New sheriff in town – Dragons look to change the culture in 2018

As you step foot onto the practice fields outside Chico High School, you can sense it.

From the pop of the pads and the urgency of the huddle, the Chico Dragons are embracing the new.

They have a new logo, coaching staff and offensive and defensive schemes. It’s all part of the plan for new head coach Clay Sanders.

“We’ve based everything on change,” Sanders said. “We changed everything, from the way we tie our shoes to the way we drink water out of the fountain.”

Sanders, who served as the team’s defensive coordinator last year, has experience turning programs around. After revitalizing the Episcopal School of Dallas, Sanders is now working to create culture change and a winning tradition in Chico.

After seeing his kids buy into program, competing in summer workouts and two-a-day practices, Sanders said his players are on the cusp of building the new Chico.

“For a while, we’ve been the guy who gets dirt kicked in our face, and we’re sick of it,” Sanders said. “The only way to get out of that is work, outwork everyone around you. That’s what our culture change is based on – working hard, sticking together and having a family environment. Our players have bought in.”

Last season, the Dragons went 4-7 and 1-3 in district before falling in the bi-district round to Valley View. This season, the Dragons enter the year with 21 players on the roster, compared to 33 in 2017.

Sanders said he’s got plenty of talent and grit on his team.

“The 21 kids we have we’re very pleased with. They’re physically tough, mentally tough and if I ask them to run through a wall, they will,” Sanders said. “We only need 11 of them. We’re plus 10 the way I see it.”

The 21 will be tested early.

The Dragons have six games on the road this year, with the first four coming at the start of the season.

Chico begins the year at Petrolia, Electra, Era and Blue Ridge before returning home.

“We’re going to be the road warriors,” Sanders said. “At this point, they’re so amped, they don’t care where we play.”

CHICO DRAGONS IN A CAPSULE

2017 record: 3-8, 1-3

Bi-district qualifiers

Head coach: Clay Sanders, first year

OVERVIEW

Chico went 3-8 last year, but lost a heartbreaker to Alvord 15-14. After a 55-12 blowout win against Olney, the Dragons punched their ticket to the Class 2A playoffs. Chico fell to Valley View 69-19 in the opening round.

OFFENSE

Last year, the Dragons put up 3,239 yards of total offense behind a strong running game. With a loaded backfield and stout offensive line, Sanders said the running game will be leaned on once again.

He said the line of Trevor Melton, Austin Jones, Paul Pinneke, Gabriel Byrne and TJ Milam will be the key to paving Chico’s way toward another playoff appearance.

“Those are going to be the guys we build our team around,” Sanders said.

The big boys up front will be opening up holes for a backfield that includes speedster Nico Starnes, Logan Ellis and Billy Morgan.

“Guys like Nico don’t come around very often,” Sanders said. “He’s the fastest kid in the region and might be the fastest kid in the state.”

Starnes rushed for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 8.9 yards per carry last season.

The Chico track standout said he has big plans for this season.

“I want 1,000 in 10 games,” Starnes said.

After the departure of Jerod Blanks, Ellis will take the reigns as the starting quarterback.

DEFENSE

Chico’s defense will look different this year in both scheme and lineup.

Chico is running a multiple 4-2-5 defense. The Dragons will be without two of its leading tacklers with senior Logan Ellis stepping into the quarterback role and all-district defensive end Isaac Parr leaving the program.

Parr led the team with 112 tackles and 12 sacks last season. Ellis had 109 tackles, forced four fumbles and racked up two interceptions.

“We’re going to be playing team defense,” Sanders said. “We’re more than one or so stars. We have a bunch of kids that are going to work hard and play together.”

OUTLOOK

Chico has a lot of question marks entering the season. They have a new coach, quarterback, revamped defense and new schemes that will be tested early on the road. If Chico can stay healthy, the Dragons will have a shot at another playoff berth. They’ll be seeking their first playoff win in 60 years.

Record prediction: 3-7 overall, 2-2 in 5-2A Division I for fourth place

2017 CHICO RESULTS

Chico 53, Perrin-Whitt 13
Bells 56, Chico 20
Santo 50, Chico 7
Nocona 70, Chico 26
Chico 40, Diamond Hill-Jarvis 0
Chico 21, Gainesville State 18
Seymour 34, Chico 0
Chico 55, Olney 12
Windthorst 59, Chico 20
Alvord 15, Chico 14
Valley View 69, Chico 19

2018 CHICO SCHEDULE

Aug. 31 … @ Petrolia
Sept. 7 … @ Electra
Sept. 14 … @ Era
Sept. 21 … @ Blue Ridge
Sept. 28 … Tom Bean
Oct. 5 … Archer City
Oct. 12 … @ Lindsay
Oct. 19 … BYE
Oct. 26 … Olney
Nov. 2 … @ Alvord
Nov. 9 … Seymour