WAITSBURG — The past couple of seasons have been tough sledding for Dayton-Waitsburg football, but optimism is back as coach Troy Larsen concludes his fifth fall camp.

“2019 has started out very exciting for us,” Larsen said. “We have 40 players out when we were expecting 20. 

“We have 15 freshmen, which is a huge number,” he said. “We will be able to bring back a JV program, which, not having a JV, has really hurt the last couple of years. 

“The upper classmen have gone through the meat grinder the last couple of seasons. They are looking really good. 

“We have had the best spring and summer that we’ve had in a long time,” Larsen continued. “We had kids in the weight room, quarterbacks throwing on their own to seven or eight receivers, and kids running on their own. 

“The attitude is the best we have had on the team in a long time. They listen and are coachable. We aren’t the biggest team, but they listen and try to do what they are told. Win or lose, we are super-excited.”

D-W finished 2-8 overall in last season’s Class 2B play.

Eight seniors return to lead the D-W charge. 

Tayven Seney (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) anchors both lines and will lead the way as a D-W captain. 

““Tayven has started all four years,” Larsen said. “We couldn’t have a better leader. Being the son of a former (Washington State) Cougar, he has football in his blood. He doesn’t put kids down, but builds them up. He is a pleasure to have around.”

Senior lineman and linebacker, who will be looked upon to lead and anchor the line and defense, as he bounces back from a broken arm that he suffered at the end of last season, is Seamus House (6-0, 195).

“Seamus is another captain and has been our center and linebaker,” Larsen said. “He has a passion for the game, and although he is an undersized center, you can’t keep him off the field. He is fast and makes really good reads. I expect him to dominate as a linebacker.”

Senior Carson Nichols (5-10, 150) is looking to hold down a receiver spot and be an anchor in the defensive backfield.

“Carson had a good year as a defensive back last season,” Larsen said. “We are excited to see what he does this year coming off a really good year.”

Two other seniors will hold importand OL and DL spots for D-W. 

Andrew Reeves (5-10, 240) will be looked upon to open holes for D-W from his lineman spot. 

Logan Baker (5-5, 150) will be in the rotation on both lines. 

Christian Watson-Solis (5-10, 170) will be counted on to give support at running back and linebacker. 

Rounding out the senior class and returning to football after recovering from injuries are Timothy Daves (6-1, 195) and Bradley Sandau (5-10 155). 

Daves will be an important contributor along both lines, and Sandau is expected to provide depth at running back and linebacker.

Junior Shawn Evans (6-0, 215), after a season of part-time quarterback duties, takes over as the D-W quarterback.

“Shawn will be our QB,” Larsen confirmed. “He is a solid kid and is big and can see everything. He is good at getting out of the pocket and throws well on the run. He has confidence now. He is ready to lead and will control everything. He has a tendency to rush things, but we hope his experience will slow him down this season.”

Mason Finney (6-0, 150), Larsen’s “energizer bunny,” will back up Evans at quarterback, as well as being a key receiver in the D-W attack. 

Adam Puckett (5-11, 165) is Larsen’s “Jack of all trades” as he will be used where ever he is needed, but will be looked at primarily as a tight end and as a linebacker. 

Two juniors will see action in the trenches: Drake Campbell (5-10, 250) and Kyler Slack (6-3, 240). 

Campbell is expected to start on both sides of the ball, and Slack, after he makes up for missed time due to fall harvest, will be expected to get after quarterbacks from a defensive line spot. 

A newcomer to the program, and to football, is junior Colton VanBlaricom (5-10, 150), who Larsen sees as a receiver with great hands and as a super-athletic kid that just needs experience.

Four sophomores — Lash Larue (5-10, 140), Dylan Bledsoe (5-8, 130), Damien Johnson (6-0, 165), and Theo Anderson (6-0, 285) — will contribute. 

Larue is a backup quarterback and a defensive back; Bledsoe as a receiver and defensive back; Johnson is penciled in as a contributor at running back and linebacker; and other activities have slowed Anderson, but once he is eligible, Larsen believes Anderson will start at guard and in the defensive line.

The D-W hope is to keep those 15 freshmen together to form the nucleaus of a JV program and let them gain valuable experience.

Larsen is enjoying the strengths of his team and is working to overcome the shortcomings.

“Our strength is that we are very coachable,” Larsen said. “We’re a little inexperienced and have changed things to match the knowledge of the team. 

“Another strength is that we have numbers,” he said. “We will be able to absorb injuries.

“Our line will be stronger because of experience,” Larsen continued. “We have a QB (Evans) that wants to be the QB and he is taking charge.”

Larsen knows pitfalls await as D-W prepares for the Eastern Washington Athletic Conference 2B season, but D-W looks to have answers to counteract some of those pitfalls.

“We have a lot of kids new to football or coming back to football that will be starting for us,” Larsen said. “We will be raw early, and that is why we have pre-season. We will have the opportunity to get better quick. 

“When you have a smart, coachable team, good things are going to happen,” he summarized. “We are hoping our smarts and football savy will show up on the field this year.”