As moonlight gave way to sunlight on Tuesday morning, the crash of pads and the screeching of whistles filled the air around Greater Zion Stadium.
For the first time in two years, Dixie State University football is participating in regular spring training after playing a five-game spring slate in 2021.
The Spring Games saw Dixie State knock out Tarleton State and nearly upset FBS New Mexico State.
The Aggies needed a touchdown with: 21 left to beat Dixie.
Rematch losses to Tarleton and No. 9 Kennesaw State preceded a 60-0 win over Fort Lewis to close out the spring season.
The fall 2021 campaign saw the Trailblazers go 1-10 against a gauntlet of a schedule. Seven of the 11 teams DSU faced were ranked in the FCS top 25, including No. 5 Sam Houston State, No. 17 UC Davis, No. 4 South Dakota State, No. 14 Missouri State, No. No. 21 Stephen F. Austin and No. 6 Montana. .
Last season, Kobe Tracy and Kenyon Oblad parted ways for the Trailblazers.
Oblad started the 2021 campaign as QB1 before giving way to Tracy in the process.
Tracy finished the year completing 147/241 passes for 1,664 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Tracy went 18/23 for 281 yards and three touchdowns in the Trailblazers’ lone win over D-II Fort Lewis.
In Tuesday’s practice, Tracy made a pair of long passes against the Dixie State defense, including one to Deven Osborne, who scrambled for a diving catch.
Oblad went 82/162 with 878 yards and five touchdowns with ten interceptions.
Oblad’s best game came against UC Davis, completing 32/58 with 342 yards and four touchdowns. Oblad was bitten by the interception bug in this game, throwing five picks.
Dixie State added Hawaiian transfer Boone Abbott in December. Abbott played ball in high school at American Fork.
Abbott was ranked as a three-star quarterback in 2019 and 61st dual-threat quarterback in the class.
“It’s been great,” Dixie State head coach Paul Peterson said. “Anytime you have a competition like the one we have with guys who can throw all the throws, who are smart and have talent, they improve each other.”
Even with the success Tracy had at the end of the 2021 season, Peterson said quarterback competition is open.
“We’re always trying to figure out who the guy will be and that’s what the competition does, it elevates their whole game,” Peterson said.
New coordinators add new wrinkles
The 2022 season brings changes to the offensive and defensive coordinator roles.
Gone is former offensive coordinator Kelly Bills and Justin Ena. Ena took over as defensive line coach at San Diego State.
This year marks the third consecutive season with a new defensive coordinator for the Trailblazers.
Slipping into the OC role is Craig Stutzmann, who will also serve as the quarterback coach.
Linebackers coach Misi Tupe was elevated to co-defensive coordinator alongside Shane Hunter.
Hunter worked under former Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall for the Cavaliers from 2016 to 2021.
“I think with what Stutzmann has done in the past, scoring a lot of points and getting the ball to the playmakers – whether in the running or passing game – speaks for itself,” Peterson said. .
Stutzmann was the offensive co-coordinator for Washington State from 2020-2021 and was the passing game coordinator and QB coach for Hawaii from 2016-2019.
Peterson added that the new offensive system is quarterback-friendly, which could help drive better results for anyone taking shots under center for the Trailblazers this fall.
“The defensive co-coordinators are doing a great job,” Peterson said. “They add value to our program and our guys and they’ve really embraced what they do.”
At the end of practice in short-range situations, Tupe and Hunter’s unit got the better of Stutzmann’s, getting a few pass breakups to close out the session.
Offensive and defensive lines stand out
Peterson didn’t single out any particular player, but noted the biggest improvement he’s seen from his team has been in the trenches.
“I think our inside guys — our defensive linemen and our offensive linemen — have taken big leaps,” Peterson said. “Throughout the offseason, we’ve been focused on getting bigger, faster and stronger and they’ve really embraced the weight room.
Sophomore Ty Hyde showed an average streak after one particular play, tangling with a defender that led to some shoving.
While Peterson praised his side’s intensity and level of competition after training, he also added that in game situations his club have to be smart.
“I felt like an assessment of the fall was that we kinda hustled each other and didn’t win those battles at the line of scrimmage.”
This focus on strengthening the offensive line was evident in the program’s signing day class.
Dixie State added six members to the defensive line and two more to the offensive line.
Find a new RB1
Drew Kannely-Robles’ graduation opens up a starting spot in the backfield for Dixie State.
Kannely-Robles was Dixie State’s leading rusher, with 768 yards and seven touchdowns.
Quali Conley returns with 285 yards and a score from a year ago.
The Trailblazers added a pair of transfers to the spring roster of Dixie High grad and BYU transfers Malakai Fakahua and Colorado transfers DJ Oats.
Neither have seen playing time at their respective schools, but could become fixtures in the running game alongside Conley.
“We’re trying to get a lot of guy reps,” Peterson said. “So the way we deal with him in practice is he’s kind of been equal with all of them.”
Zealand Matagi was also highlighted by Peterson.
Peterson said DSU could look to the transfer portal for another body to add to the running room.
A look ahead
The 2022 Dixie State schedule kicks off on the road at Sacramento State ahead of a home opener against Chadron State on Sept. 10.
Dixie State then hits the road for a pair of in-state rivals Weber State and newcomer WAC Southern Utah. DSU ends its season at Lavell Edwards Stadium to face BYU on November 19.
Sean Ellertson is a sports reporter for the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. To continue supporting his work, please subscribe to The Spectrum. Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanEllertson.