Dysart High School coach Andrew Garrett hit an unexpected football trifecta in the offseason.
The second-year coach didn’t know how he was going to fill the team’s void at running back.
Terry Smith graduated after leading the Demons with 880 yards in 2010 and top returnee Keevin Moore moved to San Diego in the offseason.
“We really didn’t have anyone from the lower ranks who could come in and was ready to start,” said Garrett, who guided the Demons to a 3-7 mark last year. “We were at a loss as to what we were going to do.”
Help arrived in the form of three transfer students who have transformed the running game from a team weakness into a strength for this year’s team.
Senior Elijah Manning takes over as the starting tailback.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pounder played receiver and defensive back last season for West Salem High School in Oregon.
“West Salem is a big school in Oregon, sort of like a Hamilton or Chandler here in Arizona,” Garrett said. “Elijah was a running back on the scout team, but because of his size, he never got a chance.”
Garrett said his newest tailback overcomes the size disadvantage with quickness and speed.
“He’s strong and he runs inside with a lot of confidence,” Garrett said.
The other two transfer students played closer to the Dysart campus in 2010.
Senior fullback and middle linebacker Cory Trufant arrived from nearby Valley Vista while sophomore running back Jake Sanego spent last season at Kellis in Glendale.
The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Trufant placed second in tackles with 72 last year at Valley Vista. Garrett said his battering-ram style of running will represent the yin to the speeding yang of Manning, his backfield mate.
Sanego may eventually be the best runner of all three players.
“Jake has a runner’s instinct,” Garrett said. “He’s got great vision — he sees it and does it.”
The arrival of the three running backs should ease Garrett’s transition as he takes over the offensive play-calling from Jon Clanton, a top assistant who became the head coach this year at Central High School in Phoenix.
Longtime assistant Ches Gessner takes over as defensive coordinator and plans to employ an aggressive run-stopping unit that sometimes puts seven or eight players on the line of scrimmage.
The key to the defense’s success rests with Fasauga Tinoisamoa, a junior defensive tackle who has already attracted interest from Division 1 colleges.
Tinoisamoa recorded four sacks last season and will be used occasionally as a fullback in goal-line situations.
Tinoisamoa also represents one of several Dysart players of Samoan heritage.
The tiny South Pacific island has made a big impact on the national football scene, producing such prominent NFL players as Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu and Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Garrett said Dysart’s Samoan connection has already had a positive effect on campus and in the El Mirage community.
“We’ve got three kids who will be playing on the defensive line and an offensive guard who is of Samoan heritage,” Garrett said. “One family moved here and then other families followed suit.
“They are great kids who get great grades and have an outstanding work ethic.”
The coach said the team may even incorporate a traditional Samoan dance into its pregame ritual this season.
Once the games start, the Dysart offense will turn the game over to senior quarterback Benson Grimes, who threw nine touchdowns in 2010.
One of his favorite targets will be tight end Jordan Miller, a 6-foot-4 senior who also plays outside linebacker. Another top receiver will be Marcus Moore, who also plays a key role at free safety.
“Benson’s arm strength has increased and he has been a workhorse in the offseason,” Garrett said.
The offensive line should be bolstered by the improved athleticism of guard Marcus Alford, who dropped 35 pounds after joining the school’s wrestling program.
Guard John-George Leasau, a 6-foot-3, 292-pound senior, also will be a pillar of strength on the offensive line.
“We encourage our kids to play multiple sports here at Dysart,” Garrett said. It’s good for our linemen to wrestle and we encourage our running backs and defensive backs to play basketball and soccer. “Other sports keep them busy and in shape — and out of trouble.”