With the 54-18 win over rival Alvord last October, the Chico Dragons appeared on their way to ending the program’s playoff drought that dated back to 2001.
The Dragons then had the rug pulled out from under them in the final week of the regular season. Valley View scored 27 points in the third quarter to roll to a 48-18 win over the Dragons. That, coupled with Alvord’s win over Bells, left Chico out of the postseason again.
“We played well for a full half, but didn’t finish the deal,” said Chico coach Lane Wilson.
Taking the field this year, that’s the team’s creed as they look to finish in the top four in the new District 5-2A Division I and end the drought.
“We’re going to find a way to get in the playoffs – somehow, someway,” Wilson said. “We haven’t been able to bust down the door. We’re determined to get it done.”
The Chico players are buying into that message, believing this is the team that will make the playoffs. The Dragons have posted winning records the past four seasons, going 6-4 in each.
“If we’re going to do it, it’s got to be this year,” said senior lineman and linebacker Jake Alexander. “This is the year we’re going to make it.”
Alexander is one of nine seniors to lead the Dragons. But Chico will also turn to several talented junior and sophomores.
“We have several sophomores that have come along,” Wilson said. “We’re two-deep at every skilled position.”
The Dragons graduated two dynamic playmakers from their offense – quarterback Jaston McBee and running back Kalan Johnson, who combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing. McBee also threw for 1,106 yards.
Chico had a quarterback battle this fall between Jared Blanks and Devon Wilson.
The Dragons will still have dynamic playmakers with Kolton Forbus becoming the feature running back and Cameron Weatherly at receiver.
Defensively, the Dragons have shifted schemes to a 3-3-5 with Brian McBeth taking over as defensive coordinator.
“It’s a defense that I was more familiar with. We ran it when I was at Alvord,” Wilson said.
Alexander is in the middle of the defense at middle linebacker. He will be flanked by converted safety Isaiah Williams, who moves up to take advantage of his run-stopping ability.
“[This defense] fits us a lot better. It spreads us out and lets us use our speed,” Alexander said.
The Dragons will get tested in non-district, facing a pair of playoff teams from 2015 – Bells and Santo. Perrin-Whitt posted a 6-4 record. The Chico’s other three pre-district contests are Nocona, Diamond Hill-Jarvis and Gainesville State School.
“It’ll be tougher than last year. It’ll be a lot more competitive and will help us get ready for district,” Wilson said.
The Dragons start 5-2A I with a showdown against Seymour – a region semifinalist from last year. Chico could take a big step toward securing a playoff spot out of the five-team league the following week against Olney – a 1-9 team last year.
The Dragons play traditionally strong Windthorst before their open date and rivalry game with Alvord to end the season.
“There’s only five teams and four get in. We need to make sure we’re one of those four,” Wilson said.
WEATHERLY STAYS A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
In the spring, Cameron Weatherly’s work on the mound powered the Chico Dragons to an unbeaten regular season and trip to the third round of the baseball playoffs.
This fall, he’ll be using his hands and legs to help the Dragons on the football field.
Weatherly is the Dragons’ leading returning receiver after catching 22 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. His numbers last year were second to only Kalan Johnson.
“Kalen was one of our star receivers,” Weatherly said. “One of us is going to have to step up, and I’m going to try to make that me.”
At 6’1″ and 195 pounds, Weatherly provides a big target. He expects to be moved around from lining up wide to tight in various formations.
“We’ll probably be like last year where you don’t have one set position,” Weatherly said. “I feel like I’ll get moved around a lot.”
Weatherly will also be depended on to help at the back end of the Dragons’ defense at safety.
Along with being a two-way starter in football and All-Wise performer in baseball as a pitcher and power hitting shortstop, he also played basketball for the Dragons.
“I never get a break,” Weatherly said.
But he isn’t complaining about the hectic schedule.
“I enjoy playing and being out with my teammates and brothers,” Weatherly said. “It’s enjoyable to get to suit up on Fridays and be under the lights.”
DRAGONS IN A CAPSULE
2015 Record: 6-4, 2-3
Head coach: Lane Wilson, second year at Chico (6-4)
The Chico Dragons’ playoff hopes were dashed in the final game at the end of a fourth straight 6-4 season. The Dragons look to end a 15-year playoff drought in the new District 5-2A Division I that features just five teams.
Scoring was not an issue for the Chico Dragons for most of the season last year with the team averaging 39.9 points.
As they head into 2016, the Dragons will be trying to replace their two leading weapons, Jaston McBee and Kalan Johnson. McBee accounted for 2,364 yards and Johnson 1,097.
The Dragons expect to remain an explosive unit.
“We have a handful of good athletes,” said Chico senior receiver Cameron Weatherly. “We have some young guys that have to help out.”
The Dragons began the fall with a quarterback battle between Devon Wilson and Jerod Blanks. Chico coach Lane Wilson expected both to continue rotating until the first game.
“Both are doing a good job. Hopefully by the first game, we have one guy,” Wilson said.
Kolton Forbus will take over as the Dragons’ feature back. He rushed for 164 yards on 33 carries. He also caught 26 passes for 222 yards.
“Last year I ran the ball a bit. [That experience] will help,” Forbus said.
Trevor South is expected to get carries. Wilson said Weatherly may also move from wide receiver to the backfield to run the ball.
Weatherly leads a talented group of receivers, including Erick Martinez, South and Isaiah Williams. Weatherly caught 22 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
“They all have decent speed and hands,” Wilson said.
Up front, the Dragons graduated perennial all-district selection Tyler Melton and lost all-district center JD Brown to an injury. Jake Alexander will take over at center with guards Michael Rosson and Donny Neal and tackles John Salazar and Willie Payne.
“We’re looking good. We’re not as big, but we’ve got a lot more speed,” Alexander said. “If we get [the backs] past the line of scrimmage, we’ll be all right.”
In their four losses last year, the Dragons gave up at least 48 points and more than 60 in the three of the setbacks.
Heading into 2016, the Dragons are changing defenses with Brian McBeth now in charge of the unit. Chico will run a 3-3-5 .
Weatherly said the group is making the transition.
“It’s getting easier as the weeks go on,” he said. “It’s a good defense to run since we play so many spread teams.”
The Dragons are moving some personnel around. All-district safety Isaiah Williams, who made 108 tackles last year, is moving to an outside linebacker spot.
Wilson said the move is to take advantage of his ability to stop the run. Another safety, Weatherly is moving up to an outside linebacker.
Alexander is the middle linebacker.
At the back end, Blanks is taking over at safety with Devon Wilson and Erick Martinez at the cornerback spots.
“Blanks is doing a good job running the secondary,” Lane Wilson said.
The Dragons may have a hard time matching the 6-4 mark they have posted the past four seasons with a tougher non-district schedule. If the Dragons develop a playmaker at quarterback and take to the new defense, they should be in the mix for their first playoff berth since 2001.
2015 CHICO RESULTS
Chico 55, Frost 21
Era 49, Chico 32
Chico 50, TACA 18
Petrolia 62, Chico 20
Chico 57, DH Jarvis 14
Blue Ridge 63, Chico 19
Bells 62, Chico 36
Chico 50, Trenton 26
Chico 54, Alvord 18
Valley View 48, Chico 18
CHICO DRAGONS 2016 ROSTER
3 … Jared Williams … WR/CB … 10
5 … Jerod Blanks … QB/FS … 11
6 … Devon Wilson … QB/CB … 12
7 … Erick Martinez … WR/CB … 12
8 … Rustyn Fuller … QB/CB … 10
11 … Branden Olivio … RB/LB … 10
12 … Christian Hammer … QB/FS … 10
15 … Austin Lacy … WR/CB … 10
18 … Eddie Salinas … QB/FS … 9
21 … Kenyon Hedrick … WR/SS … 9
22 … Kolton Forbus … RB/SS … 10
23 … Jordan Williams … WR/CB … 11
24 … Cody Frazier … RB/LB … 9
25 … Logan Ellis … QB/SS … 10
28 … Trevor South … RB/LB … 11
33 … Nico Starnes … RB/CB … 10
34 … Billy Morgan … WR/CB … 9
35 … Bryson Pinkerton … RB/SS … 9
42 … Cameron Weatherly … WR/SS … 12
44 … Paul Pinneke … RB/LB … 9
45 … Justin Romines … RB/LB … 10
50 … Jake Alexander … OL/LB … 12
52 … William Kurnes … OL/LB … 12
53 … Donny Neal … OL/LB … 12
54 … Hector Zaragoza … OL/DE … 11
55 … John Salazar … OL/DE … 12
58 … Brodie Fitzgerald … OL/DE … 10
60 … Chandler Lawing … OL/DT … 11
62 … Jurdon Brown … OL/DT … 12
64 … Alex Garcia … OL/LB … 10
66 … Will Jones … OL/DT … 9
72 … Willie Payne … OL/DE … 11
75 … Gabriel Byrne … OL/DT … 10
77 … Michael Rosson … OL/DT … 10
78 … Gene Pardue … OL/DT … 10
80 … Isaiah Williams … WR/LB … 12
84 … Ben Martinez … WR/SS … 10