Coach Damon Dustin works hard to improve consistency on the field
■ By Corey Evan / Sports Reporter
Being the smallest high school in the Mountain Pass League, Coach Damon Dustin has quite the challenge every year getting enough young men to play ball for Tahquitz High School. That said, he’s up for the challenge.
“This year, we’ve got a lot more experience, which I’m really excited about,” said Dustin. “We return three starting linemen from last year, offensively, and [have] eight returning starters on defense. You can do a lot of training, but without being game-experienced, you’re still rookies out there.”
Having previously coached the Riverside Ramona Rams, Dustin is no stranger to an uphill battle. His Titans came in at the bottom of the barrel, league-wise, for the 2016 season; they went 0-5 against the rest of the Mountain Pass, and took just two games out of 10.
Part of getting his Titans to “play like a champion” is developing a supportive culture now, says Dustin. “We’ve really worked on, besides X’s and O’s in the off-season, our culture. Every successful franchise, company, whatever, has a successful culture. We’re really emphasizing that – what it takes to be successful, what success looks like. And hopefully it’ll transfer over to the field.”
Fan support for the Titans was plentiful in 2016, but the team had other worries. The first problem was that the Titans started each game really strong, and lost steam toward the end of the game.
“We really lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter; our depth… really hurt us last year,” recalled Dustin. “We were definitely thin, and…we lost the majority of our games in the third and fourth quarter. Every game at half-time was competitive, with the exception of Citrus Hill. Every other game we were in it, we just got tired in the end.”
The biggest problem Dustin faces is keeping players around for the season. The smallest high school in the Mountain Pass league, Tahquitz has an enrollment of just over 1,600 students. “Us and West Valley are the two smallest schools in the league, every other school’s got 500 to almost a thousand more kids than we do. So we struggled.”
But the biggest team killer at Tahquitz last year wasn’t injuries, despite several players landing at Hemet Valley Hospital over them. The biggest killer was poor grades. All but two juniors were wiped out by too many F’s.
“You can’t even get on the field unless you get the grades right,” said Dustin. “Our big struggle now is keeping the kids eligible throughout the four years.”
But despite Tahquitz’ setbacks, these Titans are hopeful for a strong 2017.
Tyree Chaison, a senior, brings aggression and speed to the field. To the team, he serves as “a role model to all the sophomores and juniors, and do what we all do. And carry on the tradition when we leave high school.”
Henry Sandoval, a senior tight-end defensive, brings work ethic to the field. “These guys just look up to me, I know that. Just by them seeing my work ethic. They see me in the weight room going hard… they see me on the field going hard…why wouldn’t they look up to me?”
Kerrick Davis, a senior running back, looks forward to defending the whole team by letting them chip in to strategize. “I don’t like to hold nobody back.”
The first big test of the Titan turnaround strategy will be in Rialto on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m., as the Titans attempt to ground the Eisenhower Eagles. Will the Mountain Pass League remember the Titans in 2017? Let’s hope so.