Maturing Gilbert line puts run up front in Dunn playbook

November 17, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

When Gilbert High dropped its fourth game in five tries to finish September, there was little sense in thinking there was life left in the 2010 Tigers. Except, however, if you were a diehard.

Count Gilbert coach Dan Dunn a diehard.

Seven weeks later with five wins in its last seven games, Dunn's football team is rejuvenated. They have thrown caution to the wind, especially after winning a first-round playoff game against Basha (31-21) that reversed one of the Tigers early losses (a 38-13 defeat). On Friday night they visit Desert Ridge in an all-Gilbert quarterfinal contest. The first time that's happened in Gilbert district history.

"We kind of knew looking at our schedule early it was one of the tougher ones in the state," Dunn said. "We lost four of the five, but the kids kept working hard."

Gilbert's rough start can be attributed in part to a tough schedule out of the gate. Opening with Chaparral, Brophy, Mountain Ridge and Basha isn't anyone's idea of a fun time. Losing its top running back, David Martinez, in the first game for a month didn't help.

The key factor in turning the tide was steady improvement, particularly with the Tigers' offensive line. A continuation of a process that began last season. A productive, consistent line was a missing link a year ago when a lack of size and experience didn't allow Dunn to run the offense he prefers.

"We were so inexperienced, young and small up front last year," Dunn said. "We have most of those kids back. Some of them have 15 or  20 games behind them now. It's a tribute to these kids and how they've progressed."

Back from last year up front are seniors Dylan Aiono, NIck Odle, Joe Shultz and junior Dalton Lane. Lane is the lone bonafide returning starter. Joining them from an apprenticeship with the junior varsity and later the varsity is senior Cory Peterson. Although Peterson played junior varsity for the most part a season ago, he is the shepherd of the offensive linemen.

"He's like a big brother to all of them," Dunn said. "They follow him around like puppies."

Peterson said having a cohesive group and mostly the same unit together this season has made progress easier and steadier.

"There's a lot of unity," Peterson said. "We trust each other in our blocks. When we played last week we were confident if we played our game we could win. That's how it worked out."

Mesquite coach Mike Reardon played Gilbert this year and last year. Both games were hard fought and won by Mesquite by a touchdown or less. Reardon noticed the progression year to year, especially the action at the line of scrimmage. That's made it easier and more manageable for the likes of backs Martinez, Tanner Hall and Greg Esquibel.

"They were learning their technique and you could see it coming when we played late in the season last year," Reardon said. "They are much more polished. They were green. The game experience they have now has made them better and it shows."

Gilbert passed for double the yardage it rushed for last season (2,023 yards passing to 990 rushing). That's not Dunn. A running game that far outdistances the passing game is, and that's where the 2010 Tigers are now. Gilbert rushed for 270 yards last week and needed or opted to throw just seven times.

"As the guy who calls the plays, I like to do what I'm most comfortable with," Dunn said. "It's easier to call the run this year. If I have a choice, I like to run the ball."

The Tiger hope their run advances them further in the postseason this week.