mention team chemistry regularly, calling this group the closest they have been a part of, which they hope will translate into success on the field.

Much of that camaraderie was built at DV’s recent football camp in Flagstaff, which saw the entire group – varsity to freshmen – all sleeping on inflatable mattresses on a gym floor, waking up early to hit the practice field.

“It’s a really strong group physically, and we did a lot of really hard workouts in the offseason, especially at camp, and performed better than I think some of us expected,” junior offensive and defensive lineman Miles LeBlanc said.

Desert Vista plays its first two games against California teams – a home game against Palm Springs on Aug. 17 and a visit to Carlsbad High on Aug. 24.

Opening against unfamiliar competition keeps the players on their toes, hoping to “prove ’em wrong.”

“It’s nice to play some different teams. Since freshman year we’ve had the same schedule basically, so it’s nice to see some fresh faces and get some different types of training to game plan for them,” Carter said. “We don’t really know 100 percent what’s coming because we don’t know who they have or what they do completely, so we just have to be ready for anything. And, I think that will help us succeed when the Arizona schedule comes.”

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