Decatur High School’s football team is rebuilding from the ground up this season.
“We’re taking things culturally that worked for the team and using that as the base and building on top of it,” said Decatur head coach Matt Vaeena.
Last year’s 1-8 record was a disheartening outcome, but also serves as motivation for a complete overhaul.
The Gators are heading into the season with approximately 35 players, so preseason has been all about endurance, second-year head coach Vaeena said.
“Not just to get them strong, but because a lot of them are going to have to play a lot of football both ways,” he said. “A lot of those kids are going to be on the field at all times.”
The offseason work hopefully builds an edge for players to be in shape enough not to wilt as the season progresses, Vaeena said.
A smaller team also means there aren’t numbers to rotate positions when needed.
“You can only control what’s in front of you,” Vaeena said. “We’re going to play with the kids that show up and try to coach them the very best we can. At the very least, we’ll teach them how to compete.”
Skill positions dominate the Gators’s strength, along with the overall athleticism and leadership on the team from individuals of all grades, Vaeena said.
Top newcomers to the Decatur team are freshman linebacker and tight end Marcus Ili and freshman wide receiver and linebacker Kesean Burks.
Many players on Decatur’s team this season are relatively new to the sport, having only started in middle school or their freshman year.
The biggest challenge will be conceptually learning understanding game play, such as for junior defensive end Logoai Paepule-Tausaga, 6’1, 200, a former rugby player in New Zealand and top returner to Decatur.
While he’s not afraid of contact on the field, it’s a transition to learn the game of football, Vaeena said.
Decatur’s top defensive players also include senior defensive end Jimmy Blades and sophomore Zachariah Siva, junior cornerback David Holden, and defensive back junior Josh Pearce.
Offensively this season, Vaeena said to keep an eye on senior quarterback Daniel Hylton, senior tight end Isaac May, junior running backs Tyler Satterwhite and JC Clay, and senior center Jovon Seumaala.
“I feel good about having this foundation to build on. It’ll be an interesting season,” he said. “I’m nervous, but excited.”
Decatur plays their first game of the season at home against Kentlake at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5.
Players to watch
Offensive: QB Daniel Hylton, 6’O, 180, sr.; TE Isaac May, 5’11, 195, sr.; RB Tyler Satterwhite, 5’9, 190, jr.; RB JC Clay, 5’10, 180, jr.; C Jovon Seumaala, 5’10, 348, sr.