There’s a renewed sense of hope and vigor surrounding the Canyon del Oro High School football program, under 11th year coach, Dustin Peace.
The Dorados went 7-4 in 2018, and feature one of the city’s most experienced rosters—led by rising junior running back Stevie Rocker.
Rocker, who has received scholarship offers to Nevada-Reno, Arizona and the University of California-Berkeley already in his fledgling career, will be the centerpiece of Peace’s offense.
Peace is confident that Rocker, who ran for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore, has not reached his ceiling yet.
“Rocker’s going to be a great asset to us, having that home run opportunity at any time,” Peace said. “He’s already shown a lot of growth.”
Peace’s excitement isn’t contained to one player, however, with three offensive linemen returning from last year’s squad.
Chief among those who man the trenches is rising senior Diego Lujan, who has been a full-time starter on the offensive line for two seasons.
Lujan’s presence means a lot to Peace, as continuity up front will allow Rocker and the team’s offensive weapons room to operate this fall.
“We’ve got three offensive linemen returning and that’s huge for us,” Peace said. “Having that anchor will be key. We have some holes to fill inside, but the majority of our defensive backs and receivers are back, which is huge.”
Peace will be tasked with replacing quarterback Zachary Eidenshink, who threw for 1,984 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018. The longtime coach is rotating through three potential replacements for Eidenschink during the summer, allowing each ample time to show what they can do for the offense before the season begins.
“The good thing is that we haven’t had a legitimate quarterback competition in a long time, because usually we have that guy and no second guy behind him,” Peace said. “So, it’s good for our environment to have guys competing. That’s going to be good for them and we’re going to have different options under center.”
Rocker believes the team’s chemistry in spring and summer ball has been tighter than any he’s experienced.
“Having us together means a lot,” he said. “It means winning more games, since a lot of other teams don’t share that type of bond. We take this as a brotherhood… It’s more of a family than just football.”
Rocker said last year’s squad, which lost to Glendale’s Cactus High School, 37-26, in the opening round of the 4A playoffs, taught him a lot about the game. He’s confident that this year’s Dorados have the right make up to take their game to the next level, competing for a region title this fall.
“Last year taught me to not stress it,” Rocker said. “My sophomore year, I thought it was going to be way harder than it was going to be, but now I just know not to stress it and just have fun, just play the game.”
Lujan, who is expected to anchor the Dorados’ up front, said this year’s team features a bond that sets it apart from those in years past.
Such a teamwide connection allows the Dorados to reach their fullest potential, according to Lujan, as everyone trusts each other to do their job on the field.
“We just have chemistry,” Lujan said. “We’ve been here together, we have a good group that’s always stuck together since freshman year. So, we just know each other. We love each other.”
The key for Peace is to turn that teamwide chemistry into a success story this fall, with a thin roster of 36 players to cycle through.
Peace has accomplished the task before, with rosters hovering between 35-and-45 players for much of the last few years.
The key to success in that situation, according to Peace, is to throttle back the amount of conditioning work the team conducts during June and most of July.
That approach allows players to hit their peak conditioning level once the pads come on in August, meaning they’ll likely be fresher for the 10-week grind of the regular season.
Peace must make sure his players are ready to roll come their opener against Flowing Wells on Aug. 23, while ensuring that his team won’t burn out before their final game on Nov. 1.
“We had a lot of college coaches stop by this spring, and when they come I’ll just leave the room and the kids won’t miss a beat,” Peace said. “So, that’s been refreshing to finally get there with this group and—hopefully that turns out to be what it’s like during the season.”